To complement our Facts, Figures and Evidence about Grammar Schools evidence check, this is a summary of evidence about the mental health and wellbeing aspects of the 11-plus. There is no substantial work on this area in England, so research on this topic from Northern Ireland is also listed here.
The psychological impact of the grammar school test, Yvonne Skipper, Keele University (2018)
This study asked pupils to complete a questionnaire before and after they sat the 11-plus. There was a negative impact on those who did not sit the test and those who failed, and children who passed the test were more likely to have a fixed view of intelligence, most likely because they had been shown to be the “clever” children.
How Do Academically Selective School Systems Affect Pupils’ Social-Emotional Competencies? John Jerrim and Sam Sims, UCL Institute of Education (2018)
This study analysed children’s responses from the Millennium Cohort Study, comparing children in non-selective areas to selective areas for a range of social and emotional outcomes. It concluded that attending a selective state school had no positive impact upon teenagers’ attitudes towards school, aspirations, or engagement with their school work. The only outcome with a marked difference was self-esteem, which actually proved to be worse among grammar school pupils. The authors suggest that this may be because grammar school pupils’ confidence is dented by being among other high achievers. The self-esteem findings also suggest that the confidence of children who do not get into a grammar is not greatly affected in the long term. Although, the scope of the work meant there was no way to distinguish which pupils in selective areas took the test and which did not.
The association between private tutoring and access to grammar schools: Voices of Year 6 pupils and teachers in south-east England, Anas Hajar (2019)
This research, published in the British Educational Research Journal, involved three Kent primary schools, and sought pupil and teacher views on 11-plus tuition. It found test tuition was more prevalent than teachers suspected, and found a widespread belief among the pupils that 11-plus tuition is necessary to pass the test. The research also highlighted the financial pressure families face, and the stress the test causes.
The Impact of the Structure of Secondary Education in Slough, Schagen, I and Schagen, S. (2001)
This National Foundation for Educational Research looked at the effects of the selective school system in England and it revealed that: ‘With very few exceptions, head teachers reported that children were deeply affected by the test results, and consequently primary school staff had to devote considerable time to ‘picking up the pieces’ providing counselling and support for children who perceived themselves as failures.’
The paper can be found here.
Listening to the silenced majority (2022)
Francesca McCarthy is in the final stages of her PhD at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society. Francesca’s research used narrative and creative methods to examine the lived experiences of pupils who failed the 11-plus.
Read more about the research here.
Transition to secondary education: children’s aspirations, assessment practices and admissions processes, Leanne Henderson (2018)
A PhD thesis from Leanne Henderson of Queen’s University Belfast looking at children’s views of the Northern Ireland transfer test. The study offered a survey for pupils about sitting the test. It reported that 49% of pupils used private tutors and 29% felt ‘a lot of pressure’ about taking the test. It also reported pupil’s opinion on selection and school choice, with commenys such as, ‘Grammar schools are better because the people that go aren’t stupid and it’s not as rough.’ And, ‘you felt like you needed to get a good test score to please your parents.’ Although, surprisingly, it also shows that those pupils who transfer to school without sitting the test feel almost the same levels of stress.
Read the thesis here.
REPORTS AND SURVEYS
Talking Transfer, Pupil’s perspectives of the transfer process in 2010, A report by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (2010)
In Northern Ireland in 2010 the transfer test moved from a Department of Education set 11-plus test to unregulated tests operated by grammar schools. This report studies the impact of the change, as well as seeking pupil’s more general views on the test process. It records comments about the test being stressful, causing sleepless nights and nerves.
Read the report here.
‘Can Make Or Break A Child,’ The Right to Education (R2E) (2019)
This report is based on a survey of children’s views of the Northern Ireland transfer test. Children who took part in the research shared their experiences and told of not sleeping, loss of appetite, crying, anxiety, depression, and not attending school “for fear of a test”. Six out of every 10 pupils surveyed by the study said they believed the transfer test was bad for them, while 92 per cent of teachers felt the system had a significant negative impact on children’s mental health.
Love to Learn survey (2012)
A survey by Love to Learn, a website offering online courses for adults aged 50-plus, found that grammar school entrance exams still had a powerful impact on people 40 years on. Of those who failed the 11-plus, 36 per cent said they still “lacked the confidence” to undertake further education and training courses, while 13 per cent insisted the experience “put them off learning for life”. Some 45 per cent of adults with poor 11-plus results said they still carried “negative feelings with them into their fifties, sixties and beyond.”
Did ‘failing’ the 11-plus mean, for some, a lifetime of feeling secondary?
Linda Hoddle carried out a small scale study interviewing 14 individuals who failed the 11-plus in the 1960s about how it made them feel many years later. Linda says, ‘It is particularly difficult for some ‘11-plus failures’ to believe in their own academic or professional success. There seems to be a basic denial of their intelligence, often regarding the ‘other’ as cleverer and therefore superior to themselves.’
Read more here.
Department of Education for Northern Ireland. The effects of the Selective System of Secondary Education in Northern Ireland Bangor, Gallagher, T and Smyth, A. (2000)
A detailed study looking at academic selection in Northern Ireland, one of the strands of the report is the impact of selection on pupils’ motivation and attitudes. The report points out that teachers ‘feel that many of the pupils arriving in secondary schools do so with a sense of failure and a key priority for the schools is to seek to re-establish a sense of self-worth.’
Read the report in full here.
Thoughts on the 11+: A Research Report Examining Children’s Experiences of the Transfer Test, Belfast, Save the Children, Leonard, M. & Davey, C. (2001.)
The study authors found that the majority of students approached the tests with fear and anxiety. Those children achieving low scores experienced low self worth. Other feelings described during the practice test stage include isolation and worthlessness, begrudging the sacrificing of play/leisure time and pressure – from parents, teachers and peers.
Read more here.
The impact of poverty on young children’s experience of school, Goretta Horgan (2007)
An examination of how poverty impacts on younger children’s experience of school, focusing on life in primary schools in Northern Ireland. This study from Save the Children and the Rowntree Foundation found that the 11+ and other tests were overwhelmingly the main cause of worry about school among the children. Children commented on the stressful nature of the tests and worry about their parents and others expectations – that they would ‘let them down’ by not doing well enough.
Read more here.
If there is some research that you feel should be listed here please get in touch and let us know.