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Is the 11+ Exam Fair? - Maple Education

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Is the 11+ Exam Fair?

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Buckinghamshire is one of the few counties that still hold 11+ exams as a selection process for secondary school. Children who "pass" the exam are offered places in our excellent grammar schools and are more or less guaranteed to go on to red-brick universities. Those who "fail" the exam either attend secondary moderns, or their parents take a deep breath and fork out thousands for private education.
So, does the 11 Plus exam favour affluent, middle-class kids whose parents know how to navigate the 'system'?. Does it shut out poor families who are too busy or cannot afford private tuition? As CEO of a tutorial school that specialises in 11+, GCSE and A-Level exam preparation, here's what I think:
  • The 11+ exam is as fair as the Olympic or premier league selection process.....those with ability are picked for further training. No one cries foul when the fastest runners are coached to compete for Team GB. Indeed nothing BUT ability is important - you don't need to be posh or have dosh. So shouldn't tomorrow's surgeons and engineers be selected on their academic ability?
  • Future music and sports champions spend hours on their craft and often receive additional support outside their family and school. No one thinks this is unreasonable. Extra coaching is absolutely essential to become a concert pianist or Wimbledon champion. Yet many think it 'unfair' when a child receives extra help to pass the 11+ exam. What's the difference?
  • Grammar schools should remain the gateway for ordinary families to realise their children'sacademic aspirations. The secondary modern schools need to become REAL specialists in other fields (creative subjects, sports, trades) so that this debate about whether the 11+ is fair or not, ceases once and for all. I owe my career to the 11+ exam, and was the first in my family to go to university. My brother went to a poly and is a rich builder. He looks down on me because I can't lay a patio and I tease him for knowing nothing about the Neolothic Revolution. My sister has a thriving business as a cleaner and scrubs my floors in exchange for marketing services and financial management.

Our oldest grammar school, Aylesbury Grammar, was founded in 1598 by Sir Henry Lee for poor children to get a good education, free of charge, so that they could move up the social ladder. Today's middle classes can trace their rise from grammar schools. Many a professor or accountant is just two or even one generation away from working class stock. Without grammar schools, there would be far less diversity in the professional and political classes. Famous grammar school pupils include Sir Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, Diane Abbott, William Hague, Mrs Thatcher, Mick Jagger, and my favourite, Tim Berners Lee (inventor of the world wide web).

I am proud to sponsor extra tuition for disadvantaged children in our school. One is a seriously bright boy who hates football and dreams about being the prime minister. He is the same age as my highly talented nephew who hates maths and dreams about playing for Manchester United. Fast forward to 2034..... I intend to help both boys realize their dreams.

Chris Garnett

Chris Garnett is the Chief Executive Officer of Maple Education, responsible for operations, finance and exams. A social entrepreneur, Chris co-founded and managed an ethical fashion business from 2000 to 2009. In the 1980s Chris had her own successful office management business in Canada.

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