Is your child cleverer than a 1950’s 11+ Grammar School pupil? (Free 1950 test papers)

Grammar Schools

One of the most regretted abolitions, or most celebrated changes (depending upon your political persuasion) to the English schooling system was when the vast majority of educational authorities did away with their Grammar schools during the 1970’s.

Many people mistakenly believe that Grammar schools were not created until the Victorian era, around the 1850’s – 1870’s perhaps, however, Grammar schools, or to use their original name scolae grammaticales, can trace their lineage back to the sixth century and pre-date such educational establishments as Eton College (1440) and Winchester College (1382).

Notwithstanding their place in history, following the 1944 Butler Education Act the plan had been to radically overhaul the education system within the UK, since until then it was ridden with inconsistencies and was what would now be referred to as ‘a postcode lottery’ rather than a cohesive system.

The Tripartite System

The act defined three types of secondary schools in a tripartite structure.

  1. Grammar Schools
  2. Technical Modern Schools
  3. Comprehensive Schools

Of these, onward progression from Primary Schools to Grammar Schools was only available to pupils who sat and passed a set of entrance papers at ages ten/eleven.

Technical Modern Schools were supposedly going to teach technical subjects, such as science and materials related studies, leading to scientific and technical careers.

Comprehensive Schools were to focus on those deemed ‘less’ academic and thus provide less challenging subjects with few pupils being expected to go onto further education.

Many adults who as children had passed through the Grammar school system during the late 1940’s and into the 1960’s had found it to be a very successful experience, but the general view was changing.

During the 1960’s a countervailing argument in favour of a more fair and balanced education for all meant that it was felt unfair that a small proportion of the school population could, by virtue of gaining access to a Grammar school, become eligible for significantly better educational opportunities than the remaining majority of pupils.

The parents of those attending Grammar schools, could be, it was argued, were in effect receiving education as good as some minor public schools without the attendant fees.

Since those pupils who could secure a Grammar school place were much more likely to continue onto further education, rather than those attending Comprehensive Secondary schools, successive governments petitioned to remove the Grammar school system en masse.

These misgivings led finally to the beginning of the abolishment of the vast majority of Grammar Schools, between 1965 and up to the introduction of the Education Act 1976.

In broad terms in most locations the various state maintained grammar schools were joined with other nearby state schools (who were at the time either Technical High Schools or Comprehensive Schools), or they converted to private schools. A few simply closed.

What’s interesting, however, is that in a few locations throughout England (and Northern Ireland) certain locations elected to keep their Grammar Schools as-is and they are still operating as such in 2021.

The modern situation in 2021

So the net effect of these closures means that we’re left with just 163 Grammar Schools (concentrated in just a few locations) within England, along with a further 69 Grammar Schools in Northern Ireland.

Whilst there were ‘rumblings’ in 2016 of the Conservative government being minded to grant local authorities the right to introduce new Grammar Schools, that idea was kicked into the long-grass and would appear to stand no change of becoming a manifesto issue anytime soon.

Similarly, both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are resolutely against selective secondary education an have stated that they will not support any increase to the amount of Grammar School places.

It’s clear, therefore, that for those parents who want to send their children to a Grammar School there will only ever be those 163 schools to consider, however many pupils are willing to fight for a place by sitting a selection of entrance exams.

But have those exams become easier, more difficult, or stayed the same since the 1950’s?

2021 Eleven Plus vs 1950’s Grammar School Entrance Exams

Ever wondered if your child is clever than a grammar school pupil?

If so, how might your little cherub fair in comparison with a child of the 1950’s?

This is an interesting question since when Grammar schools were more common it was also more common for children to be tested in the following areas:

  • Mental Arithmetic
  • Essay Writing
  • General Problem Solving Questions

Exams were subsequently developed to assess:

  • Verbal and
  • Non-Verbal Reasoning.

This was because it was felt that the questions in the General Problem Solving papers unfairly favoured those children who came from middle-class backgrounds and were more widely read.

Eleven-Plus exam example papers

What I’ve included here are example papers that were collated by Dr Martin Stephen, High Master of St Paul’s 2008 in his delightful book on the eleven plus.

Below you’ll find four papers which are perfect examples of the type Grammar school hopefuls would have taken to assess their suitability for progression along that exalted route.

1. Arithmetic pages one and two


2. General English pages one and two

Eleven Plus Paper - General English 1 p1
Eleven Plus Paper - General English 1 p2

3. Comprehension pages one and two, and finally

Eleven Plus Paper - Comprehension 1 p1
Eleven Plus Paper - Comprehension 1 p2

4. General Intelligence – Knowledge pages one and two.

Eleven Plus Paper - General Intelligence - Knowledge 1 p1
Eleven Plus Paper - General Intelligence - Knowledge 1 p2

Each page can be opened by clicking on its link, or if you would like a fully-formatted ready-to-print pdf of all four papers simply click here, pop your details in the contact form and we’d be delighted to provide this for you.

How to approach these eleven plus exam papers

These papers each cover a broader subject range than those students preparing for modern 11+ papers might be used to. That being so, it’s best to be flexible in interpreting their results in the light of what preparation they’ve been able to carry out.

If you were to allow one hour for each paper then you’d be giving yourself a sporting chance of a good score.

Open invite for having your papers marked

If you would like, once your children have attempted these papers you can contact us at Peterborough Tuition and we’d be pleased to mark them for you. You can email a scan or a photograph of their handiwork to me here and I’ll have the answers for you in a couple of days.

Additional reading

We’ve written further about the present Grammar School system, including whether there’s been a ‘land-grab’ for places, and discussed 25 surprising 11+ myths if you’d like to read more about how the Grammar school system continues to operate to this day.

We’ve also produced a brief list of state and private independent schools by county too, which may be helpful in your school selection process.

Further tutoring and support with school selection

If you’d like to find our more about how we can help with Maths, English, 11+ and 13+ exam preparation and school selection you can contact us here.

Header photo is of Wheelwright Grammar School, Dewsbury from the year 1970

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