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Is the Common Entrance exam outdated? February 16, 2011

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education.
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A group of Heads of UK independent schools –including KCS Wimbledon, Haileybury, St Edward’s Oxford and Wellington College – met this week to see if they can come up with an alternative to the Common Entrance exam.

First introduced in 1904, Common Entrance is taken by children applying to independent secondary schools at age 11 and 13. Pupils are entered for the exam if they have been offered a place at a school, subject to passing it. The exam is then marked by the relevant school.

Two of our publications recently featured editorial from professionals discussing the current system. One is in favour of introducing a newer, more relevant system; the second sees merit in Common Entrance, providing it is updated and reviewed to ensure it remains relevant.

The first, from an extract from an article in the spring 2011 issue of Prep School magazine, is from Paul Baker. Paul taught for taught for 38 years in both prep and senior independent schools before retiring from teaching in 2008. He is now professional tutor for the staff at New College School, Oxford; an ISI inspector; and PGCE tutor for the University of Buckingham.

“The Common Entrance examination remains firmly focused, in many cases, on learning facts. This contrasts with the current Key Stage 3 curriculum which emphasises the development of a child’s personal, thinking and learning skills in six specific areas: independent enquiry, creative thinking, reflective learning, teamwork, self-ma

nagement and effective participation. While mastery of a subject will always be important, it should be clear that it is excellence in these skills that will help our children thrive in a changing world.

“If we encourage serious, joined-up thinking amongst the stakeholders in our preparatory and senior schools, I think we can create a new framework that will take our students from Year 7 to the end of Year 9 without the imp

ediment of the Common Entrance examination. I believe that Common Entrance restricts the education currently being delivered in Years 7 and 8. Worse, it is often the case that even in Year 9, when the pupils have moved on to senior schools, there is an uneasy mixture of the old and the new. Pupils and teachers try to establish some p

rogression but, in many cases, work is repeated and pupils fail to advance skills, knowledge or understanding.

“There will be those who argue that Common Entrance is a convenient ‘setting’ exercise for the senior schools but we need to remember that many of the schools will have pretested children at 10- or 11-years-old. Indeed, if Headmasters, parents and teachers all communicate efficiently, no child should fail Common Entrance. What an indictment on our system that we have to use an oldfashioned examination for setting, and that the curriculum has to be planned for this.”

This second extract is taken from the our forthcoming Preparatory Schools 2011 guidebook (due for publicationnext week), and is written by Chris Calvey, Head of Ardingley College.

“Prep School, in essence, should be enchanting.  Children should be captivated by a love of learning; a desire to want to find out more. Their natural curiosity should be something we use to guide them through their subjects.  In my view, the broad curriculum of Common Entrance will allow most children to build on that curiosity, strengthening their knowledge and their comprehension, as well as their ability to demonstrate that understanding.  For these children, Common Entrance, its curriculum and, of course, those final exams are highly beneficial. The CE prepares pupils for GCSEs, A Level or IB exams, whilst also keeping alive and building on their ability and love of learning.

“For other children, the pace and demanding nature of the curriculum may be so great that it erodes that love of learning and curiosity, turning school into a place that is anything but enchanting.  For such pupils, the standard Common Entrance is not ideal. However, that does not mean we should reject it. After all, CE caters for everyone because of the option of differentiated papers that means pupils can go at their own pace.”

Just two of many different opinions on Common Entrance. Feel free to share yours…

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