Why We Shouldn't Bring Back The 11-Plus

The day I received my 11-Plus result is a day I'll never forget – for all the wrong reasons...

Today was the day we’d take our first 11-Plus exam. A day that had been hanging over us ever since we started school. I remember walking into the hall and praying that God would help me – not to pass; just not to panic and freak out in front of my friends. Honestly, I wasn’t sure about God at that point, but my Grandma advised me that a quick prayer might help, and I figured that then was as good a time as any to get some assistance from above.

I don’t remember much about the test itself, though I do remember working hard to hold in tears at various points and I’m not sure I completed any of the three tests in the allotted time. I don’t think I ever felt exactly confident that I was able to put my best academic foot forward in any of the 50-minute sessions.

I remember results day – sitting next to my Mum in the car and opening the envelope. I read it out loud and trailed off somewhere halfway through. ‘Congratulations you’ve been accepted into……’ The wording didn’t fool me because we all knew that the school I had been accepted into was the school you went to if you ‘failed’. Of course most people (adults) tried to avoid the ‘pass/fail’ language, but it was engrained into our county and as an 11-year-old I knew exactly what the letter was telling me – I’d failed.

I didn’t talk to my mum on the way home. I’m pretty sure she was talking to me – giving it everything she’d got to put a positive spin on the situation – but I don’t think I responded. I held it together pretty well until I got about half way up the steps to my house… Then I stopped, sat down, and cried. I remember looking at my mum through my tears… and that’s where that memory stops.

I’ve thought a lot about this memory over the decades, and as a 34-year-old it still holds a lot of emotion. I carried a ‘failure’ tag around my neck for a long time because of this 50-minute test. Decades, in fact. It limited my level of ambition, attacked my confidence and caused me to think negatively about myself and my future.

The secondary school I attended was great, with amazing teachers and good friends – it helped me significantly on my road to recovery and is a big part of who I am.

And now, life has worked out well. I run a great charity and have a fancy title, own a great house and have a lovely family. Maybe I’m wrong and I’m just one person, but I feel that I did OK in spite of the school system I went through – not because of it. I view the 11-Plus as a bad memory, but now the country is apparently considering putting it back into the future of our children. I’m sure there will be some who will welcome the 11-Plus back, but I will not be one of those people.

The risk is too high, and the failure tag is too heavy to hang around any 11-year-old’s neck.


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Guest Wednesday, 03 March 2021

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