☰ What are the Pros and Cons of 4+ Assessments and Selective Schools?

What are the Pros and Cons of 4+ Assessments and Selective Schools?

Posted on: November 13th 2023

What are the Pros and Cons of 4+ Assessments and Selective Schools?

North London is home to some of the most renowned schools in the country, many of which offer the opportunity for children to join at age 4 and remain until 16 or even 18.

At this time of year, many parents of rising 4-year-olds are considering putting their child forward for the ‘4+’ selection process at one or more of these schools, with the hope that, if they are successful, their educational pathway will be certain until early adulthood. But how does this route compare with the alternatives and how do the drawbacks of undergoing the 4+ process contrast with the supposed advantages?

Every school’s 4+ assessment looks different, but it will often encompass taking a group of ‘candidate’ children into a play-based classroom (without their parents), watching their social interactions, and then taking one child at a time to test skills such as their counting ability, recognition of letters and the sounds they make. Competition is usually fierce, with only one in three, four or even five applicants gaining an offer.

How accurate are 4+ assessments?

One reason why selective schools conduct their 4+ assessments so differently from one another is because assessing a child’s academic potential when they have not yet (or have only just) reached their fourth birthday is extremely difficult. The nature of early childhood development means that, at this young age, children generally do not have a fully formed sense of self and the ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’ a school may detect in a candidate of this age give little indication of where they may excel or require support through the later, ‘core’ years of primary education. 

At best, 4+ assessments are a crude instrument. This is especially the case when an all-through school does not have a nursery, since they cannot usually draw upon experienced Early Years practitioners to help in making their judgements. 

The fact that much of a child’s personality, academic aptitudes and physical development emerge after 3 years of age also means that this is a very early stage at which to determine which school will best suit them when they are 11. A child may be offered a place at a highly academic single-sex school at 4, but by 11, it may be clear to both parents and teacher that the best setting for them would in fact be a less competitive, more pastorally-focussed co-educational senior school. Acting on this realisation would then negate the main supposed benefit of having sat the 4+.

Will entry at 4+ guarantee the rest of my child's schooling?

A common misconception around selective all-through schools is that, ‘once you’re in, you’re in.’ In other words, once a child gains a place through success at 4+, there is a guarantee that they can remain at that school until the end of Year 11 or Year 13. Unfortunately, this ‘guarantee’ is not a firm one. Because selective schools recognise that the 4+ cannot give an accurate indication of true strengths in later years, the wording of their written agreements with parents nearly always includes a provision for the school to rescind the place at a later stage if the child cannot progress at the expected rate. In practice, schools vary in how often they invoke this, but it can and does happen.

What’s different about Norfolk House?

Rather than basing our academic success on a competitive process at the point of entry, Norfolk House seeks to add year-on-year value to a child’s education, regardless of their starting point. Through our accelerated curriculum, high adult-to-pupil ratios and tailoring the school experience to the individual’s needs and strengths, we enable our children to make the best progress.

This means that, though ours is a non-selective school, the pupils that leave us at Year 6 are typically a year ahead of their state-primary-school peers academically. This is one of the key reasons Norfolk House leavers consistently receive 11+ offers from selective senior schools across London and beyond. Another reason is the confidence and self-knowledge our pupils demonstrate, which has had the time and space to develop over seven years spent in a nurturing, affirming and non-competitive environment. In our experience, these are conditions that are conducive to thriving.

If you’d like to learn more about what a non-selective education at Norfolk House could offer your child and/or if you’d like to come and see our school, please request a prospectus, or contact us at admissions@norfolkhouseschool.org.

← All news stories

Request a Prospectus E-Newsletter Photo Gallery

Back to the top