Over the last five years, independent senior schools have been shifting the emphasis in their student assessment processes for Year 9 entry.
Traditionally, school entrance assessment processes have required candidates to sit a full set of subject exams known as Common Entrance (CE) in Year 8.
Schools are now moving away from this process, and are increasingly planning to offer places to candidates based on assessment in Year 6, with no requirement to sit CE exams later in Year 8. This is a radical change to a system that has been in place for 115 years.
The first part of this blog post series looks at what the 13+ entry process used to look like.
A few decades ago, very broadly speaking, the independent boys’ senior school assessment process would run as follows.
Some parents would visit schools with their sons and would register them for entry consideration years in advance. Others would register their sons simply on the basis of the school’s reputation and without visiting.
For some schools, parents were advised by Admissions to ‘put their son’s name down’ as early as possible – even at birth for the most renowned / competitive schools – since these schools ostensibly operated a first-come-first-served waiting list. That said, those parents who were ‘known’ to the school – that is, the fathers had attended the school themselves or the parents had connections with the school (knew someone (who knew someone)) – would be able to jump the queue.
This was the notoriously inegalitarian boys’ public school system of yesteryear.
Before applying to these independent boys’ senior schools, pupils typically would attend a ‘preparatory’ (‘prep’) school. These junior schools, running from seven to 13 years old (and often with an earlier-years pre-prep school attached), prepared pupils specifically for the independent boys’ senior school 13+ entrance exams.
Boys would sit the 13+ school entrance exams in May / June at the end of the Upper Sixth Form (ie Year 8). Most would sit Common Entrance (CE), the comprehensive suite of subject exams written by the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB). This included papers in English, Maths and Science, along with some or all of Geography, Latin, History, French, Religious Studies and Classical Greek, depending on what the prep school had traditionally timetabled for its particular Common Entrance syllabus teaching.
A candidate would receive percentage marks for each CE subject, and if he met the particular senior school’s overall aggregated percentage pass mark requirements, he would be offered a place to start, aged 13, in the first year of the senior school (now known generally as Year 9, although some senior schools still call this ‘First Year’). Candidates with those connections to the school would be given some latitude when it came to their CE performance.
Boys who had been judged very capable by their teachers at the end of the Fifth Form (ie end of Year 6), were selected to join the prep school’s Sixth Form ‘scholarship class’. These pupils would follow a more challenging syllabus than CE in their final two years of prep school, with a view to taking their chosen senior school’s academic scholarship exams at the end of upper Sixth (Year 8).
Independent boys’ senior schools wrote their own scholarship exams, covering a full range of subjects as per CE. But the exams would be pitched at a (much) higher level than CE, and could include some notoriously challenging questions. For example, in a scholarship Latin exam, candidates might be asked to find creative ways to translate into Latin an article from a recent newspaper article or a passage from a science fiction novel.
Those students who achieved appropriately high marks in the scholarship exam papers would be offered a place by the senior school, and those who had achieved the highest marks would be offered an academic scholarship. At that time, an academic scholarship came with a reduction, or even complete waiving, of school fees irrespective of parents’ level of income.
Prior to CE and scholarship exams, some of the most renowned public schools requested that prospective candidates come during Year 6 or Year 7 for a tour of the school. As part of the tour, the candidate would have an informal interview with a housemaster or member of the school’s senior leadership team. During this interview, the candidate would be asked about their interests and about key events in the news. They may also have been given a passage from a novel or poem to read aloud, and been asked questions about the text. Possibly also given some mental maths problems.
These tours were an opportunity for the school to meet the parents, as much as for the parents to meet teaching staff – in those days, the school would indirectly be interviewing parents and taking a view on their ‘suitability for the school’…
After this tour and interview (and taking into consideration any connections the candidate had with the school), the school might offer a place for the boy to enter aged 13. The place was conditional on the student’s attaining the school’s required percentages in the CE or school scholarship exams.[The second part of this blog post series about the changing face of independent senior school assessments can be found here.]