Aptitude rather than ability

Posted on Jul 8, 2004

The new 5 year plan for education is much discussed on the news today, with a lot of debate over allowing schools to select the pupils that they admit. Selection has been around for a long time in the UK, though the form has changed a little. There have been schools with a particular religious orientation for years and I myself attended Roman Catholic primary, middle and secondary schools as well as a Roman Catholic sixth form. Most of the children were not actually practising Roman Catholics, though many of the parents were.

Schools in my local area now select children on the basis of skills at the age of eleven. Most schools reserve places for children with proven musical skills (proven through generally accepted examinations) or proven academic skills (proven through entrance examinations). It’s a trying time for both pupils and parents - not gaining admission to one of the chosen schools can be stressful.

What caught my attention was the distinction made by various members of the government between admission based on aptitude and admission based on ability. Dictionary.com says:


  1. An inherent ability, as for learning; a talent. See Synonyms at ability.
  2. Quickness in learning and understanding; intelligence.
  3. The condition or quality of being suitable; appropriateness.



  1. The quality of being able to do something, especially the physical, mental, financial, or legal power to accomplish something.
  2. A natural or acquired skill or talent.
  3. The quality of being suitable for or receptive to a specified treatment; capacity: the ability of a computer to be configured for use as a file server. See Usage Note at able.

It seems pretty clear that the current examination based approach is derived from proven skills, which sounds like ability. How might one assess aptitude without reference to ability? Obviously I’m naive and it’s just another load of political crap that means nothing. It’s a shame that you have to get involved in politics in order to be involved in government. What’s the alternative?