Common Entrance

CE – dead or alive?


‘We live in interesting times’ and the lively debate about the future of Common Entrance is one of a plethora of ‘interesting’ challenges that Prep Schools currently face.


On the one hand, more Senior Schools are introducing the 11+ and are pre-testing. On the other, some Prep Schools are abandoning CE with a great flurry of marketing-focused hyperbole and replacing it with ‘little tested’ alternatives at unedifying breakneck speed. It is, however, my view (and that of many of my fellow Heads) that CE is far from dead. It is, instead, evolving and facilitating more innovation in teaching and learning. The gravitas of the external validation provided by CE puts our children in a very favourable position as they enter their senior schools.


The skills embedded by the rigour of CE – disciplined study, an understanding  of how to revise, overcoming the stress of exam-taking, the ability to prioritize time and manage large amounts of learning – help the children enormously as they face GCSEs. In English and Humanities, CE papers allow the children to develop and hone their skills in analysis, synthesis and essay writing. The acquisition of these skills in the idyll of a nurturing Prep School makes a tangible difference. This theory is supported by our academic tracking, which illustrates that our children progress rapidly in Years 7 and 8.


Pre-tests are largely computer tests that are closely linked to IQ.  Success in Common Entrance recognizes, in addition, hard work and effort. Hard working children see tangible and positive cause and effect as they take their CE successes on to their senior school.  It instils a  growth mindset and there is an enormous sense of pride and achievement when the children open their CE envelopes. It is a real highlight of the StR year!


CE has never been wholly ‘Common’. Every school has different grade boundaries and is free to use the suggested mark scheme as they chose. Neither is it for ‘Entrance’, where Pre-Testing now dominates. It has, instead, metamorphosed into a ‘Common Exit’ exam and this commonality is key to its strength. Prep Schools, like Saint Ronan’s, who feed a range of senior schools, should see themselves as part of a bigger picture in teaching a common syllabus of knowledge and skills. After all, that, for all their protestation, is exactly what the Senior Schools do via the commonality of GCSE and A level! Performance in these examinations will dictate universities, careers and futures.


CE currently offers us a syllabus and it is our job to deliver that in as innovative, creative, collaborative and ‘media-savy’ way as possible. We are no longer simply ‘teaching to the test’.  In my mind, CE is just a valuable part of our much wider curriculum. Non-examined subjects such as Music, Art, Computer Science, Forest School, DT or PE allow for greater experimentation, risk and creativity. The co-curricular provision, encompassing everything from Dance and Drama to Beekeeping and a great variety of sport (both field and individual), offers a myriad of opportunities to capture the interests of the children. There is also time in the day for free, unstructured play to feed the imagination and forge closer friendships.


I will, of course, continue with my team to monitor all the arguments about Common Entrance and will seek to maximize every opportunity for creativity and innovation. However, I don’t think we should consider ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ quite yet!