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Does Common Entrance still have a place in our children’s education?


With Common Entrance results hot off the press we take a closer look at whether or not these exams are still a useful part of the prep school experience. We caught up with Sid Inglis, Headmaster at Elstree School, while the exams were in full flow this year to find out why he believes that Common Entrance still has a place in our education system.


As I write, my Year 8s are going into our assembly hall to begin their Common Entrance exams.  The atmosphere is a happy mixture of nervousness and excitement.  They are busy sharpening their pencils (again), checking that their calculators work and having a final glance at their carefully designed Biology flash cards.  They give each other supportive ‘high fives’ as they enter the hall.

The challenge of sitting academic assessments under time pressure is considerable but being able to demonstrate what they have learned is also incredibly energising. It is the culmination of plenty of hard work, skilled teaching, and no shortage of classroom inspiration.

The children seem genuinely excited about concluding their time at prep school with a set of ‘high stakes’ exams. They themselves have said that without this challenge, there would be an anticlimactic feeling: “Sir, it would be like spending your school days learning and practising the piano without taking any grades, or practising football without any competitive matches.”  A simple but pertinent analogy.  Another added, “I want to have that feeling of graduating from prep school and enjoying a proud sense of achievement.” No one can argue with that.

These are not children who are, or have been, overly anxious.  They have not experienced huge levels of stress in the build up to Common Entrance and Scholarship, mostly because they have been guided all the way by their dedicated teachers and made to feel supported and well-prepared.  Equally, with pre-assessments taking place in Year 6, their places at senior schools are all but guaranteed.  This is a chance for them to show what they know, and, truthfully, for us to demonstrate what high quality teaching can deliver.

The ISEB has consulted extensively with HMC, GSA and IAPS schools and put forward proposals to make sure that Common Entrance reflects the needs of 21-century education.

Prep schools will be able to recognise, acknowledge and celebrate what has been achieved by pupils and teachers in Years 7 and 8.  Senior schools also need to know what to expect from their incoming pupils in terms of knowledge, skills and understanding.

Senior schools and employers will look for ‘cognitive’ and ‘people’ skills such as creativity, good judgement, problem solving, empathy, the art of persuasion and the ability to lead and inspire. Development of these core ‘soft skills’ are usually ingrained in extra and co-curricular programmes, and they have been developed over many years at Elstree.

Now, as my Year 8s reach the conclusion of their prep school education, we test their ‘hard skills’. These exams mark the rigour of their academic preparation and ambition. The pupils will have gained huge satisfaction and pride from their experience and based on this week’s evidence, they themselves would affirm that the Common Entrance certainly still has its place.



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