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The Future of the 11-Plus Exam and How Tutoring Will Be an Answer

16/04/2015 12:37 BST | Updated 14/06/2015 10:59 BST

The 11-Plus exam has always courted a modicum of controversy during its time as a gateway to grammar school or private education. It was once looked upon as a divider of class so that the ones that could afford it were given the opportunity to leave the anonymity of state schooling for a route towards furthering their knowledge and a more favourable life after leaving full-time education.

Nowadays the playing field has levelled slightly but the 11-Plus still causes a fair amount of consternation as educationalists debate the validity of the exam and the timing in a pupil's learning. Meanwhile local authorities look to make the exams less susceptible to coaching from private tutors so that there is a level playing field for those taking the papers.

The National Tutoring Conference has organised a series of debates where all sections of the tuition and education industry come together and it seems that there is still a way to go before a conclusive answer to the best way forward has been reached.

Dr. Chris Ray is a member of the International Education Council and points out that differentiation is one of the most difficult demands on any teacher. With pupils maturing intellectually at different rates it means that parents are increasingly turning to private tuition to ensure that their child is at the right place at the right time with their knowledge base to tackle the 11-Plus and secure the chance to be on the path that they've chosen.

Dr. Ray argues that the age of eleven is too young for authorities to make this selection as there is evidence that until the age of fourteen the right skill sets are not in place. Instead he feels that "tutors and parents should instead foster the love of learning."

There doesn't seem to be any movement to scrap the eleven plus so the reality is that whilst there is an ability test to ascertain selection for grammar schools, then aspiring parents will want their children to do as well as possible and in turn this creates a demand for private tutoring.

In fact, tutoring is a growing industry that was worth £6.5 billion last year. Since 2001 over a million more children have been in extra tuition, with it reaching 2.8 million in 2014 and with 520,000 tutors employed. Some state schools are even using their Pupil Premium to pay for private tutors to come in.

Obviously tutoring can be an expensive business and can be as class dividing as the 11-Plus exam itself but there is movement in the industry to address this and open up this 'luxury' to the have-nots too.

Mark MacLaine is the co-founder of Tutorfair and he hopes his agency may have an answer. He feels that the inequality in this country is one among the worst in the world and the premise of Tutorfair is to give private tuition to students that cannot afford it for free as it is paid for by those that can pay the going rates. This has met with great success in parts of London with pupils being accepted at grammar schools where they wouldn't have previously had the opportunity.

If a system could be developed where private tutors can compliment the work of teachers then this would be of benefit to all and move away from the feeling that one is opposing the other.

As Woody Webster, the co-founder of Bright Young Things and TutorCruncher, points out, the 11-plus is equipping children with the ability to deal with the pressure of exams and possible subsequent failure but if those that qualified for free school meals were given free tutoring, they have more chance of passing and eventually flourishing in further education.

With the 11-plus seemingly here to stay and despite some local authorities looking to make the exams 'coach proof', the need for private tutors will surely grow and with this a pathway to making them affordable for all will need to be sought.