Take the 11-plus. In 1927.
The government has announced plans to reintroduce grammar schools in England. Access would be via an 11-plus exam. Here are some papers from the year 1927. If you think you’re smart (or if you know a smart 11-year-old) have a stab and see how you would have got on.
Bringing back the 11-plus is a controversial idea. While passing the exam provided access to a top-flight education for the brightest children from poor working-class homes, many others claim that failing the test set back the course of their schooling and subsequent lifelong prospects.
Even if you think the old grammar school system was a good thing in its time (an era when there were fewer graduate occupations and a high demand for skilled artisans and tradespeople) the question remains as to whether it would be geared to the modern employment market.
I advance no opinion on the issues above, but hope that these 11-plus papers from the year 1927 will be of interest.
To give a little background: these papers were given to me by my father, Dr Brian Bunday. They were originally sat by his long-time friend and colleague, Harry Mulholland. The pair met in the 1960s, when they worked in the mathematics department at Liverpool John Moore’s University. Together they authored the well-regarded text book “Pure Mathematics for Advanced Level”.
Harry Mulholland apparently once described himself to my father as: ‘The thirteenth son of a Liverpool-Irish docker, who had to pull himself up by his own bootstraps”. His success in the 11-plus was evidently just the first part of this process. His story was not unique. The local authority school in Liverpool that he attended achieved 3 scholarships and 7 free places in that year.
My father was somewhat younger than Harry, and didn’t sit a comparable test himself until 1947. But he came from a similarly humble background and success in the 11-plus exam undoubtedly altered the course of his life, propelling him to grammar school, university and a distinguished academic career, becoming the head of the mathematics department at Bradford University.
Dad’s retired now, but at 80 years old he still devotes considerable energy to playing table tennis — which was reported in the news this week as contributing to sustained mental agility. Perhaps this was a factor in his successful appearance on the TV game show “The Chase” in 2015, when he must have been one of their oldest contestants ever.
As a footnote, isn’t it lovely to see that having completed the English exam with time to spare, the brightest students in 1927 weren’t above entertaining themselves with the very satisfying business of shading in all the typographic apertures in the title on page one?