Are you considering registering your son for the Westminster 11 plus? Find out all you need to know about the process and how you can help him to succeed.
Tracing its roots back to 960AD, Westminster is a private day and boarding school for boys, with a coeducational sixth form. An institution steeped in history, the Great School still occupies its original site, nestled by Westminster Abbey. The school carries a real prestige, with boys going on to be Nobel prize winners, prime ministers and well respected members of all aspects of society.
The Under School site is in the slightly quieter Vincent Square, close to Pimlico, Victoria and St James’s Park stations. The under school doesn’t take boarders, with children mostly commuting in from all over London. Founded in 1943 with just 17 pupils, the Under School has grown over the years, now teaching almost 300 boys.
Successful 11 plus applicants come from a good mix of preps and state school, and each year about 85% of Year 8 students progress to the Senior School. Boys who don’t progress to the Senior School at 13+ go to the likes of Eton, Harrow, Winchester and Dulwich.
Unsurprisingly, entry to Westminster is highly competitive. Roughly 500 boys apply for just 30 places each year. There are multiple stages that you need to prepare for over a 12 month period, starting from January when your son is in Year 5. It may be worth sitting an Academic Assessment, so you can understand where his abilities and weaknesses lie. The detailed report can help you decide if the Westminster school entrance process is right for him.
Key dates to remember are:
Upon acceptance of an offer, your son attends Saturday school until July so that he can catch up with the other Under School pupils in subjects such as Latin, before starting in September.
After applying, your son will sit the ISEB Pre Test. Westminster and other private schools have used this digital testing method for about 10 years to avoid children having to sit multiple exams for the 11 plus. Each child only sits this once, possibly at their current school if they hold the test. If not, your son will attend the test at Westminster in late November.
The ISEB Pre-test format is something we have a deep understanding of, having successfully tutored many children over recent years. This knowledge and expertise was particularly useful to our 2020-21 cohort when many private schools switched out their traditional exams for this digital format. Schools was made this decision last minute as further Covid restrictions were imposed, but our professional tutors ensured children were not fazed. We prepare children for the different question types and work to increase their ability to answer questions quickly and accurately, so they are familiar with the format of not being able to go back to answer any difficult questions at the end of the test.
All of this meant 90% of our 2020-21 cohort of school entrance tutees were offered a place at their first choice school. Every child got into either their first or second choice.
Those who perform well enough in the ISEB Pre-test then sit the written exam in January. About 100 boys a year reach this stage. The Westminster school entrance exam consists of:
For the Maths paper, start with the basics – make sure your son can understand what a question is asking of him. Can he, for example, identify an algebra question? It may sound simple, but without this understanding a child can easily misinterpret a question and lose marks.
To prepare for the English paper, ensure your son can write in a variety of genres, displaying a wide vocabulary and an understanding of how writers use language. The paper may ask boys to write a creative piece or a review, or ask them to continue a passage of writing whilst keeping the voice of the original author. Creative writing practice is an important part of your 11 plus prep and you should make sure your son has a bank of stock stories planned that he can call upon.
As with all 11 plus exam preparation, we recommend you use past or practice papers. Westminster doesn’t release past papers, but you can try ours – they cover the full Maths and English school entrance syllabi. Do the first in an untimed condition and help your child understand where they did well and where they dropped marks. As you approach the Westminster Upper School exam day, have your son sit a timed paper. Both papers are highly time pressured so this is a key aspect to prepare for.
Usually, Westminster interviews about 60 boys – twice as many as they have places for. This involves a one-to-one conversation with a senior member of staff. They are looking to find out more about your son beyond his academic abilities. As a school for naturally bright children encouraged to seek out new frontiers, they want inquisitive boys, who may question the norm.
Friendly debate over the kitchen table is a great way to prepare for this – try stating something false and encourage your son to try and convince you of the truth. Get your son to discuss what interests him, and why. Encourage him to elaborate on a point, rather than meander through a conversation fully guided by you.
However, the interview is not another test of academic ability – if your son has made it to the final 60 out of 500 applicants, he is certainly bright enough for WUS! It is a much more informal interview than you may expect.
Having said this, appearing ‘over-polished’ and rehearsed will not bode well. Therefore, we run individual and group sessions on interview practice. We cover what to expect, how to develop an answer and how to present your best self. Familiarising your son with the environment of an interview, we make the process much less daunting and give him the tools to shine.
While there is no academic scholarship on offer at 11 plus, you can apply for a music scholarship. This is worth 10% of the day fee and lasts until your son leaves the Under School in Year 8.
The school grants scholarships based on whether a child meets the usual academic standard for 11 plus entry, and on their musical ability displayed in an audition. The expected standard is Grade 5 or above on their main instrument, and decent ability on a second. In the audition, your son will play two pieces on his main instrument and one more on his second. He will need to read at sight and attempt ear tests. If successful, a music scholar should expect to be a large part of the school’s musical endeavours.
Scholarship applications usually need to be submitted by the end of November. You can find more information on the WUS website.
If you’re looking for an experienced third party to assist your son on his 11 plus journey, Mentor can help. Our stellar tutors are teachers, heads of department and examiners with a deep understanding of the latest requirements of independent school admissions.
We work with you to understand your child’s needs, their strengths lie and any gaps in their knowledge. From there, your tutor will create a plan to develop your child’s exam technique and self-confidence, so that they can approach the exam and interview with some degree of certainty.
All of our tutors come with a wealth of experience and a track record of success. We reference-check each tutor and they all have up-to-date DBS certificates. Wherever possible we will match your child with a tutor who has a track record at the Westminster school entrance.
For more information on our tutors’ unique approach, contact our team.
Westminster boys are often described as more quietly ambitious and driven compared to boys at similar schools, such as St Paul’s. Teaching here has been likened to that of a university seminar, with a more informal teacher-student dynamic and open discussion encouraged. Rather than being a hothouse environment, Westminster intends to grow boys’ natural wonder and curiosity for learning. Parents feel that boys are encouraged to follow all avenues open to them, perhaps evident in the careers of notable alumna (Adam Buxton and Andrew Lloyd Webber, for example).
Interim Master until August 2021, Dr Steve Bailey has a real interest in co-curriculars. An internationally renowned sports historian and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts, he fits the Westminster School ethos of producing well-rounded individuals. Incumbent Master Mrs Kate Jefferson comes from the Future Academies Trust, where over the last seven years she has been head of Pimilico Primary and then Millbank Academy.
Sport is for everyone at Westminster – boys of all abilities actively take part in new opportunities. Therefore, if your son has a particular sporting talent, there may be better options (and scholarships) at other schools. However, considering the space the school has it can boast excellent sports facilities. This includes a Sports Centre shared with Westminster Great School, comprising a rowing training suite, fencing pistes, indoor cricket nets, a gym, climbing walls, table tennis area, and basketball, netball, football, volleyball, hockey and badminton courts.
In terms of the Arts, Westminster offers its pupils a plethora of opportunities. In Art, Westminster holds annual model-making and photography competitions, and presents opportunities for inclusion in the school magazine. Being situated right in the heart of London, boys are frequently afforded the opportunity to visit the capital’s most illustrious galleries. Drama is a key part of life at WUS, with three productions each year. Here, students can either take centre-stage or get involved in set design, sound engineering and programme creation. Furthermore, boys often have the chance to visit London’s West End!
At Westminster, music is a huge part of school life. Individual tuition, plenty of after-school clubs and a variety of school concerts mean boys are fully immersed in musicality throughout their time at WUS. Despite championing naturally gifted musicians, the school does also encourage all pupils to enjoy taking part in the musical opportunities it offers.
Westminster really does achieve the results to back up its reputation for academic excellence. In 2019, every GCSE was achieved at Grade C and above (just one C, five Bs and the rest were A* and As). In terms of numerical grades, everything was achieved at Grade 6 and above. 78% of the numerical grades given were at Grade 9.
This high standard is also evident in the A level grades achieved at Westminster. 76% of A2 grades were awarded at A* or A in 2019. The school has the highest Oxbridge acceptance rate in the UK, with about half of its sixth form students going on to study there. In 2020, 39 Westminster students went to Cambridge, and 32 went to Oxford.
At Westminster Under School (Years 3-9) fees are £6,834 per term. When your son moves into Year 9 at the Senior School, this starts at £9,603 per term.
Fee assistance is available at Westminster, with £1.4m worth of bursary support provided each year.
Bursaries are available for up to 100% of the fees and those granted a full bursary receive additional support in the way of uniform costs and compulsory school expenditures. You can find more information on how to apply for a bursary on the Westminster Under School website.
As is the case with most schools, Westminster are unable to hold Open Events at this time. They are planning to hold an school entrance open morning for September 2022 entry – details and booking form will be available on the website in due course.
We find Open Events to be incredibly helpful to children and their parents. Even if you are already certain you will apply to Westminster, attending an event will allow you to answer any burning questions. Your son can also familiarise himself with the school, teachers and the grounds, making sitting the written exam and attending the interview a much less daunting prospect.
Address: Westminster Under School, 27 Vincent Square, London, SW1P 2NN
Telephone: 020 7821 5788
Local Authority: Westminster
School’s Unique Reference Number (URN): 101165
Age Range: 7-14
Here at Mentor we are ready to guide you through the entrance format for Westminster School. Get in touch to find out more about how we can help your child gain admission at 11 plus, or for further information on admissions into the top London schools.