Our History I Celebrating 120 Years

scroll to discover

The Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB) was created in 1903 to design and deliver a ‘common’ form of entrance examination for entry to independent senior schools, the Common Entrance (CE) examinations and curriculum.

The first CE exams were delivered in the summer of 1904 and are still relied upon by top independent schools today, 120 years later.

We invite you to explore our history through the interactive timeline below and find out what remarkable societal, technological and educational changes we have witnessed during our last century of operation.


ISEB's 120th Anniversary Conference

Assessing Change, Awarding the Future

Experience the excitement of 120 years of educational excellence with ISEB’s groundbreaking conference, Assessing Change, Awarding the Future.

In April 2024, educators, researchers, and industry leaders converged for a forward-thinking event dedicated to shaping the landscape of education. This conference isn’t just a celebration of our rich history—it’s a testament to our ongoing commitment to pushing the boundaries of educational practices. Together with representatives from over 90 leading independent schools, we’re pioneering the future of assessment to ensure the best possible experience for pupils.

Join us as we embark on this transformative journey toward educational excellence.

Motion for the creation of a 'Common Entrance' examination

The motion for the creation of a ‘Common Entrance’ examination was initially put forward at a meeting of the Heads’ Conference (HMC) in 1902, hosted at Tonbridge School, by Reverend Thomas Field, Warden of Radley College (1897-1913), whereby it was agreed that “the convenience to the preparatory schools would be simply enormous” should there be “co-operation for the establishment of some common form of entrance examination”.

ISEB, then known as the Common Entrance Committee, was established the year following this meeting as a joint venture by HMC, the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) and the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA). Since then, ISEB has devised, curated and produced CE papers yearly alongside a growing portfolio of assessments and qualifications for candidates seeking entry to leading independent senior schools.

Discover the history of ISEB


Motion to establish "some common form of entrance examination"

A meeting of the Headmasters’ Conference is held at Tonbridge School in December 1902, at which Reverend Thomas Field of Radley College put forward the motion to 52 schools to ‘establish some common form of entrance examination’ for independent senior schools.


The Common Entrance Committee was established

The Common Entrance Committee, now the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB), is established by HMC, IAPS, and GSA.


The first Common Entrance exams are taken by pupils.

The first ISEB Common Entrance (CE) exams are sat by pupils for entrance to independent senior schools.


Oxford University hosts first degree ceremony for women.

Oxford University allows 130 women to collect the degrees they had earned, with the first degree ceremony for women taking place at the Sheldonian Theatre.


Separation of primary and secondary education

The Haddow Report recommends the separation of primary and secondary education at 11. The report followed the Fisher Education Act in 1918, which raised the school leaving age from 12 to 14.


Open-air schools prove popular

A rise in the popularity of open-air schools is driven by tuberculosis and other childhood infections.


Penguin publish first paperbacks

The first Penguin books are published. The colour-coded books cost sixpence and include titles by Ernest Hemingway and Agatha Christie.


Coronation of King George VI

The coronation of King George VI is held at Westminster Abbey and saw the first true outside broadcast by the BBC using a mobile control van to capture the famous shot of the King and Queen passing in the state carriage.


Schools support war effort

Over 2,000 school buildings were requisitioned for the war effort, and one in five were damaged by air raids. The earlier Education Act had raised the school leaving age to 15, introducing free secondary education for all children, but this didn’t take effect until after the war in 1945.


Free school milk

The School Milk Act orders the issue of one-third of a pint of free milk to all pupils in the UK under 18.


The Common Entrance Committee for Girls is established

A Common Entrance Committee for Girls is introduced following the Second World War. Common Entrance exams for girls’ schools are more regularly taken at 11+, in comparison to boys’ schools, for which the exams are taken at 13+.


Introducing the NHS

The post-war Labour government introduces the new National Health Service.


'O' and 'A' Levels

The General Certificate of Education ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels are introduced.


Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II is coronated in Westminster Cathedral. As the first televised coronation, it was watched by 27 million people in the UK, and 11 million listened on the radio.


Mathematics added to Common Entrance curriculum.

A mathematics paper is added to the ISEB Common Entrance curriculum, expanding on the previously included papers in algebra, geometry and arithmetic.


Duke of Edinburgh Award

The Duke of Edinburgh Award is launched by HRH Prince Philip, initially for boys, with a programme for girls launching the following year.


Bond, Oxford University Press, is founded

The Bond Assessment Papers are first published by Bond, the leading provider of 11+ practice materials, a subsidiary of Oxford University Press.


Science exams are added to the Common Entrance curriculum.

Science papers are added to the ISEB Common Entrance curriculum. Prior to 1969 some students, particularly those seeking entry to the Navy, sat a Science paper produced by the Board of Admiralty.


Formation of C.E. Publications

The Common Entrance Committee (now ISEB) forms the publishing house ‘C.E. Publications’ to distribute exam papers.


A computer for every school

The UK Government launches a programme to introduce computers in every school.


GCSEs replace 'O' Levels

GCSEs are introduced, to establish a national qualification for those who decided to leave school at 16. The first GCSE exams are sat in 1987.


Introduction of a national curriculum

The Education Reform Act introduces a compulsory National Curriculum consisting of 14 subjects and introduces SATS at ages 7, 11, and 14.


Creation of one Common Entrance Board for boys and girls

1989 saw the combination of the Common Entrance Committee and Common Entrance Committee for Girls to create the Common Entrance Board, later renamed the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB).


Invention of the World Wide Web

Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web. The web is originally developed to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between scientists in universities.


Ofsted established

The Education (Schools) Act establishes Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education.


Introduction of scholarship examinations (CASE)

Common Academic Scholarship Examinations (CASE) are introduced by ISEB to support students applying to become scholars or in receipt of bursaries at leading independent schools.


Introduction of the Common Pre-Tests

ISEB develops and introduces the Common Pre-Tests to be delivered at 11+.


CENTURY founded by Priya Lakhani OBE

CENTURY is founded by Priya Lakhani OBE, with a vision for every teacher and learner to have access to intelligent tools that help them succeed.


New head office

ISEB moves to its new and current offices in Ringwood, Hampshire. Staff continue to work in a hybrid fashion, regularly travelling to meet school staff across the country.


Covid pandemic

UK schools close their gates to all but the children of essential workers and those deemed most vulnerable, as the country goes into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


ISEB welcomes new Chair

ISEB appoints a new Chair of the Board, Wendy Griffiths.


Julia Martin joins as Chief Executive

Julia Martin joins ISEB as Chief Executive Officer, bringing a wealth of experience in the education sector to the exam board.


ISEB collaborate with CENTURY

ISEB collaborates with CENTURY to re-develop the ISEB Common Pre-Tests, utilising cutting-edge AI technology to create an online admissions test that allows children to demonstrate their attainment and potential at 11+.


ISEB Project Qualification launched

ISEB launches its first project qualification, the iPQ. Incorporated into the curriculum at many prep schools, the iPQ encourages independent learning and champions important real-world skills.


New curriculum for Common Entrance

ISEB launches a new Common Entrance (CE) curriculum for 11+ and 13+ entrance exams from Autumn 2022.


New ISEB website and shop launched

ISEB reveals a brand-new website and online shop, providing access to past Common Entrance (CE) and Common Academic Scholarship (CASE) papers to both schools and families.


Coronation of King Charles III

King Charles III is crowned in a coronation ceremony at Westminster with 2,000 guests in attendance. The coronation followed the death of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022.


In partnership with Tooled Up Education

ISEB and Tooled Up Education partner to launch the Parent Power Toolkit, a set of evidence-based resources designed to support parents to mentor their children through their admissions journeys.


ISEB endorsed work with CENTURY

ISEB endorses Bond Online Premium Plus – the only ISEB Pre-Tests practice platform to feature questions written by ISEB and the platform that most closely aligns to the structure and format of the Pre-Tests.

“That as some schools already permit their entrance papers to be done under supervision at the preparatory schools. It is desirable in the interests of both classes of schools to co-operate for the establishment of some common form of entrance examination."

Rev Thomas Field

8th Warden of Radley College 1897-1913

Your Story

Did you sit Common Entrance examinations during your time at school? Or perhaps you have photos from your time at independent school ahead of sitting your examinations or in the classroom?

If you are happy to share your story, photos or memories to help us celebrate our anniversary, please get in touch with the team.

Email: common-entrance@iseb.co.uk 

Sign up to our newsletter