The eleven-plus was once used throughout England and Wales, but is now only used in counties and boroughs in England that offer selective schools instead of comprehensive schools. Also known as the transfer test, it is especially associated with the Tripartite System which was in use from 1944 until it had been phased out all over the UK by 1976.
The examination tests a student's ability to solve problems using a test of verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning, with most tests now also offering papers in mathematics and English. The intention was that the eleven-plus should be a general test for intelligence similar to an IQ test, but with the addition of testing for taught curriculum skills. The test now measures aptitude for school work.
Introduced in 1944, the examination was used to determine which type of school the student should attend after primary education: a grammar school, a secondary modern school, or a technical school. The base of the Tripartite System was the idea that skills were more important than financial resources in determining what kind of schooling a child should receive: different skills required different schooling.
The eleven-plus was created by the 1944 Butler Education Act. This established a Tripartite System of education, with an academic, a technical and a functional strand. Prevailing educational thought at the time was that testing was an effective way to discover to which strand a child was most suited. The results of the exam would be used to match children's secondary schools to their abilities and future career needs.
When the system was implemented, technical schools were not available on the scale envisaged. Instead, the Tripartite System came to be characterised by fierce competition for places at the prestigious grammar schools. As such, the eleven-plus took on a particular significance. Rather than allocating according to need or ability, it became seen as a question of passing or failing. This led to the exam becoming widely resented by some although strongly supported by others.