Sad truth of falling standards: the 11-plus that would give today's sixth-formers a headache

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The difficulties of getting into a good secondary school are, it seems, not new.

The difficulties of getting into a good secondary school are, it seems, not new.

Entrance exams for 11 year olds from 1898, published yesterday, have reignited the debate about standards in education amid accusations that they are further proof of "dumbing down" in the classroom.

The Victorian entrance exams in English history, geography, Latin and arithmetic for King Edward's School in Birmingham demanded candidates display a quick and accurate recall of detailed facts.

Pupils had to complete Latin translations and know the locations of British towns and cities, names and dates of historical battles and kings and queens, and the origins of selected global produce. Arithmetic tasks included advanced fractions and sums in pounds, shilling and pence. An exam in English grammar involves a handwriting test and requires significant analytical ability.

Experts said A-level and GCSE students would struggle to pass the papers, which were published by The Spectator after being discovered by reader Humphrey Stanbury, whose father sat them and passed.

Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools, said politicians needed to accept the "sad truth" of falling standards. "We're spending more and more to keep our children at school longer and longer, and yet they know less than their peers did 20, 50, 100 years ago," he said.

But Paul Woodruff, the director of studies at St Paul's School in London, said the papers "read like Sellars and Yeatman in 1066 and All That". The questions "look mind-numbingly dull and not very difficult to mug up on", he said. "It is not evidence of dumbing down, just that the goalposts have moved. What would 1898 candidates have made of: 'Use a spreadsheet to answer the arithmetic questions. Use the internet to find answers to the geography and history questions.'"

John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said it would be a "damning indictment" ofthe education system if there had been no change in 100 years. "It is no comment on standards to say things are simply different."

The current headmaster of King Edward's School, Roger Dancey, said: "Looking at this paper is great fun but not proof we've dumbed down ... education moves on."

A spokeswoman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said it was difficult to compare an entrance exam for one of Victorian Britain's top schools with today's tests.


No reference aids or calculators allowed. And certainly not Google



1. Multiply 642035 by 24506

2. Subtract 3.25741 from 3.3; multiply 28.436 by 8.245; and divide .86655 by 26.5

3. Find the square root of 5.185,440,100


1. Where are silver, platinum, tin, wool, wheat, palm oil, furs and cacao from?

2. Name the conditions upon which the climate of a country depends, and explain the reason for any one of them

3. Where are Omdurman, Wai-Hei-Wai, Crete, Santiago, and West Key, and what are they noted for?

English history

1. What kings of England began to reign in the years 871, 1135, 1216, 1377, 1422, 1509, 1625, 1685, 1727 and 1830?

2. What important results followed the raising of the siege of Orleans, the Gunpowder Plot, the Scottish rebellion of 1639, the surrender at Yorktown and the battles of Bannockburn, Bosworth, Ethandune, La Hogue, Plassey and Vittoria?

3. How are the following people connected with English history: Harold Hardrada, Saladin, James IV of Scotland, Philip II of Spain, Frederick, Elector of Palatine?



1. 15,733,709,710 [2 marks]

2. 0.04259; 234.45482; 0.0327. [2 for each, total 6]

3. 2.2771561 [3]


1. South Africa; South Africa; Australia; Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina; Britain and France; Malaya and the Middle East; France and Eastern Europe; West Indies. [Half mark for each product, total 4]

2. Climate depends on hemisphere, latitude, elevation, distance inland, sea surface temperature upwind, upwind topography, local topography. [1 for each factor, plus 2 for a detailed explanation of one factor, up to a total of 7]

3. Omdurman, the Sudan, was the site of a battle in 1898 between the Dervishes and troops led by General Horatio Kitchener. Wai-Hei-Wai, on the eastern shore of China, was the site of a conflict between the Chinese and the Japanese navies in 1879. Crete, in the Mediterranean, gained independence from Turkish occupancy in 1898. The Battle of Santiago, Cuba, in 1898 was the largest engagement of the Spanish-American War and resulted in Spain's failure to prevent a blockade of the island. West Key, Florida, was a war port in the Spanish-American War. [Half mark for each place plus half mark for each reason, total 5]

English history

1. Alfred the Great, Stephen, Henry III, Richard II, Henry VI, Henry VIII, Charles I, James II, George II, William IV. [Half mark for each king, total 5]

2. The French Dauphin Charles was crowned king of France at Rheims; Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake for heresy. Guido Fawkes and seven others were hanged; a huge persecution of Catholics in England followed. Charles I tried to raise taxes to fight the rebellion, and he declared war on Parliament when it refused, leading to the Civil War. The surrender of such a large section of the British Army at Yorktown, America, secured the independence of the United States. The Scottish victory at Bannockburn established Robert Bruce upon the Scottish throne; independence followed 14 years later. The death of Richard III at Bosworth ended the Wars of the Roses and Henry VII started the Tudor dynasty. In 878, King Alfred the Great, king of Wessex, led his men to victory over the Danes at the Battle of Ethandune; a treaty was signed restricting the Danes to the north of the island. Plassey in 1757 marked the start of British conquest of India. Napoleon lost his grip on Spain at Vittoria 1813 (the defining moment of the Peninsula War), which became independent of France. [Half-mark for each, total 5]

3. None were born in England but all made a claim to its throne. [1 for the connection, up to 2 for details, total 3]


0-5 Back to primary school

5-15 At least you tried

15-25 Respectable effort

25-35 Suspiciously competent

35+ Get off Google and put the calculator away. Start again without the "educational aids"