“The stigma of not passing the 11-plus never goes away.” A young person’s story

I can still remember the day vividly. Almost four years ago to this day I participated in the 11+ exam. We were ushered into a hall with the blinds down, small exam desks neatly dispersed across the floor and a large clock fatefully glaring upon us. It was obvious as you walked in who had come prepared and who had not, and by that I mean whose parents could afford tutoring and whose families could not. I had received about a fortnight of tuition prior to the test, putting me at anything but a level pegging as I sat down to take the exam. People in my Year 6 class had the luxury of being tutored for a whole year, two years in some cases – but some had none at all.

A few agonising months later I was handed a large, brown envelope by my teacher. My Mum and I had agreed not to open it until my Dad came home from work. However, neither of us could bear the excruciating suspense so in the car, parked in our drive, I opened the envelope. It read that I had got the mark ‘119’. This was two marks off. Honestly I felt absolutely distraught. Inevitably I was questioning whether I was worthy in the first place to get a good education, whether I was too stupid to go to one of these grammar schools which a lot of my friends had the privilege of going to.

My phone was buzzing and bleeping throughout that night with people asking if I had passed or how many marks had I got? At church people were coming up to me and saying, “Oh, I bet you passed didn’t you?”. Knowing that people has such high expectations for you and then to be told you’re not good enough was devastating in the purest sense of the word.

We decided to appeal on advice from my teachers and because of my parents’ belief that the only way to get the best education in the county was through a grammar school. That period of about four months just waiting to hear was extremely hard to bear. I finally received the result and found out that I had received a place at a grammar school in Bucks. I can just remember thinking that my life couldn’t get any better.

Three years ago I joined my school and I did feel immensely privileged and honoured to be going there. However, the stigma of not passing the 11+ never goes away. Over the first few days at school my fellow students would ask how many marks you got repeatedly and I did feel ashamed to tell them that I hadn’t even passed. When you are surrounded by so many people who have passed and who aren’t ‘stupid’ it is just awful to have to tell them that you are essentially a failure. This did knock my confidence a bit. I’ve discovered that the stigma of you 11+ result doesn’t go away probably until Year 8/9.

At grammar school I have always been aware that I’m receiving a very good education. At my current school I have some amazing, inspiring teachers who are always willing to help. However I can never help but think what would my education have been if I had gone to another school. I’ve heard from people who go to secondary modern schools that their expectations are less high and a lot of them I’d consider a lot smarter than me. It just isn’t right that your educational standards are effectively determined by a test, taken at the age of 10 or 11. What if you have a brain fade on one day? What if you have been sick and you can’t concentrate on the day? Honestly I feel that inequality and I’m just thankful that I’m not on the wrong side. The system needs to change, and change now.