Common Entrance Examinations are taken by children across the UK, as part of the admissions process for academically selective secondary schools. The tests, more commonly known as CE, are taken at the age of either 11 or 13, and are set by the Independent Schools Examinations Board. CE exams can be sat at one of three times during the year, prior to the year of entry into the senior school. The name is derivative of the fact that the schools who use these papers to distinguish their intake of students for the year agree to use a common set of examination papers, whereas other selective independent schools choose to introduce their own set of entrance examinations. Shiplake College falls into the latter category: Headmaster Gregg Davies is firmly of the opinion that Common Entrance Examinations systems can be, for many pupils, detrimental to a pursuit of learning curiosity, and simply do not do justice to everything that the child has to offer.

The exams have long since divided schools. Not only do they encourage pupils to spend their formative years preparing for exams and learning within exam conditions, but also are seen as a very stressful time for young pupils. The result of this is that pupils are effectively pigeon-holed into tick-box categories: the individuality of the children and the various skills that they have to offer regardless of academic prowess – goes completely overlooked. The exams test children on the core subjects of Mathematics, English, Science and additional subjects such as Geography and History, but fail to take into consideration creative subjects such as Art, Music and Drama, and other areas where children excel. Subjects studied for the exams too, such as Latin, are outdated in everyday life and crucial areas, such as Computing, are overlooked. Moreover, the antiquated examination system means that children spend an inordinate amount of time learning how to pass a set of exams, which prohibits them from learning and nurturing new skills, such as Computing skills, which are needed for the modern world. Therefore, the crucial early years of learning remain firmly rooted in traditional exam practises and ignore the increasingly popular dynamic learning that is so integral to Shiplake’s ethos.

The exams are marked by the school to which the child has applied. Therefore, whilst the papers set are standardised, the resultant grades given are dependent on the school’s interpretation of the marking criteria. Given that there is no moderation of results, no set pass mark and no set grade boundaries, there can be marked variants of grades between different schools. With these not-so-‘common’ results, there is a flexible element to them with which Gregg further disagrees, especially when it comes to pupils needing to achieve a set mark to achieve the conditional offer of a place. Results can also be inflated at specific schools, in order to allow the child in question to achieve the necessary grade for a place. This has the added issue that once pupils start receiving progress reports at the chosen secondary school – which are indicative of achievable grades in GCSE performances – the grades be lower than anticipated. The exaggeration of grades at CE, then – whilst not necessarily an issue at every school, can be misleading in the long term and have a negative impact on future grades.

Just as the Common Entrance exams do standardise children across the board, so do they standardise schools. It is imperative that children receive schooling that suits their academic ability and individuality- that is inspiring to them, that nurtures individuality and puts children at ease. If entry into schools is based solely on one set of exams, then that school has relinquished all that makes it unique, and this is something to which Shiplake cannot adhere.

Shiplake College are very happy to mark Common Entrance papers from prospective pupils, in order for those pupils to have feedback and a certificate. However, the grades given will not affect whether or not an offer of a place is made. Once Shiplake have completed in-house entrance assessments, the offer of a place is unconditional.