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  • Writer's pictureThe Kensington Diary

The 7+, 8+, 11+ Entrance Exams and the UK School Tiering System

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Whilst I feel so privileged to live in the UK where the education system is known for its selective schools and prestigious universities, the truth is it does present a highly competitive and challenging academic environment. The structure of the exam system in the UK is daunting for us parents and certainly our children with the pressure to perform well and secure a place in a prestigious school. For us, the notion that we should think about our child's secondary school when they are just six years old, can cause a bout of anxiety.

Of course, at the end of the day, the most important factor in our child's success is their own motivation, hard work, and dedication to their education. Whilst this is easier to assess at 11 or 13, how do we assess whether a six year old is ready to sit an entrance exam? The answer is a supportive and nurturing environment, whether it's at a selective school or a non-selective school, can help our children to thrive and reach their full potential. Still, I have to admit that it is exceptionally pressurising considering that this choice can determine my child's future academic trajectory, making it a critical decision for many families, including us.

Image credit: Oxford University

Breaking down the UK Primary School System

To gain entry into the most prestigious schools, children are often required to sit an entrance exam, with different age ranges and exams for each level. This includes entrance exams that can be taken by primary school children at different ages.

The 7+ exam is designed for children who are entering Year 3, usually at the age of seven. The exam typically covers English and Maths, with some schools also testing verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. This exam is designed to test basic numeracy and literacy skills, as well as the ability to think logically and solve problems.

The 8+ exam is similar to the 7+ exam but is aimed at children who are entering Year 4, usually at the age of eight. The exam may cover a wider range of subjects, including English, Maths, Science, verbal + non-verbal Reasoning, and even foreign languages, depending on the school. This exam is designed to test a child's ability to handle more complex topics and to assess their overall academic potential.

The 11+ exam is the most well-known and widely used entrance exam in the UK. It is designed for children who are entering Year 7, usually at the age of eleven. The exam may cover a range of subjects, including English, Maths, Science, and sometimes, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. This exam is highly competitive and is used by many prestigious schools in the UK to select their students. The 11+ exam is often seen as a crucial stepping stone for students who are hoping to attend a Tier 1 or Tier 2 school. These schools are highly selective, with many more applicants than available places, and they often require a very high score on the 11+ exam.

The 13+ exam is similar to the 11+ exam and is offered as an alternative to it. However, its important to note that its not possible to sit both 11+ and 13+ exams so either must be chosen for an individual school.

The Decisions

There are two major decisions for us parents to make:

1) Should my child sit the earlier 7/8+ exam or the later 11+/13+ exam?

2) Should I aim for a Tier 1, 2 or Grammar school or perhaps rather an outstanding state school?

Now that we have just been through the 7+ process successfully, with offers at Tier 1 schools, let me break down what each of these steps mean.

The Pros and Cons to the 7, 8 and 11 + Entrance Exam System

The 7+ and 11+ systems refer to the two different models of entrance exams used by selective schools in the UK. The 7+ exam is typically taken in Year 2, when children are 6-7 years old, while the 11+ exam is taken in Year 6, when children are 10-11 years old.

Proponents of the 7+ system argue that it provides a more accurate assessment of a child's academic potential at an earlier age. Children who pass the 7+ exam are able to start at a selective school from a younger age, allowing them to benefit from the school's specialized curriculum and resources. In addition, the 7+ system can be less stressful for children, as they are still quite young and may not feel as much pressure to succeed.

However, opponents of the 7+ system argue that it puts undue pressure on young children and can be overly competitive. They also point out that children who do not pass the 7+ exam may feel like failures, even though they are only 6 or 7 years old.

I can really see both arguments and it has us at a conundrum. But here's where it gets where complicated.

In contrast, the 11+ system is seen as a more traditional and established model, with a longer history and a wider pool of candidates. It is also argued that it allows children to mature and develop more fully before taking a high-pressure exam. However, opponents of the 11+ system argue that it is often too difficult for many children, who may not be able to handle the pressure of the exam or the competition for places at selective schools.

So, in short, its not an easy decision. Ultimately, the choice between the 7+ and 11+ systems is a personal one for each family. It depends on a variety of factors, including the child's academic ability and maturity level, as well as the family's own values and priorities.

Parents who choose the 7+ system may be looking for an early start to their child's academic journey, while those who choose the 11+ system may be seeking a more established and traditional approach. However, regardless of which system parents choose, it is important to remember that there are many factors that contribute to a child's academic success, and that entrance exams are only one small part of the equation.

Choosing a Tier 1 or Tier 2 School vs a Grammar School

In addition to the 7+ and 11+ systems, parents may also be faced with another choice: Tier 1 or Tier 2 or Grammar schools. Of course, an outstanding state school might also offer an alternative but may also be highly subscribed.

Tier 1 Schools

Tier 1 schools are the most prestigious and selective schools in London. These schools are highly competitive, with many more applicants than available places, and they typically require a very high score on the entrance exam. Some examples of Tier 1 schools in London include Kings College Juniors and Seniors School, St. Paul's School for Girls and Boys, Westminster Under and Senior School, Winchester and Eton College. These schools are often associated with long histories and traditions, and they have a reputation for producing successful alumni and prestige.

Tier 1 schools are typically the most expensive, with annual fees ranging from around £20,000 to over £40,000. Examples of Tier 1 schools in London with higher fees include St. Paul's School for Boys, where the annual fees are over £26,000, and Westminster School, where the annual fees are over £41,000.

Tier 2 Schools

Tier 2 schools, on the other hand, are still selective but are generally considered to be less competitive than Tier 1 schools. They may have slightly lower entrance requirements, but still provide a high-quality education. Examples of Tier 2 schools in London include Dulwich College, City of London School for Boys & Girls, Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School and Latymer Junior and Upper School. These schools are often known for their excellent academic programs and extracurricular offerings, and they may be a more realistic option for families who are not able to secure a place at a Tier 1 school.

Tier 2 schools tend to have lower fees than Tier 1 schools, but can still be quite costly. Annual fees for Tier 2 schools in London can range from around £10,000 to £20,000. Examples of Tier 2 schools in London with lower fees include Putney High School, where the annual fees are around £19,000, and The Latymer School, where the annual fees are around £12,000.

It's important to note that the distinction between Tier 1 and Tier 2 schools is not a hard and fast rule, and the lines between the two categories may be blurry. Additionally, there are many excellent schools in London that do not fit neatly into either category.

Grammar Schools

Then comes the next set of schools. Grammar schools are state-funded schools that select their students based on academic ability, often using the 11+ exam as part of the selection process. They are known for their rigorous academic programs and high standards of achievement, and they are often seen as a more accessible alternative to Tier 1 or Tier 2 schools. However, not all areas in the UK have grammar schools, and their availability varies depending on the region.

In London, most excellent grammar schools are on the perimeter, including the Queen Elizabeth for Boys, Wilson School, Tiffin School, Sutton Grammar School for Boys, Nonsuch High School for Girls, Wallington High School for Girls, and Henrietta Barnett School. These schools are highly competitive and often require a very high score on the 11+ exam.

While grammar schools can offer an excellent education, they may not provide the same level of prestige or history as Tier 1 or Tier 2 schools. Additionally, they sometimes might be more limited in their extracurricular offerings and facilities, as they are typically state-funded and do not have the same level of resources as private schools.

Ultimately, the choice between grammar schools and Tier 1 or Tier 2 schools depends on a family's individual preferences and priorities. Grammar schools may offer a more affordable option for families seeking a high-quality education, while Tier 1 or Tier 2 schools may provide a more prestigious and well-rounded educational experience. Whilst they do not charge tuition fees, parents may still be required to pay for other expenses, such as textbooks, uniforms, and school trips. In addition, some grammar schools may require parents to make voluntary contributions to support the school's programs and facilities.

Regardless of which type of school parents choose, it's important to consider factors such as academic ability, personal interests, and overall fit when making a decision. The most important factor in a child's success is their own motivation, hard work, and dedication to their education.

A school that is a good match for a child's individual needs and strengths is likely to provide the best environment for success and personal growth. Ultimately, the decision of which school to choose depends on a variety of factors, including a child's academic ability, interests, and personality, as well as a family's values and priorities. A supportive and nurturing environment, whether it's at a Tier 1 or Tier 2 or Grammar School school, can help children to thrive and reach their full potential.

In the end, what matters most is that children feel supported and encouraged to pursue their academic interests and achieve their full potential, regardless of the system they use to get there.

A Synopsis of Latest Thinking

The decision itself in terms of which exam to sit isn't exactly simple, as you can see. But the UK education system is a source of both pride and concern for parents across the country. On the one hand, the system has a long history of academic excellence and has produced some of the world's most successful and influential thinkers and leaders. On the other hand, the system has faced criticism in recent years for its perceived lack of inclusivity, its heavy emphasis on testing and standardization, and its high cost for families who choose to send their children to private schools.

Despite these concerns, it's difficult not to continue to place a high value on the UK education system and believe that it provides their children with the best possible opportunities for success. For parents who are able to afford it, private schools offer a level of academic rigour, individual attention, and prestige that can be difficult to find in the state-funded sector. And for parents who opt for state-funded schools, the system offers a range of options for children with varying interests and abilities, from traditional grammar schools to more innovative and experimental programs.

However, the system has also left us with feelings of frustration and disillusionment. We do sometimes feel that our children are being overburdened with homework and tests, or that the system is too focused on academic achievement at the expense of other important skills and qualities. Additionally, the system's reliance on standardized testing can create a lot of stress and anxiety for students, and may not accurately reflect their true abilities or potential.

Despite these challenges, many parents are taking an active role in advocating for change within the UK education system. They are pushing for more inclusivity and diversity, more emphasis on creativity and critical thinking, and a greater focus on individualized learning and student well-being. By working together and voicing their concerns, parents can help to shape a more responsive and effective education system that truly meets the needs of all children.

In recent years, there have been growing calls to reform the 7+ and 8+ entrance exam system in the UK, particularly in the independent school sector. Critics argue that these exams place undue pressure on young children and can be an unreliable measure of academic potential.

As a result, some schools have started to explore alternative methods of assessing applicants, such as interviews, assessments, and recommendations from teachers. Others have adopted a more holistic approach to admissions, taking into account factors such as extracurricular activities, community involvement, and diversity.

In addition, there have been efforts to make the 7+ and 8+ exams more accessible and inclusive. For example, some schools have introduced bursary programs and scholarships to help offset the high cost of tuition for families from low-income backgrounds. Others have made efforts to recruit more diverse student populations, with a focus on students from underrepresented communities.

The Verdict

As you can see, its a lot to take on board. We have personally digested all this information and decided on the 7+ process, where we have had much success.

Ultimately, a decision has to be made and for many, there is less knowledge about the 7+ and 8+ process as its mostly led by Independent schools, so 11+ and 13+ process is the only conceivable option.

The good news is there are many resources to help you navigate the system further, understand the right schools for your child, and assess when your child is ready. I would be more than happy to discuss any specific questions you might have and hope you found this article helpful.

Wishing you the best of luck and let me know how you get on with your endeavours for your child's education!

Much Love


The Kensington Diary


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