State grammar schools select pupils by ability. Children are usually tested in the final year of primary school (aged 10/11), by an exam commonly known as the 11+, (see Understanding the 11+). A few schools test for entry at 13+, and many re-open their books at 16+. Some grammar schools now give preference to qualifying children on Pupil Premium.
Entry is possible at other times if places are available and the child meets the academic criteria. However, grammar schools do not have to take pupils that fail to make the grade, even if they are not full.
Do all children take the 11+?
If your child goes to a local authority primary school in a county or borough that still has grammar schools, they’ll be automatically registered for the 11+, although it’s not compulsory for them to sit it. It’s up to you to decide if you want to apply to a grammar school for them and if it would suit them academically. In all other areas, you will need to make your own arrangements to sit the test. Note that in some areas the test is organised by a consortium of schools and in others, you will need to enter your child for a separate test for each school. Most school websites will explain their entrance procedure.
When do children take the test?
Grammar schools now have to run at least the first round of tests in time to give initial results before other state school application deadlines, so parents know whether or not to include the grammar school on their list. This means that many have a registration deadline in the summer term of year 5 and run tests in September.
What’s in the entry test?
Tests usually include some or all of maths, English, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning. However, the exact entry requirements and competition for places vary – and they can change year on year - so do check with the school to ensure you have the most up-to-date information. For more information on the 11+, see Understanding the 11+.
Will my child be interviewed as well as taking a test?
No state school of any type is permitted to interview prospective pupils or their parents (state boarding schools may interview to ascertain fitness to board). It all comes down to performance in the tests.
What are my child’s chances of getting in?
Some grammar schools select purely by the highest score, others by proximity to the school. This means that passing the 11+ does not always guarantee you a place at a grammar school. Contact the school to find out their admissions criteria.
In The Good Schools Guide review of Tonbridge Grammar School we write:
Entrance via the Kent Test at 11+ in verbal and non-verbal reasoning and maths administered by Kent County Council, and places are hard fought. No allowance made for siblings. Area places (135) to those living within local council areas Tonbridge & Malling Borough, Tunbridge Wells Borough and Sevenoaks District; Governor places (35) to high performers living outside the area; 10 places to those on pupil premium living in one of the three local council areas, but whose scores weren't high enough for an automatic Area place.
In our review of Queen Elizabeth's School, Barnet, we report:
More than 2,300 boys apply for 180 places. Tests in September, which although tough, are made as comfortable as possible, with year 9s present to put applicants at ease, 'including playing hangman’. Boys told whether or not they have met the ‘standard required’ before they have to make their choice of schools, so they have nothing to lose by taking the test. NB Meeting the ‘standard required’ does not guarantee a place.
No sixth form entry for external candidates. ‘I see this as a seven-year education,’ says head, who adds that he’s seen too many schools that take external sixth-formers essentially run as two separate schools. Automatic transfer to sixth form for nearly all students, although pupils have to be recommended for individual subjects.
My child has met the required standard! What next?
This does not guarantee a place, but does mean that it is worth applying. You will need to apply through your local authority’s common application form (see Secondary school admissions). Depending on the grammar school, it may be necessary to complete and return a supplementary application form as well, and return it directly to the school itself.
Subscribe now for instant access to more than 1,300 reviews
Our impartial, candid school reviews have been helping parents make educational decisions for more than 30 years. We currently feature reviews of nearly a hundred academically selective state schools. To see what we have to say about the schools which interest your family, you can order one of our books from the shop or alternatively, subscribe online now to get instant access for as little as £0.29 a day.