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Grammar Schools in the UK: Complete Guide

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

About Grammar Schools

Henrietta Barnett
Image property of The Henrietta Barnett School, www.hbschool.org.uk

This comprehensive guide aims to give you a clear and concise overview of key information regarding grammar schools. First, it is important to understand what a grammar school actually is!

A grammar school is a selective secondary state school in the UK which determines admission based on academic ability. 

Grammar schools have existed since the 16th century, however, their status was more similar to a current independent school. The modern grammar school concept was introduced in the 1944 Education Act.

All children applying for a place at a grammar school will usually sit an entrance exam, known as the 11+, and are sometimes required to attend an interview at the school. 

Candidates go through these admissions processes when they are in Year 6 – the application process often starts when they are in Year 5 – to gain a place in Year 7. 

Grammar schools are sometimes part of consortiums, which are groups of two or more schools that use the same application process, entrance exam, exam dates and exam provider.

Key information for entry into Grammar Schools at 11 plus (11+)

  • Registration 

Most grammar schools will open their registration in April or May, when your child is in Year 5, and set a deadline for around June or July for parents to register their child for the 11+ exam (it is important to note that each school has a unique registration process and registration dates can vary from these months).

You will be asked to fill out a registration form which you can usually find on the school’s or the consortium’s website.

 

  • Open events

Open events (usually held in the morning or evening) are opportunities for prospective students and their parents to visit the school.

Open events can include guided tours, Q&As, pamphlets, the opportunity to walk around the school and speak to staff members.

Schools usually have booking forms and information about their open events on their websites.

 

  • Exams

Most grammar school 11+ entrance exams take place in September. Some schools will choose to have one test day with multiple papers and others may have multiple stages where pupils who score the highest in Stage 1 will be invited back for a Stage 2 test. 

You can read more about the format of 11+ exams below.

 

  • Interviews

Some schools require interviews with prospective students as an extra admissions procedure. 

These interviews are often informal and are a way for the school to get to know your child to see if they are a good fit for the school.

Sometimes these interviews are weighted the same/similarly to the 11+ entrance exam.

 

  • Results 

Results of the 11+ exams are often sent out in late September or mid-October to give parents time to fill out the CAF before the deadline in later October.

It is important to note that high results in the 11+ exam do not automatically mean that your child will be offered a place in Year 7 at the school of your choice. 

Many schools will have oversubscription criteria in place, giving priority to children based on varying factors such as whether they are in local authority care or eligible for Pupil Premium. 

 

  • Common Application Form (CAF) submission

After you receive your child’s results you will need to fill out a CAF by the deadline on 31 October, naming your top choices for schools. 

It is important to note that the order you place schools in on your CAF will be taken as your preference.

 

  • Appeals

If you are unhappy with the school place your child has been offered, or feel there has been a mistake, you are often given the chance to appeal this decision. 

The appeals process will vary depending on the school or the consortium so it is important to check what the process is for your chosen school.

 

  • Supplementary Information Forms (SIF)

Some schools will require you to submit a SIF to provide them with extra information about your child.

The school will use this to determine whether your child meets their admissions criteria.

Common questions about Grammar Schools

  • How does scoring in exams work?

Children will usually take their 11+ exam in September in Year 6. The content of this test varies depending on the school, consortium or the exam board administering the test, however, it will assess some, or all, of these subjects: English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.

All marks from each paper your child sits are combined and they are given a total score. The score is usually age-standardised, reducing the risk of children born later in the academic year having a disadvantage. The final test score will then be placed in rank order and places will be allocated based on the school’s admissions criteria.

A score of 121 is usually the minimum mark children will have to achieve, although, it is important to note that test score alone cannot guarantee admission into the school and other admission criteria can often take priority.


  • What is a school’s priority admission criteria?

Most grammar schools prioritise admission for children from disadvantaged backgrounds often looked after (or previously looked after) children, children with medical or social needs, or children who are eligible for Pupil Premium.

It is important to note that although these children are often given priority admission, they usually still have to achieve a score of 121 or over in their 11+ exam.

Grammar schools also often have a catchment area or will consider the distance a prospective student lives from the school when determining places.

Sometimes a school will give priority to the children who have familial ties to the school, for example, they are the child of a current staff member who has been at the school for over two years or they have a sibling currently at the school.


  • What is the PAN?

The Published Admissions Number, or PAN, is the number of spaces available at a school for the relevant age group. The average grammar school has a PAN of around 150-180.


  • What is a consortium?

Grammar school consortiums are groups of two or more schools that use the same application process, entrance exam, exam dates, and exam provider as each other. Schools in a consortium tend to be in the same county or region as one another.

The aim of being in a consortium is to reduce the number of entrance exams a child has to take, as you can be considered for any of the grammar schools in a consortium by taking one 11+ exam.

Some examples of grammar school consortiums are: 

  • Essex 11+ Consortium 
  • Buckinghamshire Grammar School Consortium
  • Slough Consortium 
  • Gloucestershire School Consortium 
  • Kent 11+ Consortium
  • Consortium of Grammar Schools in Birmingham 

The 10 Highest-Ranking Grammar Schools in the UK

The information used in this list was published by the Sunday Times in their Parent Power 2023 article. The list is ranked using the school’s A Level and GCSE results from 2022.

Girls (11 to 18) – A Level: 97.3% (A*-B) – GCSE: 98.8% (A*/A/9/8/7)

Boys (11 to 18) – A Level: 98.3% (A*-B) – GCSE: 95.7% (A*/A/9/8/7)

Boys (11 to 18) – A Level: 97.9% (A*- B) – GCSE: 95.4% (A*/A/9/8/7)

Girls (11 to 18) – A Level: 97.1% (A*-B) – GCSE: 94.9% (A*/A/9/8/7)

Girls (11 to 18) – A Level: 95% (A*-B) – GCSE: 96.8% (A*/A/9/8/7) 

Mixed (11 to 18) – A Level: 95.4% (A*-B) – GCSE: 95% (A*/A/9/8/7)

Boys (11 to 18) – A Level: 96.4% (A*-B) – GCSE: 91% (A*/A/9/8/7)

Boys (11 to 18) – A Level: 93.3% (A*-B) – GCSE: 93.8% (A*/A/9/8/7)

Mixed (11 to 18) – A Level: 94.1% (A*-B) – GCSE: 90.1% (A*/A/9/8/7)

Boys (11 to 18) – A Level: 92.2% (A*-B) – GCSE: 91.2% (A*/A/9/8/7)

Exam formats and boards for Grammar School 11 plus (11+) entrance exams

There are two main exam boards for the 11+ exam: GL Assessments and CEM (Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring).

GL Assessments is the main provider of grammar school 11 plus (11+) exams. These exams tend to be paper-based and non-adaptive, meaning the difficulty of the questions does not change depending on your child’s answers. GL Assessments’ exams assess four subjects:

  • English 
  • Maths 
  • Verbal reasoning 
  • Non-verbal reasoning

 

Although, it is important to note that not all schools choose to include all four subjects. The test covers all Key Stage 2 national Curriculum objectives in English and maths. 

CEM also produces 11+ papers, however, they have now switched to entirely online exams and no longer produce any standard papers. CEM also covers the topics mentioned above, however, all the subjects are integrated in shorter timed sections. 

CEM exams require greater comprehension skills and a wide-ranging vocabulary, focusing on national curriculum content, whereas GL Assessment papers tend to place more emphasis on logical reasoning and spelling. 

Pros of applying to a Grammar School at 11 Plus (11+)

  • Consistently impressive academic results: As shown in the highest-ranking grammar schools table above, grammar schools tend to produce excellent GCSE and A Level results. Grammar schools admit children based on academic ability and teaching tends to, therefore, be more challenging and fast-paced.

 

  • Opportunities for high-achieving students: Grammar schools place emphasis on academic success, placing an emphasis on providing a stimulating environment for students and celebrating their achievements. 

 

  • Social mobility: Whilst many independent schools offer bursaries and scholarships, there is often a very limited number available and as entry to grammar schools is based on academic performance in the 11+, prospective students can have access to an excellent education regardless of their social background.

 

Cons of applying to a Grammar School at 11 Plus (11+)

  • The pressure and stress put on children: As children are in Year 6 when they take the 11+, with many starting preparation in Years 4 and 5, many people worry about the extra pressure placed upon children as these exams can often be unnecessarily stressful.

 

  • Children are divided academically too early: Some children reach their full academic potential and maturity far later in life and so at 10 years old many children are not ready to take the 11+. Many people believe that this test is taken too early and children should not be divided academically at this stage.

 

  • Class privilege: Although there are many pros to choosing grammar schools as they allow greater social mobility, some argue that selective entrance exams like the 11+ invite the need for private tuition.

How to prepare your child for a Grammar School's (11+) exam

The most useful way to prepare for an 11+ entrance exam is to use practice tests to familiarise your child with the exam content and format.

These tests can help your child to build their confidence and improve their performance in the exam.

For grammar school 11+ preparation, we recommend the following packs: 

11+ Practice Tests

Key Recommendations for a multiple-choice exam

Key Recommendations for a standard format exam

Further Recommendations

Mock Exams

Find out more about Examberry’s in-person mock exams: please click here.

Tuition

Find out more about Examberry’s in-person and online tuition courses for grammar school 11+ preparation: please click here.

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