Can 11+ exams ever be tutor-proof? caught up with founder and best-selling Bond Assessment author Andrew Baines for his take on a very topical question.

HF:  Andrew, you have many years’ experience teaching in selective schools in state and independent sectors in the UK and abroad, and you’re a supplier of an online tutoring resource. In your view, is it possible to create an 11-plus exam that is ‘tutor-proof’?

AB: To over-simplify what is a complex equation of social, philosophical and economic issues: in theory, ‘Yes’, but within current realities? It’s a ‘No’. The methodology behind ‘tutor-proofing’ relies on keeping question formats in a state of constant evolution in order to limit the effect of coaching. But what’s been misunderstood is that children can in fact learn the skillset of being flexible of mind, so they’re not phased by unfamiliar questions or presentation.

HF: Are you saying it’s possible to teach children to be academic?

AB: It’s certainly possible to help them become good at approaching new questions and problems, and a lot more adaptive to educational testing. What tutors, parents and children need to know is that it’s not a case of being Einstein: the real advantage is developing the mental agility to approach any subject from any angle. Obviously pupils still need to gain knowledge, but really it’s this acquired skillset that is the key to exam success. This approach underpins the BOFA system and we’ve seen it help pupils to flourish. It also sets pupils up with a brilliant life-skill too – to become good at learning anything.

HF: As context for those who don’t know, what is BOFA?

AB: BOFA is ‘bespoke, online, formative assessment’. It delivers automated teaching support that’s entirely personalised, and filtered to be time-efficient.

HF: What do you see as the future of the 11-plus exam?

AB: There will always be schools that select by ability. The concept of a ‘tutor-proof’ exam was a well-intentioned initiative. However, the unintended consequences have meant that it’s become a confusing branding tool and has also heated up the market in extra tuition, which in some cases has widened the gap between state and independent pupils. Within a complex two-tier education system we know things will never be even. Part of my company ethos is to make support available at a cost that’s accessible. That’s always been very important to me.


Article by Henry Fagg,