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December 12, 2014 / C H Thompson

Strengths and weaknesses of tripartite system

Three types of schools were established by 1944 Education Act – grammar schools; technical schools and secondary modern schools. Which type of school you ended up attending was decided by the 11+ examination, as ever this process had its advantages as well as its disadvantages:


  • the brightest 15% – 20% went to grammar schools meaning bright children were all working together creating a stimulating and academic environment of people from every social background
  • brighter children could be pushed along an academic route ready to sit O and A levels and possible university in preparation for higher managerial positions in the workplace
  • less academic children went to either secondary technical or secondary modern schools. The secondary technical were for children with a particularly strong practical ability (trouble was very few technical schools were ever built). The vast majority of 11+ failures went to secondary modern schools engineered to teach lower-ability students, by pooling these children together it was felt they could be taught in a more suitable environment in preparation for the workplace


  • most secondary modern schools were full of working-class children
  • many children developed their abilities much later on but secondary modern schools were unable to meet their educational needs and so never fulfilled their potential
  • the 11+ test was selected at an arbitrary age, it could easily have been a 13+ test and so the 11+ eventually became discredited as a means of predicting potential and assessing ability
  • many teachers, parents and even students saw children who failed the 11+ as failures leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy with many children leaving school with no qualifications
  • the 11+ test was seen to entrench social class divisions




Leave a Comment
  1. DoubleN / Feb 16 2015 3:38 pm

    Could u pls explain this point again :
    many teachers, parents and even students saw children who failed the 11+ as failures leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy with many children leaving school with no qualifications.

    • tommo / Feb 16 2015 5:14 pm

      Hi – the 11+ is a selection test. The tripartite system (which is still in use in areas like Poole & Bournemouth) uses the selection test to decide which school a child goes to (unlike the comprehensive system which has no selection test). Therefore if you pass the 11+ with a high enough score you went to the grammar school – this gives you a high achieved status in the eyes of your peers, parents, teachers (even the halo effect) etc.
      In contrast those that failed the selection test, were then sent to a secondary modern school (very few secondary technical schools were built) because of this many teachers, parents and students felt they were failures because they failed the selection test (11+) this sense of failure might lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy starting because the student thinks the teachers see them as failures, so why should they bother is they won’t get the same opportunities as the grammar school children, so they give up, and completely ‘fail’ by not passing their GCSEs.
      How was that explanation?

      • DoubleN / Feb 16 2015 6:10 pm

        👍 . The best thing about this blog is that the response is immediate .
        Thank u very much for the explanation , it is helpful .
        I was actually looking for the answer that why there was the need to think that the tripartite system was unequal . In my book it says by the time of 1963 , Robbins report stated : “a course of higher education should be avaliable for all those who are qualifieid by ability and attainment to pursue one and who wish to do so ” , it was clear that equality had not reached and parity of esteem in education had not been achieved .
        But unfortunately its not very clear to me .

  2. patrick / Dec 19 2019 10:23 pm

    Secondary Moderns were further classified into ‘streams’.
    the one I attended had four: S, T, P and R.
    The S stream (superior? playful hindsight) The clever, managerial boys, (it was an all-boys school).
    The T stream. (technical?) practical boys, good at woodworking, metalwork and technical drawing.
    The P stream. My stream.
    The boys destined for the local wallpaper factory or Walls sausage makers, the steelworks. (proletariat?)
    The R stream. The unteachables, my brother, as an epileptic was in this stream, I give it the title ‘Remedial’.
    There was a library that I was to enter only four or five times in four years.
    When the ‘careers’ advisor came to see us in our final years I told him I wanted to be a Journalist. He actually laughed.
    I am an auto-didact.

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