Heading for 11+ or 13+? Georgina Blaskey explains what each decision would mean in terms of selecting the right senior school for your child



Choosing whether to send your child to a school at 11 or 13 is an entirely personal decision, so it is hard to apply the same rules for all. For many parents, it’s not a simple, textbook process, so start by familiarising yourself with what each route involves.

The majority of selective schools (state or private) taking in pupils in Year 7 will use an exam to select their students called the 11+. This refers to the age the child will be when they start the school, as the tests are usually taken in the January of the last year of primary school (Year 6), when some children will still be ten years old. Each school will set its own exam so your child will need to sit separate papers at each one, normally over a three-week period.

The 11+ exam will usually consist of Maths, English and Verbal and/or Non Verbal Reasoning. There may also be an interview involved although this varies from school to school. In addition, some schools may use computer-based tests for their selection process. Usually, these start easily, with the assessment getting harder as it continues, based on the child’s answer to the previous question. Typically, results are published the Friday before February half term, and you need to make your decision by early March.

Alternatively, there is the 13+ exam, also known as Common Entrance (CE), used by most private schools for their Year 9 intake. In many cases, your child will have done a Pre-Test in Year 6 or 7 for several schools and secured an offer from one, conditional on a satisfactory level of performance at CE.

Pre-testing is intended to filter down the number of prospective applicants to a school and, although it can vary, consists of a series of tests, usually in Years 6 or 7. Increasingly these are computerised and focus on logic and reasoning (both Verbal and Non-Verbal) as well as English and Maths. If the required level is achieved in the Pre-Test, pupils will be invited for interview.

CE is taken in early June of Year 8 and pupils sit papers in Maths, English, Science, French, History, Geography, RE&P, and Latin. Papers are marked by the chosen senior school and the results are published a week later.


exams2If you have a child at a school that continues until 13, you have the gift of many options and decisions to make on school choices and the ensuing exam processes. If your school finishes at 11, you have to move, but where? A senior school at 11 or an interim school for two years until their final school at 13?

Katie Krais of JK Educate suggests you ask yourself this: “When do you want them to start? What is the exam format? Does it play to their strengths – is it online or does it require lots of written work? What’s the numbers game – the size of a school’s intake at 11 might affect the number of places at 13. However, if your child appears to be maturing later and is happy where they are, they may benefit from having time to develop emotional and social intelligence and therefore applying at a later stage may be right for them.”

Janie Richardson, founder of Yellowbird Education, says, “Look at your child and decide how ready they are. Then look at the numbers and see what you’re up against. There are advantages to going to a school at 13 for some children, while others have clearly outgrown their prep school by the time they’re 11.”

Tash Rosin of Teatime Tutors believes it’s also worth considering the practical implications – the logistics and the budget. “If you’re going to end up spending lots of time in the car, and perhaps you’re also working, that’s going to lead to parental stress. Your child will feel it too, so perhaps it’s not the right choice. The process is so personal but start with the basics of your family life and work from there.”


Composition comes with practise, so the more you write the easier it becomes to think of ideas. The difficult bit is coming up with those ideas – especially in a short space of time.

Use your own experiences and bits of other stories. It’s fine to borrow ideas as long as you change them a bit:

1. Make a plan – especially the first and last paragraphs.

2. Always finish.

3. Keep it neat.

4. Have five to ten power words in your head that you know will impress and that you can spell.

5. Don’t lose marks for careless grammar and punctuation.

6. Balance the story in five paragraphs.

7. Stick to the title. Don’t make too much happen, but keep the story interesting with similes, senses and descriptions.

A story should flow with each paragraph leading to the next.

That’s it. Piece of cake really…

Source: Yellowbird Education

exams3Another consideration is where your child will be able to get into. “Demand for London day school places is so high,” says Alex Hutchinson, head of Woldingham. “But avoid putting your child into too many 11+ exams. Cast your net wide and think more laterally.”

For those entrance exams you do enter your child for, Dara Hanley, director of Exceptional Academics and head of English, has this advice: “Slow and steady wins the race; wherever possible, try to prepare your child for their exams in plenty of time.

“Last-minute cramming is stressful for you, your child and your tutor.”

When deciding whether your child should sit CE and start their senior school at 13, it’s worth knowing the origins of this entry point. While girls’ schools traditionally started at 11, boys were thought to benefit from having a bit more time at prep school because they generally mature later. Now with many private boys’ schools becoming co-educational, the goal posts have moved as lots of girls are also waiting to start their secondary school at 13. But even if your current school finishes at 11, if your child is not suited to taking the 11+ or you want them to go to a school that starts at 13, you have options.

Edward Rees, headmaster at Hornsby House, explains: “In terms of 11+ and 13+, historically the 11+ exam served those children entering London day schools, with 13+ taken by those migrating to the boarding schools out of town. For cultural and financial reasons, the 13+ boarding option is not appealing to many parents but it does present a viable option for the right child in an over-crowded London day school market. Furthermore, there are some children, perhaps late developers academically, who will benefit from two additional years in a gentler, more nurturing prep school setting.”

Vania Adams of The Roche School, agrees that, although the 11+ entry point is desirable for many, the school will do its utmost in supporting families with different needs. “The day school market is a little overheated and somewhat competitive. In some schools, this can lead to pupils being pushed onto a steep academic trajectory unsuitable for their development.

“When we prepare our lists for transition to secondary school we often include a couple of 13+ options either for those parents who wish their child to board at 13+ or for those pupils who need a little more time to mature. We have two or three ‘go to’ schools that we recommend to parents (both day and boarding) where we know the children will be expertly prepared by the head for transition at 13. This can be a very successful option and should not be ruled out.”


Mock exams are a practice run before students perform in the exam. We say ‘perform’ because an examination is a performance to gain entry into the top academic schools or make the cut to university.

The year that is the most pivotal is Year 6 when students take 11+ examinations, which set children up for life. To overcome the fear of the examination, hone exam technique, and ultimately, excel in the real examinations; practice makes perfect through exam papers and mocks. Students can then tailor their preparation for each school, adapt their exam techniques, familiarise themselves with the assessment criteria of each school and tailor their study skill accordingly.

By making mistakes in a mock, children learn, setting them up for exam success.

Source: Exceptional Academics

Year 9 options don’t just mean boarding, there are many London day schools that offer 13+ entry such as Emanuel, Streatham and Clapham High School, Ibstock Place and Dulwich College, to name a few, many of which have their 13+ exams in the January of the year of entry rather than

CE. Ultimately, you know your child and all our experts agree that the key is to look at how they’re doing, where they are now and whether they’re more suited to the 11+ format or 13+. From there, you can discern which is the best entry point for your child to help you narrow down your school choices.

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