Commentary on The 11+ Examination
By Sylvan Spooner
In Barbados, the 11+ examination is administered annually to students as young as 10 years old but no older than 12 years of age. In spite of decades of pressure placed on it by its detractors who consider it a psychological burden on students, the 11+ examination continues to be the vehicle through which students are promoted from primary to secondary schools. As Caribbean and international economic and social activities came to a grinding halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic and as thousands of jobs were lost in the dominant tourism industries, 11+ examinations were held across the region. That regional 11+ examinations were held in the midst of a global pandemic speaks volumes not only to the lack of ready alternatives but also to it remaining a monument to secondary school allocation in the region.
Possible Alternatives and New Approaches
Unfortunately, one outcome of this examination is that students move from one high pressured school environment to another and are often unprepared for the challenges which lay ahead. A number of alternatives have been proposed to correct the challenges of the 11+ examination. Primary among these has been a system of continuous assessment, namely, a long term evaluation of a students’ academic performance prior to promotion to a secondary school. Though Lee and Henkhusens (1996) considers continuous student assessment to be a viable alternative to standalone 11+ examinations, the region’s focus on the higher performing students has taken precedence over student attainment. Though Poder (2017) states that zoning, wherein students are allocated to schools nearest to their homes, has a positive impact on equity within schools, this option has been ignored locally. Furthermore, Carrington (1993) and Gorard and Haut (2013) stated that equity should be the bedrock of any education framework and that education should not solely be for the benefit of the most fortunate.
The Future of The 11+ Examination
The 11+ examination (in its current form or at best slightly modified) will, in spite of calls to hasten its demise, remain with us for the foreseeable future. Given the region’s history of fervent calls to abolish the 11+ examination followed by lengthy periods of silence, the public should not expect a wholesale deviation from the established norm. These calls for change have been neglected for decades and this suggests that unless novel ideas and alternatives are brought to bear on the 11+ discourse, the chances of meaningful change is remote. Although its detractors continue to call for its eradication, those in position to do so have shown a lack of political will to abandon a system of education which (in large part) paved the way for their own paths to influence and power. Therefore, until the pathway(s) to prestige and power no longer stem from the elite secondary schools but from within each secondary school irrespective of its rank, the 11+ examination will remain a benchmark for excellence.
In spite of decades of protest against the 11+ examination, a sustained call to action is required to facilitate change. In the absence of the political will for change, the traumas inflicted on students, parents, and teachers during examination preparations will continue. Those students deemed to have ‘failed’ will be burdened by the pressures of school and society long after they have completed the 11+ examination with many carrying this burden well into their adult years. Though no single alternative may be the solution to the issues which plague the 11+ examination, a combination of the best solutions available, coupled with consultation between government and educators, may be the best way forward. Failure to act and to do so decisively will result in the 11+ examination and its unique social and economic challenges being with us for the foreseeable future.
Carrington (1993). The Future of Education in the Caribbean. Report of the CARICOM Advisory Task Force on Education. St. Lucia: Caribbean Community Secretariat.
Gorard, S. and Haut See, B. (2013). Overcoming Disadvantage in Education. Abingdon Routlege.
Lee, B. and Henkhusens, Z. (1996) Integration in Progress: Pupils with Special Needs in Mainstream Schools. Berkshire: National Foundation for Education Research.
Poder, K.., Lauri, T. and Veski, A. (2017). ‘Does school admission by zoning affect educational inequality? A study of family background effect in Estonia, Finland and Sweden.’ Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 61 (6) p.668-688.