School Admissions

Six 11 Plus Alternatives Schools Use for Admissions

The 11 Plus exam is primarily used in the United Kingdom for admission to secondary schools, particularly grammar schools

However, there are various alternatives that schools may use for admissions, depending on their specific requirements and educational philosophies.

Why Do Schools Use 11 Plus Alternatives for Admissions?

Schools opt for alternatives to the 11 Plus exam for various reasons. 

Whilst the 11 Plus exam focuses primarily on verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning skills, schools may want to assess a broader range of abilities in prospective students, such as creativity, critical thinking, and subject-specific knowledge.

Additionally, schools may design their own entrance exams or use standardised tests like the ISEB Common Entrance Exam to align with their specific curriculum and educational priorities. This allows them to evaluate students based on the skills and knowledge relevant to their academic programs. 

Some schools also aim to create a more inclusive admissions process that considers students’ diverse backgrounds, experiences, and learning styles. Alternatives to the 11 Plus, such as interviews, portfolios, and fair banding, can help achieve this goal by providing a more holistic view of each applicant. 

What Are Some 11 Plus Alternatives for School Admissions?

School-Specific Entrance Exams

School-specific entrance exams are tailored assessments designed by individual institutions for prospective students seeking admission. 

Unlike standardised tests like the 11 Plus, these exams are uniquely crafted to align with the specific school’s curriculum, teaching methodologies, and values.

This admission offers schools the following benefits:

  • Directly reflect what students will encounter in their academic journey at the institution.
  • Assess students’ skills and attributes specific to their educational philosophy, such as critical thinking, creativity, or problem-solving.
  • Schools can incorporate questions or tasks that assess students’ alignment with the institution’s values, fostering a community of like-minded individuals.
  • Have the flexibility to adapt the exam format, content, and difficulty level to suit their requirements and the specific age group of applicants.

Examples of UK Secondary Schools: Harrow School, Eton College, Westminster School, and St. Paul’s School

ISEB Common Entrance Exam

The ISEB Common Entrance Exam is a standardised assessment administered by the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB). 

Whilst the 11 Plus exam is more commonly associated with grammar school admissions, many independent schools widely accept the ISEB Common Entrance Exam as a reliable assessment tool.

It is typically taken by students in their final year of prep school (usually aged 13) and is used to assess students’ academic abilities across various subjects, including English, mathematics, and science, as well as additional papers in history, geography, languages, and religious studies, depending on the school’s requirements.

Examples of UK Secondary Schools: Benenden School, Caterham School, King Edward’s School Witley, and Reed’s School

CAT (Cognitive Abilities Test)

The Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT) is a comprehensive assessment designed to measure a student’s cognitive abilities across various domains, including verbal, non-verbal, and quantitative reasoning.

This admission is used for:

  • A more comprehensive view of students’ abilities beyond academic achievements.
  • Reducing the influence of socioeconomic factors on performance and promoting fairness in the admissions process.

Examples of UK Secondary Schools: Hendon School, Rivers Academy West London, and JCB Academy

Recommendations from Primary School Teachers

Assessments or recommendations from primary school teachers also play a crucial role in the secondary school admissions process, providing valuable insights into students’ academic abilities, behaviour, and character.

Why schools choose this admission:

  • Teachers can provide detailed assessments of students’ academic strengths and weaknesses across different subjects.
  • References often include observations on students’ character traits, such as resilience, adaptability, and leadership potential, which are valuable considerations for admissions decisions.

Examples of UK Secondary Schools: Brighton College, Wellington College, and Rugby School

Portfolio Assessment

Portfolio assessment involves collecting and evaluating students’ work samples, which may include academic projects, artistic creations, essays, extracurricular activities, and personal statements.

Specifically, portfolio assessments are used in admission to arts-focused schools and as a complementary assessment. 

Arts-Focused Schools 

Institutions focusing on arts, design, or creative disciplines often rely heavily on portfolio assessment to evaluate applicants’ creative potential and suitability for their programs.

Complement Traditional Assessments

Even in non-arts-focused schools, portfolios can complement traditional assessment methods by providing additional insights into students’ interests, extracurricular involvement, and personal attributes.

Examples of UK Secondary Schools: The Royal Ballet School (London), The Purcell School (Hertfordshire), Tring Park School for the Performing Arts (Hertfordshire), and Arts Educational Schools London (London)

Fair Banding

In the fair banding process, students are grouped into bands based on their performance in standardised tests or assessments. These bands are designed to represent a range of abilities rather than segregating students based solely on academic achievement. 

Schools may allocate a certain number of places to each band to ensure a diverse intake.

The biggest advantage of admitting students through fair banding is that it promotes inclusivity. Fair banding helps schools attract students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.

Examples of UK Secondary Schools: Moor Park High School, Brompton Academy, Strood Academy, and The Victory Academy

How Do Secondary School Admissions Work?

Secondary school admissions in the UK typically involve several steps, which may vary slightly depending on the type of school and the local authority’s admissions policy. Here’s a general overview of how secondary school admissions work:

Application Process

Parents or guardians submit applications for their child’s secondary school placement through the local authority’s admissions system. This usually involves ranking their preferred schools in order of priority.

Admissions Criteria

Each school sets its own admissions criteria, including catchment area, sibling attendance, special educational needs, religious affiliation, and academic aptitude.


Some schools may require prospective students to sit entrance exams or assessments as part of the admissions process. Check with your chosen school about the application process and schedule for their entrance exams such as the 11 Plus or other assessments.

Allocation of Places

After considering applications and admissions criteria, the local authority allocates school places to students based on available spaces and the preferences indicated by parents or guardians.

Offer of Places

Parents or guardians receive notification from the local authority informing them of the secondary school placement offered to their child. They may be able to appeal the decision if dissatisfied with the outcome.


Once a school place is offered, parents or guardians must accept the offer within a specified timeframe to secure the placement for their child. Failure to accept the offer may result in the place being offered to another student on the waiting list.

Overall, the secondary school admissions process aims to ensure that all students have access to high-quality education and that school placements are allocated fairly and transparently based on parental preferences, school admissions criteria, and local authority guidelines.

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