Talk about the future of the Common Entrance exam has been rumbling on for some considerable time now. Recently many senior schools have announced their intention to change how they select pupils for entry and, rather than rely on the Common Entrance syllabus, they have instead ‘pre-tested’ children earlier (often in Form 6) using the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB) Common Pre-test or ‘11+’ exam. And in an environment where senior schools are academically selective, this is a good thing. It gives parents, pupils and schools certainty much sooner and gives plenty of time to select an alternative school if they are not successful at the first attempt. Fortunately we are not in such a selective situation and, therefore, our children generally have the pick of available schools and can confidently apply wherever they choose, safe in the knowledge that there will be a place for them.
So why, you might ask, do we continue with Common Entrance? For us it achieves four things:
Firstly, it provides a challenging and ambitious curriculum which is modern, rigorous, forward thinking, always evolving, well supported by resources such as text books and accessible to all pupils regardless of ability.
Secondly, it allows us to summarise and quantify a pupil’s achievements at the end of their time with us in a way which is directly comparable with any other prep school pupils in the country who have been prepared in the same way.
Thirdly, it indicates to senior schools exactly what they are getting; a pupil who has been comprehensively taught across a range of subject areas to a consistently high level and who will have the skills and knowledge in these subjects to provide a solid foundation upon which to build a successful academic future.
Fourthly, and in many ways lastly, it can, where needed, provide an entry mechanism for some senior schools.
It seems clear to me that, in the coming years, the Common Pre-test at 11+ will become the dominant tool used by the most selective schools to enable them to choose the pupils who will fit their school best and that the Common Entrance exam will evolve into more of an exit summary used by prep schools to demonstrate the value added in the final two years.
Far from being dead, I believe that Common Entrance could be moving into a truly exciting period where pupils studying for CE will follow a programme of study that will enable them to communicate clearly orally and in writing, have the confidence to weigh up evidence, think for themselves and make up their own minds. They will have opportunities to learn from working independently and collaboratively, understand how subjects connect with each other, and demonstrate cultural awareness and empathy while developing an understanding of their own place in the world.
John F Gilmour