6 Key Figures in the Development of the 11 Plus

The 11 Plus exam has significantly impacted the UK’s education system.

To fully understand its impact, we must delve into its historical development, the key figures who influenced its trajectory, the debates surrounding its implementation, and its status today.

Who Are the Key Figures in the 11 Plus Exam Development

Cyril Burt

Sir Cyril Burt Invented the 11 Plus Exam

Cyril Burt, an educational psychologist, was a significant proponent of intelligence testing. He believed intelligence was largely inherited and could be measured accurately through standardised tests. 

Burt’s work laid the foundation for the invention of the 11 Plus exam, although his later discredited research on the heritability of intelligence cast a long shadow over the validity of his contributions.

Richard Austen Butler (R. A. Butler)

Richard Austen Butler, also known as R.A. Butler

R. A. Butler was instrumental in shaping the post-war education landscape in the UK. His vision for a more egalitarian education system led to the creation of the Butler Education Act. The Act aimed to make secondary education free for all children and introduced the tripartite system, categorising schools into grammar schools, secondary modern schools, and technical schools. 

The 11 Plus exam was designed to allocate students to these different types of schools based on their academic abilities.

Edward Boyle

Edward Boyle - Key Figures in the Development of the 11 Plus

Another key figure was Edward Boyle, who served as Minister of Education from 1962 to 1964. He recognised the limitations of the tripartite system and the 11 Plus exam and advocated for more comprehensive schooling systems. 

Boyle’s tenure marked the beginning of a shift towards comprehensive education, although the 11 Plus remained in place for many areas.

Anthony Crosland

Anthony Crosland - Key Figures in the Development of the 11 Plus

Anthony Crosland, Secretary of State for Education and Science from 1965 to 1967, was pivotal in this transition. Crosland strongly advocated for comprehensive schools and issued Circular 10/65, which requested local education authorities to plan for the transition to a comprehensive system. 

This directive significantly accelerated the decline of the 11 Plus exam.

Shirley Williams

Shirley Williams - Key Figures in the Development of the 11 Plus

The pressure for change culminated during the tenure of Shirley Williams, another influential Labour politician who served as Secretary of State for Education and Science from 1976 to 1979. 

Williams continued Crosland’s work by promoting comprehensive schools, which used other admission systems and not the 11 Plus exam for student selection. 

Her efforts significantly contributed to the decline of the exam’s use, and many areas in England and Wales phased it out in favour of non-selective education systems.

Theresa May

Theresa May- Key Figures in the Development of the 11 Plus

Theresa May supported grammar schools and selective education during her time as prime minister. In 2016, her government proposed lifting the ban on creating new grammar schools, sparking renewed debate about the 11 Plus and the role of selective education in modern Britain. 

Although this initiative faced significant opposition and was eventually dropped, it highlighted the ongoing relevance of the 11 Plus exam in educational policy discussions.

Current Status and Key Figures

Despite the widespread move towards comprehensive education, the 11 Plus exam has not entirely disappeared. It remains in use in certain areas, particularly in counties such as Kent and Buckinghamshire, where grammar schools remain a prominent educational landscape feature. 

The current status of the 11 Plus exam reflects a complex and often contentious debate about selection and meritocracy in education.

Key contemporary figures in this debate include Dr. Simon Hyde, the General Secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), and Dr. David Green, chief executive of the think tank Civitas. 

Hyde has argued for the benefits of selective education in providing opportunities for high-achieving students, while Green has advocated for educational reform that includes maintaining grammar schools as centres of academic excellence.

Conversely, critics like Melissa Benn, an education campaigner and writer, have continued highlighting the social inequalities perpetuated by selective education. Benn’s work emphasises the need for an inclusive education system that offers equal opportunities to all students, regardless of their socio-economic background.

Master the 11 Plus

A unique, confidence-boosting way to study for the 11 Plus

Final Thoughts

The journey of the 11 Plus exam is marked by significant contributions from various key figures who have shaped its development, implementation, and ongoing progress. 

It remains a topic of considerable significance and controversy in the UK’s educational landscape. 

While its future continues to be debated, the exam’s impact on shaping educational pathways and opportunities is undeniable.