Skip to main content

Girl in class | The Good Schools Guide

Children who want to attend a grammar schools 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+) or the transfer test. All state grammar schools admit pupils according to their academic ability although a number of other factors can also play a part - eg. geography, faith and whether the applicant comes from a low income background.

A few schools test for entry at 13+, and many re-open their books at 16+. 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.

Grammar school catchment areas

Some grammar schools have prescribed geographical areas (also called priority admissions areas or other similar terms) from which applicants are prioritised. You can usually download a map from the school or local authority that shows the catchment boundary although sometimes the catchment area is simply given as a list of postcodes. Applicants from outside the catchment area may have a chance of getting a place but this varies with each school. Some grammar schools have no catchment area and admit purely on a child's score in the 11+ entrance exam while others use academic assessment AND distance from the school as factors in allocating places. The best piece of advice is for parents to study the school's admissions policy (particularly the oversubscription criteria) and if you have any questions, get in touch with the school.

Do all children take the 11+?      

It’s up to you to decide if you want to apply to a grammar school for your child and if it would suit them academically. In some local authorities that have grammar schools (eg Buckinghamshire), if your child goes to a local authority primary school, they’ll be automatically registered for the 11+ test - although it’s not compulsory for them to sit it. In other areas, you will need to make your own arrangements to sit the test. With some schools and local authorities, registering for the 11+ is an entirely separate process to applying for the school itself. Note that where the test is organised by a consortium of schools (eg Slough) a single registration for the assessment is required but elsewhere, you will need to enter your child for a separate test for each school. It is fair to assume that when it comes to grammar school admissions, there are no blanket rules so make sure to check school websites to understand each 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.

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.

Optimise your chance of gaining a grammar school place; speak to a school expert consultant today. Phone 0203 286 6824 or email [email protected]

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

Most popular Good Schools Guide articles

  • Grammar schools in the UK

    Grammar schools are state-funded, academically selective senior schools. The education a child receives at grammar school is paid for by the state unlike at private schools which provide education for a fee. There are currently around 163 located in 36 English local authorities, with around 167,000 pupils between them. Northern Ireland has a further 67 grammar schools, but there are none in Wales or Scotland. A word of caution: there are private schools that have the word 'grammar' in their name but this is purely for historical reasons. 

  • Secondary school: understanding the 11+

    The 11+ is the entrance exam procedure for getting your brightish little button into a fee-paying or state grammar school. Much of the country abolished the 11+ several decades ago for state schools, but a few local authorities, such as Bucks and Kent, retained a large number of grammar schools and run county-wide entrance tests. In some other areas, such as Barnet and Kingston, a few grammar schools exist in tandem with the comprehensive system found in most of the country. These grammar schools set their own entrance exams. Sixth Form

  • Grammar schools best value added

    We examined the value-added from KS2 to GCSE for 2022 to see which state selective grammar schools added the most value to their offspring. A note of caution - the more highly selective a grammar school, the less scope there will be to add value.

  • State grammar school local authorities

    State grammar schools are located in 38 UK local authorities, including Barnet, Bexley, Bromley, Enfield, Kingston upon Thames See complete list

  • Grammar school appeals

    Your child has passed the 11+, but has not been offered a grammar school place. Or perhaps your child has narrowly missed the required mark or has not performed as expected in the tests. What can you do? Unfortunately passing the 11+ does not always guarantee you a place at a grammar school. Some will select by the highest score, others by proximity to the school. Every year a substantial number of grammar ability children are not offered a grammar school place on National Offer Day. If this has happened to your child you will, understandably, feel both disappointed and,…

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

☑ 30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
☑ Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
☑ Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,200 schools
☑ Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

Buy Now

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.


Our most recent newsletter: