In an article in The Times on September 29th, it was reported that The Common Entrance Exam as we know it will be no longer be a requirement for prep school pupils. Instead of focusing on the positive changes the Independent Schools Examination Board (ISEB) have made to this exam the article chose to distort the news to suggest that this not only signalled the end of the examination but prep schools as a whole.

The Common Entrance Exam, which is currently sat by around 7,000 prep school pupils aged 12-13, is in actual fact set to be adapted over the next 18 months to create a modernised selection process. Although The Times took this to mean that this was the end of Britain’s Oldest Exam, this is far from the truth. Rather than this signalling the end it merely indicates a development in the attitude of examiners and independent schools. 

In response to the Sunday Times article Durell Barnes, Chair of ISEB, noted that these changes to the Common Entrance Exam did not indicate its demise, more its evolution: “CE (Common Entrance Exam) specifications will encourage pupils to be enthusiastic learners who are open to new ideas and experiences… As such CE will continue to enable prep schools to recognise and acknowledge what has been achieved in Years 7 and 8, providing, where needed, an entry mechanism for senior schools, and indicate to senior schools what they can expect from the pupils who transfer to them.”

The Common Entrance Exam was initially introduced in 1904 in order to place children in exclusive schools. The examination aimed to challenge students on their knowledge of a range of eleven subjects, including Maths, Science, History and Modern Foreign Languages. However over time this exam has not necessarily reflected the changes in preparatory schools themselves.

Christopher King of the Independent Association of Prep Schools noted of the Times article that misinformed readers of ‘the end of the Common Entrance Exam’: “Prep schools have long served schools that set 11-plus entrance tests. They respond imaginatively and effectively to any changes that are needed.”

Preparatory schools are evolving constantly to suit the changing world and their students. Therefore, this change in examination highlights that the Independent Schools Examination Board, who administers the exam, are noticing and reacting to these changes as well. 

Alastair Speers, Headmaster at Sandroyd School Salisbury said, in response to the Times article on the end of the Common Entrance Examination: “Your report fails to provide a balanced picture by overlooking the significant number of thriving prep schools that have seen unprecedented pupil numbers over the past few years…these schools teach important critical thinking skills – for example, how to recognise bias in a newspaper.”

At St Michael’s we welcome this evolution and are already focusing our students on life outside the classroom as well as academic studies we promote core values, awareness, critical thinking, sporting and extracurricular activities that turn out well-rounded students. Therefore, despite the rumours, The Common Entrance Exam is not dying or dead, rather its use and relevance is evolving to meet the needs of preparatory schools and their students.

We have included some snippets from the Times article itself for you to read and consider below, however, we also welcome your questions surrounding CE should you have them. Please get in touch with our office to organise a meeting with myself. 


Mike Rees 


St Michael’s Preparatory School

The Times Article –

“End of Common Entrance exam at private schools ‘threatens prep survival’

September 29th 2019

Britain’s oldest examination is to be phased out by private schools in about 18 months, it emerged yesterday.

The move follows the decision by leading private schools, including Westminster and St Paul’s School, to scrap the test and take more children from state primary schools at the age of 11. Some schools are starting to revise their timetables to bring in more sports, arts and drama lessons in an attempt to portray a less stressful schedule compared to those in the state sector.

Chris King, head of the Independent Association of Preparatory Schools, which represents more than 600 schools, said: “The traditional use of Common Entrance . . . is virtually over. There are various ideas being floated [about what prep schools will teach in the future] including the idea of some project-based work.”