It was an unexpected gift a few days before half term: a group of the country’s leading independent girls schools announced they are scrapping their traditional English and Maths 11+ papers in favour of a single “cognitive ability” test and “more creative interviews.” Why? The North London Girls’ Schools’ Consortium, which is made up of 12 schools including Godolphin and Latymer, South Hampstead High School and Francis Holland, argued that the move, in the works for more than two years, came in direct response to increasing pressure and mental health problems among the 10- and 11-year old girls preparing for the exam.
The new test is meant to be much harder to prepare and tutor for. The hope is that it will allow girls in Year 5 and 6 to get on with broader learning instead of cramming for exams while simultaneously making it easier for pupils whose parents cannot afford –or refuse to– tutor to gain admission to top schools.
We believe this is excellent news and hope that it will lead to the girls more thoroughly enjoying their last two years of primary school, when they should be taking on new roles and responsibilities, stretching and broadening their learning and enjoying their short-lived seniority instead of narrowly focusing on exam papers.
We also hope that the change will make parents more receptive to the philosophy that we have always advocated at Magus Education: that the transition to senior school should be focused on obtaining the “right match” rather than gaining admission to the most competitive school possible.
Every year hundreds of girls get into schools that are not a good academic fit for them as a result of very hard work, tutoring (whether done by a tutor or the parents) and the loss of precious time of their childhood. We know it’s not good for the girls’ mental health and confidence — as they often find themselves floundering at their destination school and needing to work harder still to keep the pace– and it’s not good for the schools, which must provide increased academic and pastoral support as a result.
We really do hope the change will encourage parents to see that while intelligence is fluid –we firmly believe in the growth mindset—some pupils are not suited to the high-pressure environments they sometimes dream of sending them to, whether it’s because of the pace and style of learning, quantity of homework or intensity of social and co-curricular involvement expected. Some simply won’t have the temperament or stamina to make the most of that particular school.
Of course such a drastic move creates a lot of uncertainty for parents, and those with girls currently in Y5 will be most nervous, as they will be the “guinea pigs” of the new process. We expect much more detail to trickle through in the next few weeks but in the meantime here are some questions that parents can legitimately put forward to their schools:
- Does the school have details/a good grasp of what these cognitive exams consist of? Have you been briefed by the senior schools? Do you envisage doing any specific preparation?
- Do you expect the change to have an impact on the school’s curriculum in Y5 and Y6? Many schools narrow it in these years to focus on exam preparation. Will they broaden it again?
- What will happen to girls who are aiming for schools that still have their own selection process in place such as St Paul’s Girls School, City or North London Collegiate School? Will they be following a different preparation?
- Do you expect that the change will modify the intake of the senior schools in a meaningful way?
- If you have a boy, it’s worth asking for a response too as boys do suffer from the stress of these exams as much as girls. In fact, in her letter to parents announcing the news, Lucy Elphinstone, the head of Francis Holland School Sloane Square, called for boys’ schools to join the movement as well as other girls’ schools who “persist in their own entrance examination and therefore continue to subject young children to intense anxiety and pressure.”
At Magus we will be working to gather as much information as possible about the new process and the resulting changes in the next few weeks. If you would like to share your school’s reaction with us, please email us at Alessandra@maguseducation.com.