7th March 2016

Guernsey heads call for an end to the Eleven-plus

The Eleven-plus exam has long been controversial. It’s used in England and Northern Ireland to select students for grammar school, effectively through a process of streaming.

On 7 March 2016, Guernsey’s five secondary-school heads wrote a letter recommending that the exam be scrapped. Its ending would be part of a larger plan to effectively merge each of the island’s senior schools to create a single unit, albeit spread across multiple sites and with discrete staff. Following the exam’s axing, spaces would then be allocated according to each school’s catchment area. If nothing else, this would at least make travelling to each site much easier for the students.

Ongoing debate

The letter from the secondary heads supported one that had already been written by the heads of Guernsey’s primary schools, mindful that the issue was being debated by the States.

Whether the letters were to thank or not, Deputies voted to end the 11-plus later the same month. The decision was confirmed in December by a second vote, this time on a move to overturn the original vote, which itself was defeated by a majority of just two. The Eleven-plus’s death warrant looked like it had been signed, and the last pupils to sit it would be the year six candidates in the 2017/18 academic year.

However, in January 2018, the debate arose once more as a further amendment was tabled to keep the 11-plus in use at least until the new comprehensive system had been fully costed and rolled out.

Eleven-plus origins

The Eleven-plus was introduced in 1944. The exam had traditionally been used to determine whether each student should have an academic or practical education going forward. What the student actually wanted was, it seems, fairly irrelevant. It has been criticised for being skewed along class lines (“higher”-class students traditionally did better academically). The stress it puts 11- and 12-year-old students under is also seen by many as unfair.


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