What is the 11 Plus?
The 11 Plus (also called the 11+ or Eleven Plus) is an examination taken by some school pupils in their last year of primary school. In reality most children will only be 10 years old when they take the test – the term “11Plus” refers to the fact that the test selects for schools with an entry point for children aged 11 or over.
The Eleven Plus test was introduced in 1944 by the Butler Education Act, and was in use nationwide until 1976. Children who successfully passed the test were allocated places at Grammar Schools, while those who were unsuccessful would attend either a Secondary Modern school or the rather fewer Technical Schools that were established by the Butler Education Act.
In 1976 the Labour government gave Local Education Authorities the option of discontinuing the Grammar School system and establishing a single-tier system of comprehensive schools instead. Some authorities seized the chance to abolish Grammar Schools, while others chose to retain the two-tier system completely – Buckinghamshire and Kent are two examples. In some areas only a few Grammar Schools were retained, and in other areas some schools retained the right to select part of their intake (Partially Selective schools) while yet others retained a grammar stream within an otherwise non-selective school (Bilateral Schools).
The School Standards and Framework Act of 1998 prohibited any increase in the number of places awarded through selection by ability at schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It also created the right for parents to petition for a ballot to end selection in their local schools. The only ballot held so far (for Ripon Grammar School) resulted in a 2:1 decision to retain selective education.
There are now 164 Grammar Schools remaining in England. The 11 plus test was officially discontinued in Northern Ireland in 2008, although many of the “ex-Grammar Schools” are continuing to use testing to select children by ability, a move that has created considerable political controversy. You can find out more about the current situation in Northern Ireland and by keeping an eye on the education news feed on this site.
The qualification rate for the 11 plus test varies considerably around the country. Some schools attract several thousand applicants for as few as 180 places – the four grammar schools in Kingston and Sutton are an example of such over-subscription, with a pass rate of perhaps 3 percent. In areas where the grammar system has been retained in full the pass rate is considerably higher – in Buckinghamshire it is around 30 percent each year.
There can be up to four different “disciplines” used for the 11 Plus tests – Verbal Reasoning, Non-Verbal Reasoning, Maths and English. The combination of test papers varies considerably around the country. In Kent the children take 4 papers – in English, Maths, Verbal Reasoning and Non-Verbal Reasoning, while in Buckinghamshire the children sit two papers in the single discipline of Verbal Reasoning. Further information about the type of tests used in each area can be found in our 11 Plus Schools section of this site.
The most common form of test for the Eleven Plus is Verbal Reasoning, which features in the test in almost every area. Non-Verbal Reasoning papers are also very common. Both of these types of test are believed to test a child’s innate intelligence and potential, rather than skills that have been learned through their education to date. (This is a controversial view, because it would certainly not be possible to answer either type of paper without a reasonable quality of prior learning in areas such as maths or English.) However it is fair to say in general that both tests are not tests of curriculum-based learning.
There is further information on each of these types of test in this section, together with example questions and advice on how to prepare for them.
The competitive nature of the Eleven Plus can make it a very stressful experience for both parents and children. This site was created by a parent who was going through the process with his own son in 2004.
Our aim is to provide you with impartial information and support that will guide you and your child through the process as smoothly and calmly as possible. We recommend that you explore the published information on all aspects of the 11 Plus relevant for your area or preferred schools. If you can’t find the answers that you are looking for, please do explore our 11+ Forum. You can browse contributions made by thousands of past parents and 11 Plus experts and if you register as a Forum Member, you can put your own questions to the Forum.