It’s Children’s Mental Health week and we support this initiative which highlights the importance of children’s emotional wellbeing. We feel that there is one aspect of our school system that is particularly damaging to primary school pupils mental health – the 11-plus test.

IN 2016 The Kent Education Network and LKMco surveyed head teachers in Kent, Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire and found that 93% of heads agreed that, ‘Failing the 11 plus can impact on young peoples’ self-esteem’ with 59% agreeing that ‘failing this test could ‘have an impact on a pupil’s ambition or aspiration.’

The written remarks from the head teachers were particularly telling, with many heads worried about the pressure of test tuition and a damaging pass/fail judgment at the age of ten or eleven. Here are some of the comments:

“Children feel a failure if they don’t pass and consider they don’t have a successful future ahead of them, this is influenced by parents’ feelings and behaviours. Far too many children are pressurised to pass the test and are ‘tutored to death’ to desperately try to enable them to pass. What is this telling our young children?”

“There is a social ‘stigma’ about children not going to the grammar schools. This puts huge pressure on children.”

“It impacts the majority of children’s self-esteem in a very bad way when they fail the 11+. This is reflected in poorer behaviour and lack of ambition.”

“Children at 11 are branded “failures” by the test which has a detrimental effect on their self-esteem and confidence.”

“The pressure facing 10 and 111-year-olds three days after the start of an academic year is horrendous, especially from pushy parents. They often suffer a tremendous amount of stress whilst awaiting the results and end up looking at far too many secondary schools and grammar schools as they do not know what the result will be.”

“As a Primary school, we have many families who believe that our only purpose is to get their children through the 11-plus… Families report that failing the 11-plus has social implications particularly in middle class and aspirational families. Some children are tutored for two years before their 11-plus and placed under enormous pressure by their friends and family.”

“I feel strongly that it is not the best thing for all of our children. It is completely against the growth mindset that we try to establish in primary that anyone can achieve anything. Children do reach academic maturity at different times, and the comprehensive system allows for those developments.”

“Non-selective schools concentrate the most vulnerable in one place. Young people feel they have failed education at the age of 11 there is a massive impact on self-esteem and aspiration.”

The survey results can be read in full here. We also made a short video to highlight the head teacher’s concerns.