Schools advised to delay 11-plus tests until November

Grammar school entry tests should be pushed back until as late as November, the government has said, with parents given an additional preference in admission applications.

The Department for Education guidance, which is only advisory, says that no child is “likely to perform to their utmost ability in a test at the beginning of September” because of school closures during coronavirus.

Most grammar school entry tests for the 2021-22 year were due to be held in September. But the DfE “strongly advises” that tests for both grammar and partially selective schools are moved back into “late October or November” if possible.

This would mean parents face choosing which school their child would prefer to attend without knowing whether they would qualify for a selective school.

The guidance states parents should be asked to use their final preference for a local non-selective school if tests results will not be known before October 31.

Councils in selective areas have also been urged to offer all parents applying for a secondary place “at least one additional preference”, but the government said it recognises some contracts with companies providing co ordination software may not permit such changes.

A DfE spokesperson said selective schools are an “important part of our diverse education system and this guidance gives important advice for parents, schools, and local authorities ahead of pupils’ return to classrooms in September”.

However the guidance is only advisory and will not “prescribe a single course of action”. This will be for admission authorities to decide.

As well as selective schools, the guidance covers schools which use fair banding and those that select up to 10 per cent of their cohort by aptitude in a prescribed subject.

Written tests should continue to be run under exam conditions, the guidance states, but schools should follow “stringent health measures”.

Examples include keeping pupils taking a test at school separate from others, avoiding mass pick-up or drop-off times, and running exams in well-ventilated rooms with space between desks.

But as it’s “unlikely to be possible to test as many children in a single hall in one sitting as is normal practice”, the guidance says tests may have to be run over a longer period.

For children who cannot attend for reasons related to coronavirus – such as because they are shielding – authorities may have to rearrange tests or allow them to be completed at home.

Authorities across different areas that use the same tests can continue to do so, but they should “work together to ensure … that such approaches can continue so that any complexities for parents are minimised”.

Schools can also consider “lowering the selection test pass mark for children eligible for the pupil premium”, the guidance adds.

Selective schools have also been encouraged to consider how they can work with target families and children to provide support over the summer and autumn.

However, any changes to admission arrangements, such as test dates, pass marks or arrangements for those unable to attend, still need permission. For local authority-maintained schools, the council must approve applications and regional schools commissioners will sign-off academy changes.

The guidance states submitting these “early” would be helpful, as would having variations in place before the deadline for councils publishing their composite admissions prospectus by September 12.

But should schools that make changes want to revert back to their normal admission policy for the 2022-23 year, they will have to consult on this for six weeks between October 2020 and January 2021.

Separate guidance for faith schools also states any admissions changes must also be approved.

Some councils have already announced changes. Kent, for instance, will run its 11-plus test in mid-October.

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  1. Janet Downs

    If the 11+ is supposed to identify innate ability, why the delay? Surely this postponement is an admission that tutoring and coaching can increase the chances of jumping through the 11+ hoop.

    • Gina Smith

      I totally understand what you mean, and with a daughter going into Y6 in Bucks in September I have a vested interest. The kids have had over 5 months with little or no work and, with the best will in the world, it will take a little while to get back into the swing of things. Settling into a new class, a new routine and having a stressful exam chucked at them all at once after such a long time off is a massive ask. Many very bright children, disproportionately those who have struggled to access online resources throughout lockdown, are likely to find the transition quite a shock and having time to adjust seems reasonable.

  2. Tunji Adenij

    This is a pragmatic approach which will be welcomed by most of the children irrespective of ability. To proceed from the current situation into such an exam in Sept will be extremely difficult for most of the children. The Nov date will provide an opportunity for them to experience a bit of normalcy if you can call it that before sitting the exams.

  3. Of course children who are tutored or preparing for the 11 plus are laughing. A child can learn more at home in 1 week than 1 month at school for the 11 plus. The children are oven ready!

    • Sumbal Amir

      11+ entrance exam should not be delayed, it must be taken in September so kids can enjoy year6 in schools and corona virus pandemic is not an excuse for the preparation of 11+. Kids have to pass it on their abilities. I highly prefer its occurrence in September. Please take the test in September. Thank you

    • Janet Downs

      Mark – but if the 11+ is supposed to be a test of innate ability, then surely no coaching, tutoring and practising should have no effect? In practice, the supposedly tutor-proof tests are anything but. Not a test of innate ability at all.

  4. Education Boutique

    If the schools are all putting test dates back to November… fine. But why would the Local Authorities not even out the number of schools choices a parent has on their CAF?

    As it stands for a lot of parents, the CAF deadline will come before the 11+ results can be communicated. A parent in Buckinghamshire receives 6 school choices meaning they can make 2/3 grammar school choices and still be left with 3/4 state school choices. A parent in Bracknell Forest only gets 3 school choices in total. Not fair. A postcode lottery. Poor communication from the government and local authorities.


    I don’t think this proposal is ideal as it is obvious that any child registered to sit the 11 plus surely would be preparing towards that and pushing this back would make matters worse as the pressure becomes too much on the kids, juggling their school work alone aside preparing for this exam.

    Also, if 11plus is pushed back, then the general school application should also do for consistency as the current provision is confusing and parents always would know their faith prior to general school applications.

    On these basis, I suggest the exam should go ahead as planned.

    Thank You


    This is not in the best interest of children as everyone want this to be over and done with.

    If this has to delay, then general school application should delay also as it has always been after the 11 plus.

    Delaying this will put more pressure on the kids ad they have to combine school work with the 11 plus preparations.

    Not a very good idea for the kids exams should go ahead as planned especially for CSSE and Bexley who haven’t yet announced their date changes.

    Thank You

  7. Kimberley Albatova

    Lockdown has separated some children not only from school but from parents or as our family split across countries. There has been chaos at home for many…..Where it is true you can learn much at home the environment needs to be the right one, parents need to be available and routine helps. Let’s give the children a few weeks of normality before they take the tests what is there to lose?

  8. Rosie Yoncheva

    Delaying the exam will put additional enxiety on children and make the not perform at their best. Staying at home and preparing for 5 months non-stop is enough.

  9. Emily Megan

    What concerns me most is not the testing, but the tutoring, and teaching to the test. Those children are being put into a position where they could struggle every day at school and spend the rest of their school lives taking extra tuition to keep them afloat.
    With regards the test date changes, I am happy they are doing that. There are many children who could ace the tests without the tuition, but who haven’t set foot in a classroom since March. There will be all sorts of anxieties that need to be sorted before they’re ready to sit in exam conditions in unfamiliar surroundings. My daughter, for one, was relieved when I told her it had been delayed, and that’s from a child who is now used to the new way of being in a bubble in school.

  10. Yes ,the children are preparing for the exam at home,they had enough time to learn rather than school opens. If it’s delay then more pressure and loosing the entertainment time bored with longer learning. Its always better to do the exam on September if possible less stress for everyone

  11. Mark Watson

    I could write a basic computer program that predicts the contents of the ‘Comments’ section with a 99% success rate;

    10. If article is about selective education goto line 20.

    20. If you are in favour of selective education goto line 40.

    30. If you are against selective education goto line 50.

    40. Make comment about how good selective education is. It doesn’t matter what the article was about, twist it to suit your personal prejudices.

    50. Make comment about how awful selective education is. It doesn’t matter what the article was about, twist it to suit your personal prejudices.

  12. Jo Maxwell

    I think this does not make any sense at all. Most of these children have been stressed out preparing for their exams. To now have this time extended is exhausting on children and parents. Can we just get over and done with this exams and its every child and parents worst nightmere. Children who have been home for the past 4 months have had so much time to prepare and I am not sure going to school would have helped them to achieve better. I think 11 plus is more of extra tutoring rather than learning at school. Just my 2 cents anyway

  13. Annie Thomas

    So now private schools will be teaching children to pass from September! The privileged get the spots. All kudos to any state kids that make the grade this year!