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Piles of Books

FSCE - the new kid on the block and a warning about preparation

With CEM producing fewer and fewer grammar entrance exams and either GL or school-written exams leading the way in most cases; we take a look at the new - but growing - exam provider: Future Stories Community Enterprise Ltd and potential risks to applicants.

Who are they?

The FSCE entrance exams were created in 2022 by Reading Grammar School in consultation with Stothard Education Ltd, an academic consultancy specialising in examinations and assessment. Grammar school entrance papers are a big part of what they do, but not all that they do. They run summer camps, offer schools advice on sporting aptitude programs and provide mentoring sessions on both Maths and English to primary schools. If you want to read more about them you can visit their website here.

What is their goal?

In the case of school entrance papers, the FSCE are clear and open that their goal is to design grammar school tests that are more accessible, have clearer instructions and promote social mobility. This is achieved via clearly labelled/coloured questions and exam instructions that are both written and read out on the day. The question formats are also very specific.

Which schools do they cover?

Currently, the FSCE manages the entrance exam for Reading School, Colyton Grammar and Chelmsford County High School for Girls.

What is the exam format?

FSCE entrance exams assess English, Maths and Creative Writing. There are no questions on Verbal Reasoning or Non-Verbal Reasoning. Additionally, the content is built from the curriculum taught up until the end of year 5. This is very different to most grammar entrance exams which have increasingly moved towards testing all of the relevant Key Stage 2 curriculum until the end of year 6, in an attempt to identify only the most traditional academic in a catchment area.

The FSCE is split into 3 separate papers, all of which are sat on the same day. Each paper is treated as an individual exam on the day.

The papers are as follows:

Paper 1: English

Part 1, Comprehension

Multiple-choice comprehension based on one passage or extract​

Part 2, Vocabulary

Multiple-choice questions matching synonyms and antonyms​

Part 3, Missing letters

Fill-in-the-blanks questions replacing the missing letters in words​

Paper 2: Mathematics

A mix of multiple choice, free answer and fill-in-the-box answer questions ​

Paper 3: Creative Writing

A creative writing exercise marked against 11 Plus marking guides

Preparing for an FSCE exam - and avoiding a potential trap

What the FSCE are doing is commendable. Upward social mobility, clear boundaries on curriculum content and exam formats that welcome a wide range of students, are all positive steps. However, parents/tutors who perceive this as somehow a less challenging or an easier-to-pass exam, risk under-preparing and ultimately failing the assessment.

On the one hand, the FSCE exam assesses the curriculum to the end of year 5, not the end of year 6. So in that regard - yes - the content of the exam may be argued as less advanced and therefore less challenging. It could also be argued that this is a fairer assessment because (obviously) measuring what the children have actually been taught vs what they will be taught in the future, is inclusive and reduces the bias towards families who can afford private tuition or other learning resources.

This may be a good thing, but it does nothing to avoid the simple and painful truth that there are a limited amount of places in each school, and only the top performers will achieve a place. Reading School offers 150 places, Colyton Grammar admit 155 and Chelmsford County Girls' accommodate 180 children. These numbers are true regardless of how difficult, fair or unfair the exam process is.

In other words, irrespective of how accessible, well presented or socially mobile the exam format and content may be, you're either in the top 150-180 rankings, or you're not. One of the reasons - rightly or wrongly - that traditional grammar entrance exams have become so competitive and so advanced in their assessment, is a desire to create a clear and marked performance gap between those who will thrive in the school and those who will not. For example, If a school entrance exam has an overall pass mark of 85% in any given year, and the average score of children sitting the exam is 45%, then there is a clear difference between the top performers in the assessment at the mean performance. The easier an exam gets, the smaller this gap becomes.

Let's look at two extreme examples to make the point clear. We will talk in percentages rather than get caught up in marking terminology.

Example 1:

A child sits a very challenging 11+ entrance exam for a local grammar school and achieves an overall score of 45%. The overall pass mark for that year's peer group is 88.8% and the average result across all the children who sat the exam was 57%. The exam has served its purpose as in all probability that particular child would have struggled to learn at the pace or level at which this particular school teaches. It is disappointing and upsetting, but it is unlikely that extra revision, a private tutor or other resources would have doubled their score on the day. As is the case with the majority of the children who sat the exam, given the average result of 57%. The school can teach at an advanced level and pace to allow the more academic members of society upward mobility and an opportunity they may not have realised through traditional state schools. This ability to identify and empower the particularly academic minds in our communities, irrespective of their social status or wealth, and provide them a platform to receive the best possible education and academic opportunity, is one of the most positive aspects (in theory at least) of the UK grammar school system.

Example 2:

The same child sits a less challenging 11+ entrance exam for another local grammar school. They achieve a score of 87%. However, the pass mark for that year's peer group is 96.2% and the average result across all the children who sat the exam is 89%. There is relatively little difference then, between an unsuccessful performance and a successful performance. Extra revision, paid tuition and other resources could absolutely lift a child's result by enough percentage points to make a difference. It is unlikely that the academic capability of the successful students in this exam compared with the unsuccessful students are as pronounced as those in Example 1, meaning that the pace and level of learning cannot be as high as the school in Example 1. This could actually prove a disadvantage to the naturally academic children in the neighbourhood who are either not learning at the pace they could/should be, or perhaps missed a place in the school by 1 or 2%, beaten by a less academic child who had the advantage of receiving private tuition.


These examples are incredibly simplistic and deliberately extreme in order to highlight a particular point. The reality will be a myriad of shades of grey.

However, for those preparing for the FSCE it does highlight the very real possibility that the difference between a pass and a fail could be far less than in other schools. It is somewhat ironic and unfortunate then, that the potential impact of private tuition, learning resources and mock exams may be argued as more likely than ever to impact your child's success or failure in an FSCE exam.

What do you think?

This is no easy topic.

We only have a limited amount of grammar schools and grammar school places. Should grammar school entrance exams be so difficult that they ring fence the academically elite, or accessible enough that the difference between pass and fail is less pronounced?

Cast your vote below.

Grammar school entrance exams should be...

  • So challenging that only the most naturally academic pass

  • Accessible and achievable to as many children as possible

1 Comment

It is vital that all grammar schools bring back creative writing tests. This is because primary schools are becoming increasingly reluctant to teach it any more, as it is not tested in SATs. As a result, even the brightest children are having their creativity completely stifled.

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