Elite public schools drop common entrance exams

Westminster and St Paul's say the aim is to reduce sustained pressure upon pupils, parents and teachers

Caroline Henshaw

Two public schools are to drop the 13-plus common entrance exam

Two elite public schools are dropping the 13-plus common entrance exam in a bid to reduce pressure on pupils, parents and teachers.

St Paul’s School and Westminster School, which are both located in London, said the decision will give preparatory schools more flexibility in determining their own curriculum and allow them more room to incorporate independent study into the school day.

Dropping the 13-plus in favour of "pre-tests" taken in Year 6 will also reduce "the sustained pressure upon pupils, parents and teachers between National Curriculum Year 5 and Year 8," they said in a joint press release.

“Not having to take the [common entrance] examination will relieve stress and create more time for the school,” said Professor Mark Bailey, High Master of St Paul’s School.

“We strongly believe that this move will provide prep schools with the freedom to develop their curriculum in ways that are rigorous but inspiring for the pupils and also reduce unnecessary burdens and testing for parents and pupils.”

Westminster School Head Master Patrick Derham said the policy would “remove uncertainty and unnecessary stress” for pupils.

The decline of common entrance?

Common entrance exams were first introduced more than a century ago to determine admission to the UK’s top private schools.

Girls normally take the exams in maths, English and science at 11, while boys usually sit papers in these core subjects plus several others at age 13.

The exams are used by more than 200 independent schools along with their own exams and interviews to select the best candidates.

Michael Gove argued that all 13-year-old pupils should take the exams when he was education secretary.

But they have fallen out of favour in recent years. In 2013 a small group of preparatory schools, with the support of leading public schools including Harrow School, Marlborough College and Uppingham School, dropped them in favour of a baccalaureate-style exam.

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Caroline Henshaw

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