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Common Entrance exams to be officially phased out of UK prep school curriculums

Last Updated: 11 Oct, 2019

The IAPS (Independent Association of Preparatory Schools) has recently announced that Common Entrance exams are “virtually over” and that they will soon no longer be required for entrance into top senior schools across the UK.

Following on from our blog post earlier in the year about Westminster School, St Paul’s School and Wellington College dropping the Common Entrance exams, it has recently been announced by the IAPS (Independent Association of Preparatory Schools) that CE exams will be completely phased out over the next 18 months in all prep school curriculums.

As Britain’s oldest examination, Common Entrance was introduced in the early 1900s to test 12-13-year olds who wanted to study at top UK boarding schools such as Eton College and Harrow School. Back in February of this year, UK Study Centre reported that some schools had already made the decision to phase out these ageing exams.

Schools such as Westminster and St Paul’s are to revise their age of intake to 11 years old, taking away the huge amount of pressure some students face when in years 7 and 8.

Chris King, head of the IAPS, said that:

The traditional use of Common Entrance . . . is virtually over. There are various ideas being floated [about what prep schools will teach in the future] including the idea of some project-based work.

Mr King's comments reflect a similar opinion to our experienced education consultants here at UK Study Centre. In our view, ridding of the unnecessary stresses that Common Entrance places on both parents and students alike, will be a step in the right direction. Often by year 8, students already have their places at senior schools confirmed and the need for CE exams seems obsolete.

Recently, Alan Smithers, professor of education at the University of Buckingham, said:

Prep schools were set up often as boarding schools to prepare boys for schools such as Eton, Westminster and Winchester, but with the disappearance of Common Entrance their days are numbered. The sector is likely to be decimated as the schools, which specialised in cramming children for the exam, struggle to find a new purpose.

Here at UKSC, we couldn’t disagree with his comments more. Prep schools have stood the test of time and remain extremely popular with UK and international families. We believe they will never cease to exist (despite the recent common entrance exam reform).

In our experience, there is a significant proportion of British and international students who would choose independent prep schools over state primaries. Prestige, academic rigour, smaller classes and facilities make prep schools an attractive alternative to state-funded schools.

In the UK, primary state schools do not prepare students for exams into independent senior schools.

Competition for school entry at 7+ or 11+ standard is very strong. There are often 10 children per place that apply, so a huge proportion of students are left without places. For those students, prep schools provide a contingency option where they can continue their schooling for Y7 and Y8 before eventually starting independent senior school in Y9.

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Traditionally, many boarding schools do not take students until Y9. Schools such as Eton, Harrow, Winchester and Charterhouse haven’t succumbed to the competitive and oversubscribed 11+ entry. Therefore, top UK prep schools will always need to provide a learning environment for those students who hold out for Y9 entry into the best private schools in the UK.

Overall, it is our firm belief that prep schools in the UK will continue to thrive despite the recent announcement of common entrance exam reform. If anything, this is a clear indication that independent schools are responding to concerns from teachers and parents, streamlining the process in which students transition from preparatory to senior. Here at UKSC, we have helped hundreds of students gain access to some of the very best senior independent schools in the UK. Our experienced consultants will continue keeping a close eye on how 13+ entry develops over the coming months.

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