Would You Have Passed This Victorian Exam at 11? from 1898, a Daunting Test Covering History, Grammar, Maths (and Latin)

Daily Mail (London), November 26, 2004 | Go to article overview

Would You Have Passed This Victorian Exam at 11? from 1898, a Daunting Test Covering History, Grammar, Maths (and Latin)


Byline: SARAH HARRIS

IT was designed in Victorian times to test the abilities of 11-year-olds.

But this school entrance test would probably prove far too difficult for most of today's Alevel students.

The exam covered a broad sweep of British history, tested English grammar in detail and concluded with a demanding set of arithmetic questions. It also included a challenging Latin section.

It was set at King Edward's School in Birmingham in 1898 and was aimed at the brightest pupils of the time.

More than 100 years on, it has been republished - sparking renewed claims that education standards have been diluted.

The paper was given to The Spectator magazine by Humphrey Stanbury, whose father took the exam and passed.

David Thomas, chief executive of the Careers Research and Advisory Centre, an education charity, said the exam was 'a good example' of dumbing down.

He said: 'Most of the questions could not be attempted today even by A-level students. At the high level at which this paper is aimed we have certainly dumbed down.

But significantly more people at least achieve some level of learning today than ever did in 1898.' Tim Collins, Tory education spokesman, added: 'Even taking into account the change in exam emphasis away from the testing of factual knowledge towards analysis and reasoning, this study makes for grim reading.

'It is now essential that exam standards are put back into the forefront of education policy.' Roger Dancey, chief master of King Edward's School, admitted he would struggle to answer all the questions but denied that standards have been lowered.

He said: 'I'm sure we would all have difficulty completing the paper and getting 100 per cent. It's a very challenging paper. If I'm criticising, it's heavy on factual knowledge and mechanical exercises and low on analysis and understanding and the creative side.

'But it's a fascinating picture of what they were asking candidates to do just over 100 years ago.' Peter Furtado, editor of History Today, said: 'The range of knowledge that was expected was huge but it reflects a Victorian view of history - the idea of British history that's defined in military glory and the great forward march of English liberty.

'Our view of what the big issues are isn't exactly the same by any means.'

He added: 'I do not feel concerned that my own children could answer only some of these questions.

'They are being taught history in an effective, engaging and enjoyable way which I'm sure will inspire them to stay with the subject for life. I doubt very much if the same could be said for the serried ranks of Victorian children chanting lists of kings and queens by rote.' Grammar schools became popular in the 16th century and generally provided places for non fee-paying scholars.

Some became fee-paying public schools in the 19th century and others moved in to the state system.

s.harris@dailymail.co.uk

1898 EXAM

FOR PUPILS AGED 11 YEARS

ENGLISH GRAMMAR

1. Write out in your best handwriting-O Mary, go and call the cattle home, And call the cattle home, And call the cattle home, Across the sands o' Dee.'

The western wind was wild and dank with foam, And all alone went she.

The western tide crept up along the sand, And o'er and o'er the sand, And round and round the sand, As far as eye could see.

The rolling mist came down and hid the land -And never home came she.

2. Parse (analyse and describe the grammatical structure of the phrase and grammatical use of each word) fully 'And call the cattle home. …

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