Introduction to the 11 Plus

A Beginner’s Guide To The 11 Plus – Kent, Medway and Gravesend Edition


Chapter 1: Introduction to the 11 Plus

Background to the 11 Plus

The eleven-plus tests are a hotly debated and incredibly divisive topic in education and society. Originally known as the ‘transfer test’, they were used as a way of determining the best form of secondary education for students leaving primary school in the Tripartite System which was introduced in the 1940s.

Under the Tripartite System, all children were entitled to free education up to the age of 15, and secondary education was arranged in three different types of school: grammar school, secondary technical school and secondary modern school.

At the time, the transfer test was seen as a way of allocating the right kind of education to children according to their academic ability and future career needs. However, because there were few technical schools available when the system was introduced in 1945, the 11 plus became synonymous with fierce competition to be awarded a place at a prestigious grammar school.


What is the 11 Plus?

The 11 plus (or 11+) is a series of tests that are taken in the final year of primary school (year 6). Its name comes from the fact that it was originally meant to decide what kind of education a child would receive after they were eleven (hence eleven plus). The majority of children who take the 11+ are actually 10 years old due to the fact that the exams are usually taken in September.

Up until the late 1960s/early 1970s, all children took the 11 plus in their final year of primary school. The introduction of the comprehensive school system, however, meant that the 11 plus was largely phased out by 1976. After this point, the 11 plus became an optional, or selective, test that grammar schools use as part of their admissions process.

Different regions of the country use different variations of the 11 plus test. For example, in Buckinghamshire, children will take tests in Mathematics, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning, while in Lincolnshire, only Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning tests are sat. Children in Kent take tests in English, Mathematics, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning.

The evolution of the 11 plus and grammar schools in England

What are Grammar Schools?

Grammar schools have their roots in the medieval education system, dating back to the 12th century. After the English Reformation, when Cathedral schools closed, more grammar schools were formed to replace them. Often, grammar schools were founded by members of the British nobility who saw this as a charitable act.

It was in the 19th Century that grammar schools became more accessible as the importance of education began to be emphasised. By 1907, when the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act was passed, grammar schools that received government grants were obliged to offer 25% of places as scholarships to children who would otherwise not be able to access secondary education.

Following the 1944 Education Act, there were over 1,200 state-funded grammar schools. These schools offered a more rigorously academic education to children who passed the 11 plus exams. Taken as a whole, pupils at state grammar schools represented the most intellectually able 25% of secondary-age school children.

Grammar schools were (and continue to be) seen as highly prestigious, giving far greater opportunities than other secondary education types. The curriculum at grammar schools was more academically challenging, and up until the 1960s grammar school pupils monopolised access to universities.

Now, there are far fewer state grammar schools, and it is more competitive than ever to gain a place in one of these schools. There’s a lot of controversy in the education system regarding grammar schools and the continued use of the 11 plus tests – but the numbers taking the 11 plus tests each year show that there’s still a great deal of interest in grammar school education.


Which Regions Still Have Grammar Schools and use the 11 Plus?

Although secondary education has moved towards the comprehensive model, grammar schools are still popular in some areas. The number of state (government funded) grammar schools has dwindled, and there are some areas where there are no state grammar schools at all, such as the North East of England. The opening of new grammar schools is also currently not allowed.

There are over 160 state grammar schools in England, spread across the country:

  • North West England (19)
  • Yorkshire and the Humber (6)
  • East Midlands (15)
  • West Midlands (19)
  • East of England (8)
  • South East England (excluding Kent and Medway) (19)
  • Kent and Medway (38)
  • South West England (20)
  • Greater London (19)

Map to show how many grammar schools there are in each region of EnglandGrammar schools still use the 11 plus (although there are different variants in some areas) to select students. There is usually a much higher proportion of students sitting the test than there are grammar school places – which means that passing the test doesn’t automatically guarantee a grammar school place.

Kent has the most grammar schools out of all the regions in England. In Kent, around 28% of children of secondary school age attend a grammar school. The percentage is much lower in other counties, due to fewer grammar school places being available.