I love all things education. I am passionate about it. I have attended workshops, worked with young people and even considered teaching when I was re-evaluating my Investment Banking career! However, I do not have the patience levels of a saint which is absolutely necessary working with children, so I just stuck with banking! God is helping me on that!
This blog is an insight into my interests, and as much as I loveeeeeeeeeee a popping highlight and a matte foundation, I also love researching and reading about education. As soon as my ‘mum’ hat goes on there is no stopping me! I don’t claim to get it right all the time, in fact I make mistakes all the time. Just ask my three year old who told me to stop shouting the other day! I didn’t even know I was! Maybe its the Nigerian in me! I am definitely not perfect, but I try my hardest. That’s the best I can do right?
So I am going to start sharing the things I have learnt or experienced to help other mums or potential mums out there. A problem shared is a problem halved!
This post is going to be about the 11+ process, specifically Kent, Bexley, Bromley, and Medway. I don’t claim to know everything but from my experience of working with young people in my church for 5 years and extensive research, I do know a fair bit, and that is what I will share with you in a simplified way as much as I can. I personally went to a State Comprehensive school in Inner London, but I do want my child to be educated in a different way due to my personal experiences.
I will split this post into two, so that I can cover everything that I want to cover.
The bottom line to everything I will say is know your child. Know their limits, know their levels, know their strengths and weaknesses. There is no point forcing your child through the 11+ Grammar school system and they fail or even worse they get in and they spend the next 5 years of their lives (which is incredibly crucial in their development) struggling to keep up. I am not wishing bad on your child, but I will keep it real with you.
What is a Grammar school?
In a nutshell, there are different types of State Secondary education. State education is education that you do not pay for (well, technically you do pay for it through your taxes! But hey!). You have Grammar schools (selective based on scores), Religious schools (selective based on religious orientation) and Comprehensive schools (usually selective on distance from the school and where you live). For Comprehensive schools, you usually don’t have to do a test (in some Comp schools you do, but it is not a rigorous exam). You apply to all state schools via your Local Authority. As Grammar schools select students based on scores, they are usually highly sought after by parents who want the best state education for their child(ren). Grammar schools are seen to be ‘private schools without the fees’, as the levels of education and teaching can be higher than Comprehensive schools.
For Grammar school entry, there is the notorious 11+ exam. I say ‘notorious’ because if you live in South East London, Kent, Medway you would have heard about these tests that are taken by 10-11 year olds. Or you may have witnessed a stressed parent or worse a stressed out child! The reason why it is the hot topic in education around these areas because Kent has the largest concentration of Grammar schools in the United Kingdom! These exams are highly competitive! Kids are tutored rigorously to get into one of these grammar schools, even starting tutoring from Year 4 (aged 9) and do hours every day after school or over the weekend! I am not exaggerating.
I am spelling this out for you because if you are considering this route of education for your children, you need to understand the journey that your child may be taking.
There are different types of Grammar schools. Not all Grammar schools are the same.
- Super selectives such as Dartford Grammar school for Boys (Dartford), Judd (Tonbridge – boys), Skinners (Tunbridge Wells – boys), St Olaves (Orpington – boys), Tonbridge Grammar school (Tonbridge – girls), Newstead Wood (Orpington – girls). These schools require really high scores in the 11+ exams. These schools prioritise children with the highest scores, but they may have proximity limitations. This is basically in case of oversubscription, they will use the how far you live from the school.
- Selective schools: all other grammar schools fall into this category. They will usually have individual cut off scores, and in case of oversubscription they may use distance and other criteria to decide who gets a place. You still have to pass the 11+ to get in.
Please make sure you check the Admissions policy for the schools that you are aiming for, as each school has their own admissions policy. It is possible to pass the 11+ and to not get into one single grammar school! Yes! I will explain more below.
I cannot stress how much living in the ‘right’ area can affect your choices, if you are considering a Grammar school education. I read forums where parents are desperately trying to move after the 11+ exams, which can be financially and emotionally costly. It is better to plan ahead so it is worth considering a move whilst your child is still young. I moved last year to my ’10 year’ home and I had to be really selective about where I wanted to move to. Here are the things I had to consider:
- What is the distance to Good and Outstanding State Primary schools? Am I in the catchment area for at least one of the schools?
- Am I in at least one catchment for at least one ‘Boys’ and one ‘Girls’ grammar schools?
- How close/far is it from the local station and how long will my commute be into London (where my job is based)?
Remember that some property areas are ‘black holes’, which is basically out of catchment for primary and secondary school options, and people living there can be ‘stuck’ when it comes to applying for schools for their children. A simple check on rightmove can save you alot of stress in the future. Trust me!
If you live outside a Grammar School borough, you will be considered as ‘Out of Catchment (OOC)’, which means that for some 11+ tests such as Kent you will need a higher score in the 11+ exam than the children in catchment and the local children i.e. those inside catchment will take priority if the school is over subscribed. For example in 2016 the OOC score was 400 for Judd, the inside catchment was 369 (Out of a total score of 420!) Bexley however, does that have the OOC distinction. Anyone can do the Bexley 11+ and if you are within the top 180 children with the highest scores, you can pick whatever grammar school in bexley. If you pass the Bexley 11+ and are not in the 180, you have to check the school’s admission criteria. Bexley often use distance as a determining factor.
State Primary schools do not prepare children for the 11+ exams. I actually don’t think they are allowed to. No matter how many children in a year group that are doing it, they will not prepare your child for these exams, which is why a lot of children have private tutoring or parents who go the DIY route. It is very likely that the elements tested in the 11+ exams have not even been taught at your child’s school or will never be taught such as Nonverbal and Verbal Reasoning by the time the tests arrive. Remember that your child does not get a second chance at the 11+ test. You are assessed by how well you do on the day. Missing the pass mark by 1 mark is still a ‘fail’ and you would have to appeal to get the Council to consider your child suitable for ‘selective’ or grammar education.
Be aware if your child goes to a state primary and there are a lot of children taking the 11+, it may be the talk of the playground, which can be pretty brutal if your child doesn’t pass. I have seen the effects of not passing the 11+ on children and for a lot of them it is their first experience of ‘failure’, so this must be managed well by parents. Expressing disappointment and making a massive scene is likely to have a lasting effect on your child. I would really really recommend having a Plan B! Just in case! Don’t place all your hopes on these 11+ exams. Your plan B could be a local Good Comprehensive, or a private (Independent) school. Whatever suits your child and your family.
Do Private primaries prepare for the 11+?
It depends. Based on speaking to parents, children at private primaries are more experienced at sitting tests and exams. This includes practice on how to handle Verbal reasoning or non-verbal reasoning, so it prepares them for elements of the 11+ test, but not the whole test. However, it is not unheard of for a child in a private school to require tutoring for the 11+ (perhaps not as much as a child in a state primary school). Private schools will tend to prepare pupils for other private school exams, rather than the 11+, however in doing that they are inadvertently preparing the child’s mind-set for taking exams. So the decision is up to you.
Should I pay for a tutor? Or can I do the tutoring myself?
That is your personal decision. Some people are against tutoring, preferring to allow their child’s natural ability to shine through. Me personally, I have nothing against it. Tutors are not cheap though, ranging from £30 to £60 per hour especially in London, and often the good tutors are booked up pretty early. Make sure that you keep an eye on the work that your tutors give your child, and find out the tutors track record. Just because you have a tutor doesn’t mean you can take your eye off the ball. Don’t wait until it is too late.
You can decide to go down the D-I-Y route (preparing your child for the exam(s) yourself), which saves money but it is not less stressful. It requires time and commitment from both the child and the parent involved. You need to have the patience and understand how your child learns, in order to be effective. There are readily available books that you can use to prepare your child.
My advice to you is to start preparing for the exams at least a year in advance to give your child a less pressured learning experience. Leaving it too late to organise a tutor or yourself can lead to unnecessary pressure on your child, which can affect their performance.
Also the 11+ exams for Bexley, Kent, Medway and Bromley are all DIFFERENT, so tailored preparation for the specific exam is very important. I repeat, just because your child passes the exam (s) does not mean they are guaranteed a place. Competition for places are very high and a lot of the times proximity is taken into account.
Stay tuned for Part 2