An article for Prep School Magazine by Will Orr-Ewing…

“Ah, yes, the formidable CE.”

I was sitting opposite a family in a hotel conference room in Kuala Lumpur. They had never been to the UK before, needed help locating London on a map of the country, and their English was hesitant.

Yet when it came to Common Entrance (CE) they spoke confidently and with a certain breathless reverence. It might follow that an exam of CE’s international stature and age (est. 1904) would be cherished in its own country.

But in a sector that thrives on disagreement, about this exam most educationalists are agreed: it has had its day. Undermined on one side by most independent schools’ decision to select pupils via computerised examination at 11 rather than by the CE at 13, and assailed on the other by challenger qualifications that appeal more to the zeitgeist, such as the Prep School Baccalaureate (PSB) or the IB’s junior exams, its demise looks inevitable.

In the same way that Singapore still sets the O level (still partly written by Cambridge University) perhaps some far-flung former British colony might still set the exam in a strange act of imperial nostalgia but as the focal point of a prep school education it would be no more.

But can it yet be saved? I believe it can, and that it should.

Firstly, why does it deserve saving? Like anything that has lasted more than a hundred years, its antiquity should give it some defence, especially in a sector that uses heritage so much to its advantage.

But I believe it can defend itself on its own terms and want to argue that this is principally in the way it enshrines knowledge. The 11 subjects covered by CE each comprise a scheme of core knowledge that has been developed over many decades.

This is its hidden strength.

This is an extract from an article written by Will Orr-Ewing for Prep School Magazine. To get your copy and read the full article, contact SATIPS.