As the House of Commons Education and Health Select Committees prepare to hear evidence on children’s mental wellbeing, and in the light of the government’s controversial plans to expand selective education, Comprehensive Future today highlights evidence of the negative impact of the Eleven Plus.

A recent survey found that 92% of headteachers in selective areas believed that the Eleven Plus negatively impacts on pupil self-esteem.

This underlined the findings of the National Foundation for Educational Research that, “with very few exceptions, headteachers 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. As one headteacher put it, ‘staff have to work overtime to build up the children’s self-esteem.”

Speaking today Brian Apter, the Chair of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Educational and Child Psychology, branded the Eleven Plus a “daft puzzle” based on “erroneous assumptions.”

He said, “Selection tests and exams such as the Eleven Plus have never been and can never be ‘culture-fair’. The scientific evidence is vast and incontrovertible. These batteries of verbal, non-verbal (so-called) and numerical tests are terribly sensitive to coaching and practice effects. This means that well-heeled parents (or poor parents with a credit card) can pay for their children to be coached and practised, pressured and hot-housed, into completing these daft puzzles.

This is a system created by the selected few to select a few more to join the club based upon their erroneous assumption that children who are more intelligent are more likely to ‘pass’ the Eleven Plus. In reality, the pass-criteria is comprised of everything else that surrounds these tests – the culture, the coaching, the economic resources, the postcode and the aspirations and beliefs of the families who have been seduced by the dream.

I passed the Eleven Plus and went to a grammar school from a council estate – it was a nightmare. And what happens to those children who fail the Eleven Plus? They feel like ‘failures’ – particularly if they have been coached and expected to pass – and they constantly look across the cultural divide to the parallel lives and privileged existence of the ‘successes’. This experience of ‘failure’ casts a very long and depressing shadow into adulthood. How on earth can the Eleven Plus be good for the mental health and well-being of our children?

The sad truth is that external forces operating upon local-authority inclusive comprehensive schools, such as the cost-savings agenda, Ofsted, examination-driven accountability and selective schools indirectly – perhaps inadvertently – squeeze the enthrallment out of children’s and young people’s learning and curiosity; and the joy and career-longevity out of teaching. Being enthralled, wanting to be at school – and being wanted there – are interdependent safety factors that protect a child’s mental health.

In the mean time, we Educational Psychologists are on-hand and available to schools to assist and support them in meeting the ‘mental health’ needs of children and young people.”

Melissa Benn, Chair of Comprehensive Future, responded, “There is already a broad coalition opposing the expansion of selective education. Brian Apter’s comments remind us of the human element that complements the overwhelming evidence base on selection. As a system it is divisive, ineffective and damaging. The onus is now on the Government to explain why they believe they know better than such respected experts.”