When Was the 11 Plus Exam Introduced. Brief History

When Was the 11 Plus Exam Introduced? [Brief History]

Curious about how the 11 Plus exam began? In this article, we’ll explore why and how it all started, peeling back the layers of history to understand the beginnings of the 11 Plus Exam and things that have sparked lively conversations and debates about it over the years.

How Did the 11 Plus Exam Start?

When Was the 11 Plus Exam Introduced. Brief History

How did this important test come to be, influencing the education of many students in the UK? Here’s a brief account of the history of the 11 Plus exam:


There wasn’t much public secondary education in the UK until the government made some changes. They created new public grammar schools and also helped out the existing ones. They also started some technical training courses for kids who weren’t into academics.


The Education Act of 1944, also known as the Butler Act, was passed and provided free education to children ages 5 to 15. The 5 to 10-year-olds went to primary schools, and the 11 to 15 went to secondary schools.

The 11 Plus exam was introduced as part of the Act to assess the academic abilities of students at the age of 11 and determine their eligibility for different types of secondary education.

There were three types of secondary schools or the Tripartite system at the time: Grammar Schools (for those who wanted to go to university), Technical Schools (for those who wanted to learn a trade), and Secondary Modern Schools (for those in the middle).

The 11 Plus tested kids on verbal and non-verbal reasoning, plus some maths and English. 


The 11 Plus exam became widely implemented across the UK. But, as time passed, some people thought this system wasn’t fair. Critics didn’t like the 11 Plus because it decided a kid’s school path at such a young age and only created an educational elite, much like fee-paying schools. 

The government decided to shake things up and bring in a new system known as the comprehensive education system. Children no longer have to take an exam to be placed at a certain school and they can go to the same type of secondary school.  


Grammar schools were disappearing, making way for comprehensives. Some grammar schools became independent or private grammar schools, others changed to comprehensive, whilst the rest remained as grammar schools.

A new government introduced a rule allowing parents in areas with grammar schools to decide their fate through a vote. Despite attempts in some places, grammar schools stood strong, gaining unwavering support from many parents.

Some schools started admitting everyone and the 11 Plus became less important. The change happened at different speeds in different places. 

In Scotland, they had Academy Schools, and in Wales, all the grammar schools were gone by the end of the ’70s. Northern Ireland kept more grammar schools until 2008 when they phased out the 11 Plus exam but still had a different selection test.


Some places in the UK still use the 11 Plus test, particularly 163 grammar schools in England and 67 in Northern Ireland. The exam is more like a special entrance test for these selective schools and children can decide if they want to take it or not.

Independent schools in England usually select students at the age of 13 using a test called the Common Entrance Examination. Some of them select students at age 11 with tests in English, Math, and Science.

The secondary education assessment made room for various methods of determining the best fit for students. Yet, grammar schools persist, basking in positive reviews and maintaining their status in school rankings. It’s safe to say that the 11 Plus exam remains an interesting part of the evolving nature of UK education.

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