A decade ago I interviewed Cliff Richard when he returned for a whistle stop tour of his childhood home in Cheshunt. His visit literally stopped traffic across Hertfordshire and we chatted about many things that had affected his life growing up, including his failure to pass the 11-plus.

He described it as one of the biggest disappointments of his younger life and clearly, despite his millions in the bank, his mansions across the globe and his phenomenal career, this failure so many years earlier still niggled at him.

“You know, I’m not sure why I failed it even now, but then again I believe it was fate,” he admitted to me.

“I was top boy at my primary school and I desperately wanted to go the local grammar school.”

Clearly it all turned out just peachy for Sir Cliff who ended up enrolling at the local comprehensive, where his interest in music was born.

Had he gone to the grammar school perhaps he’d have taken a different path. We’ll never know.

The 11-plus or ‘transfer test’ as it was called, was introduced in 1944 to determine which type of school students should attend after primary education: a grammar school, a secondary modern school, or a technical school.

The test is still around today – though it’s had its fits and starts. It’s taken by pupils in their last year of primary school who are looking to gain a state funded grammar school place. The “11” refers to the school entry age, so most pupils are only 10 when they sit the exam.

Flunking the 11-plus also didn’t hold back John Prescott – although his brother did pass the exam. However the Labour peer has spoken of how his failure to get into grammar school changed the course of his earlier love life.

“I was going out with a girl when we did the 11-plus,” he has said.

“She got through and I didn't. Our lives split and it gave me a great sense of failure. I can remember sending her a letter expressing my desire – love if you like, a young kid’s feelings – and she sent it back with the spelling mistakes corrected. That summed up the division.

“The message was that suddenly you are less than they are. It tends to leave you with an inferiority complex.”

He’s not alone, as research shows that a large percentage of adults who have failed the ever-controversial test are still haunted by the experience, citing feelings of embarrassment, shame and low self worth.

It’s no wonder than that more parents than ever before are enlisting the help of a private tutor to guide their little ones through the 11-plus journey. That’s great if you can afford the average hourly rate of £20-35, not so great if you can’t.

The exam was divisive even back in the forties and these days it’s still thought of as such by many critics of the grammar school system. Yet whatever you think of it, it seems the 11-plus is here to stay, in Essex, at least.

Sam Cuthbertson works as a private tutor. He coaches youngsters for the 11-plus, but also for their GCSEs and Alevels.

Sam has seen both sides of the education system as he used to work as a full time secondary school teacher and still works as a supply teacher.

Sam, 25, who tutors students throughout Essex, actually passed his 11-plus exam by one point and he still laments on this bit of luck.

“I actually harassed my parents to get me a private tutor because I wasn’t doing as well as I needed to in my science classes and I knew I wanted to go on to university to study science.

“But I remember, even now, the pressure of sitting the 11- plus especially as my brother had passed and gone to a grammar school.”

Sibling rivalry is something Sam sees regularly.

“I’ve seen parents literally saying to their children ‘you better pass this exam or our family is ruined as we can’t afford to send you to a private school’ or ‘your brother passed so just make sure you do!’ “Of course this is a terrible burden of pressure to put on the shoulders of a child. But the fact that more parents than ever are turning to private tutors because they are adamant they do not want their child going to a state secondary school is a sad indictment of our educational system in this country.

“We have a three-tier educational system in this country that you don’t see anywhere else in Europe. In fact I have friends from oversees who say they really notice a class divide when they come over the UK. They see it in the way people dress, the jobs they have and where they are educated.

“Children and parents can perpetuate that by not forging friendships with children going to different types of school or attaching a stigma to attending a local secondary school. I’ve seen this a lot.”

Sam believes parents need to back off a bit when it comes to piling on the pressure.

“I’ve been approached by parents of children who are in YEAR 3, so just seven and eight year olds asking me about the 11- plus and when they should start private tutoring, some even wanting it to begin at that age.

“I think this is way too early,”

he said.

“The decision for a student to sit the exam needs to be a joint one taken between the parents, the school, but most of all the pupil after all they are the one going to have to sit the exam yet they are the last one sometimes to be brought into the equation.”

Sam works for the tutor-finding agency Tutorfair www.tutorfair.com which aims to give something back by offering free private tutoring to a child whose parents cannot afford private fees, for every fee paying student.

He added: “Private tutoring does have its place.

“I have seen both sides and I feel I can make much more of a difference through one-to-one teaching, far more than I could make in a class of 30 children,” he admitted.

“That’s why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place.

“To get a student from an C to an A, for example, on their Alevels means the different between them getting into a certain university which can have an effect on the rest of their lives.

“As for the 11-plus exam, it can be very difficult and deliberately ambiguous.

“It could be the way a question is phrased that leads to the student failing the question so a tutor can greatly help go through the terminology of the exam.”

Sam is now set to study for a Masters degree in Education Policy at Kings College in London because he wants to help change the education system in Britain for the better.

He even penned an academic essay outlining what he believes needs to change in the classroom and sent it to former education secretary Michael Gove – he didn’t get a response.

One thing Sam can’t stand is the idea girls are different to boys when it comes to certain subjects.

“I hate it when you hear the lazy stereotypes girls aren’t doing maths or science as much as boys as their brains don’t function in the same way. It’s rubbish!

“In my experience girls excel at maths because they are better at working out meticulous and systematic patterns, which is what maths is all about really.”

For more details about Sam’s work, email samcuthbertson@hotmail.com