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The 11+ exam, mid 20th Century England

Boy sitting the sholarship - 11-plus exam

The 11+ exam, also written as the 11 plus exam, was what British children in their last year at primary school in the mid-20th Century were normally required to sit. The outcome determined whether their next school would be a grammar school or a secondary modern school. This page explains why this was considered so important.


By the webmaster based on personal recollections and firsthand contributions with additional research

The importance of the 11+ exam

The exam was known at the time as the 'scholarship' and was seen as hugely important.

Parents regarded its results as dictating their children's entire future. Failure was seen as a disaster almost impossible to recover from - this at the age of only 11. Sadly, there was a certain stigma to attending a secondary modern school. No doubt the pupils there felt it too and felt that they were failures. In time this led to the abolition of secondary modern schools and the growth in comprehensive schools.

Schools, no doubt, saw passing the exam as a reflection of their own quality, which meant that they strived for their children's success.

The children about to take the exam could not help being swept up in the atmosphere.

In fact, passing or failing did not only rely on what is loosely described as intelligence. It also depended on the number of grammar schools in the locality. Where there were several grammar schools, more children passed than where there were hardly any - not that this seemed to be mentioned at the time.

Private tuition for children preparing for the scholarship

It was standard practice for more wealthy families to pay for private tuition for their children so that they would pass into a grammar school, and doubtless families that were not so wealthy went without in order to pay for private tuition for their children. My parents were extremely supportive, bit could not and would not afford private tuition.

School preparation for the scholarship

The class teacher who prepared us children for the scholarship at my school was a man, a Mr Perrett, who was wonderful at his job. I don't know whether he was back from the war or whether he had reason never to have been called up for service.

Under Mr Perrett's care, I was awarded the class prize for progress - even though as far as I was concerned I didn't do anything differently. I suppose that he was interesting and logical, and just made work a matter of course. So I passed the scholarship to Copthall County Grammar School, the best grammar school in the area.

I wish I knew what happened to Mr Perrett, as I would like to thank him. At the time, children take their teachers for granted, although a good teacher can influence a child's entire life for the better. I'm sure that his influence formed the basis my career development and achievements.

How important was private tuition for passing the scholarship?

When the results came out there was euphoria and what can only be described as anguish on the part of those parents who paid for private tuition, only to get the letter stating that "your child would benefit most from a secondary modern education". Many of those parents who had paid for the private tuition went on to pay for their children at what were known as 'private schools'. These were largely regarded as little more than finishing schools, which did not have the stigma of comprehensive school education.

There were what was described as 'later developer children'. They could be put into what was effectively a 13-plus exam which could give entry into a grammar school. I don't know how many children benefitted from it.

With years of experience behind me, I can quote people who have been extremely financially successful in their lives without having passed the scholarship. Not that success has to be financial. In my view it is feeling fulfilled in whatever type of life one is living.

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