With the introduction of the CEM 11+ tests, there is a much greater focus on English than in previous entrance exams. Although this form of exam claims to be a more ‘balanced’ approach to testing a child’s skill and knowledge, there is a possibility it may disadvantage those children for whom English is either their second or third language. Ironically, it may actually advantage children from middle-class backgrounds, which was one of the things this test was actually supposed to guard against.
Many children, although talented enough to do exceptionally well in any grammar school, have not necessarily grown up with their parents reading English language bed-time stories to them, or have not had the opportunity to access reading material extensively. It is only when children regularly interact with the written English word that they develop a basic grasp of Spelling, Grammar and Comprehension and language skills.
Even for those children who have grown up with English reading books, it is a fact that not every child is gifted with language skills. Children’s ability with language varies a great deal and this is not directly related to their IQ level. Many children are highly able but their language skills do not demonstrate this. A test that has a high degree of English content will almost certainly make it more difficult for these children to indicate their ability level.
The CEM tests have supposedly been developed in order to make it much more difficult to prepare children beforehand. It is intended that they should enable a child to demonstrate their ‘natural ability’. It is certainly true that an increasing focus on English (known as ‘Verbal Ability’ in this test) makes it more difficult to prepare for the 11+ exam, but whether this is more ‘fair’ or ‘balanced’ is questionable.