Comments on the theme of 11+ tuition.
Selection by economics
I live in a county with grammar schools and have children. It’s selection by economics. We have money for tutoring, which means doing well at the 11 plus and grammar school. Also there are a large amount of private primary schools which are geared towards sending children onto grammars after.
How is it fair?
I remember doing my 11-plus – I’d never even seen an IQ test before which made it much harder. I remember the kids with rich parents had been tutored for months. These mistakes I won’t repeat with my children, but how is this fair on the children without these resources?
I am shocked to read parents employ tutors to prepare their child for the Kent test. I’m not sure if I am missing something however, If a child needs a private tutor to prepare them to pass Kent test, how will they manage at a comprehensive? Surely needing a tutor to achieve a pass, is a reflection that they are not academically able to achieve this without extra support. I think the system is corrupt and needs a shake up. It should be a fair grounding where all children sit the tests in the same conditions. The test content should remain secret and be based on education learned in the school setting so it genuinely reflects a child’s ability. Factors such as dyslexia should be taken into account, surely it is discriminatory to not make allowances for this? It is sad to read so many negative experiences with school acceptance and the pressure this puts on children.
We have grammar schools where I live. It is *insanely* competitive. Thousands of pounds spent and hours invested in tutoring in order to have a chance to get a place. The kids in my daughter’s class are largely the children of professionals and very rarely working class.
A divisive test
My child took the 11+ (not tutored but with practice papers) and passed. The non grammar schools where we live are not great, so for me it is better they are in a grammar, but it is a divisive test reflecting tutoring as much as ability.
My single mum cleaner was working four hours for just an hour of a Kent Test tutor's time
My cleaner couldn’t read. It took me too long to realise it. Notes ignored, phone calls but never texts. Of course, I was sympathetic when I understood her problem. She told me how difficult it was to even get a job as a care worker, there were written tests and she struggled to hold down most low-paid jobs. She got by much easier with cleaning houses.
So what has this to do with grammar school tests? Well one day she told me that her daughter was bright. Her daughter wasn’t like her, she was ‘clever.’ So being in Kent, she did what every caring parent does, she paid for a Kent Test tutor. I was paying her £10 an hour at the time, and she was paying £40 an hour for the tutor.
This hard working single mum wanted the best for her daughter, so she was working four hours to gain nothing but an hour for her daughter with a tutor.
I feel awful writing this next bit. Her daughter failed the test. So all that much needed cash was wasted. Her mum was adamant that this was some mistake, her daughter was smart, so she deserved to go to grammar school. I could see that this poor woman just wanted her daughter to have a different life to her.
She told me that she went to see her daughter’s teacher, she wanted help with an appeal to win a grammar school place. She said the teacher dismissed her, told her daughter wasn’t up to it. The poor girl had two setbacks, the test told her she wasn’t good enough and then so did the school. My cleaner was angry, but she couldn’t manage an appeal herself, there was nothing she could do.
My cleaner was with me for many years, and I sometimes asked after her daughter. She didn’t do well at school, she truanted, she eventually left with unimpressive exam results. She had a baby very young and moved to Wales.
You’d think the story ended there, wouldn’t you? But in her mid-twenties my cleaner’s daughter decided to go back to college determined to sit her exams and then train as a lawyer or legal assistant. She’s set to succeed at that goal. She’s proved the system wrong. Her mum is now so very proud. My cleaner’s daughter encouraged her mum to go back to school too and get help for her reading. They’re both back in education.
It seems very clear to me that Kent’s education system did nothing to encourage this girl. It did the opposite, it gave her only discouragement. People think grammar schools are good for social mobility, but how often does this system let working class families down? How often do poor families waste money they can’t afford on tuition? This is all because they care about education, even when they’re not well educated themselves. The selective education system will take their hard earned cash and knock them back. It’s a terrible system, and to talk of expanding it is crazy.
Elitism, pure and simple
We live in an area where there are grammar schools. It is standard for parents to employ a tutor from the start of year 5 for the 11+ test. That’s thousands of pounds and hours spent trying to pass this test, just to give us a choice of nearby schools for our children.
We’re lucky, we can afford to do so, but I am very worried about the impact of this test/pass/fail mentality on my children and I absolutely abhor the idea that those who can afford a tutor are the ones who apply and get in. It’s elitist and it’s wrong.
Mum's incompetence means daughter failed
I had a new baby when I moved to Kent. I had no idea the 11+ was still a thing. My daughter was 9 and told me all her friends had Kent Test tutors. I said I’d look into it, but somehow kept putting it off. I knew nothing about Kent’s system and how the test worked. Someone recommended a tutor and I kept chasing her, but when she finally got back to me she had no availability. I had no idea how to do the test questions myself, so I felt lost, but finally found a tutor to help. It was about a month before the test date, and the tutor said she’d do her best but a few weeks wasn’t enough preperation.
Well you can guess what happened. My poor daughter failed narrowly. Her primary head said she’d considered putting her in for an appeal panel but her handwriting was messy so her school books weren’t good enough for the appeal stage. Like smart people have to have neat handwriting?!
I felt bad because I’m pretty sure she’d have passed if I’d got my act together. It seems like Kent’s system is all about paying for tutors. What an utter crock of shit that this should still pass for a valid way to sort entry to secondary school.
We have spent £2000 in tutoring fees over the past year. Everyone I know does this.
We live in Sevenoaks. If my daughter doesn’t pass the 11-plus her options are to go to a new religious free school or the local academy, which OFSTED say requires improvement.
I think the message that has not got out there is the damage having grammar schools in an area does to choice. I don’t have a choice. All the ‘clever’ kids get into grammar school and the rest go to the academy or start praying.
What are my options then as a ‘non-believer’ to give my child the best education? My only choice is to pay for tutoring to be in with a chance of a grammar place. We have spent £2000 in tutoring fees over the past year. That’s just once a week. Everyone I know does this. Or they can afford to be a stay-at-home mum and tutor their child themselves.
I’m envious of friends who live in areas where there are just good comprehensives. No stress for the 10 year-old, no sense of failure, just the quality free education they are entitled to.
This two tier system is unsustainable. They should end grammar schools now.
Selection by tutoring
When I moved and started my family in Buckinghamshire, I was astonished to discover that the county operated a selective education system and I soon began to experience its fallout. Friends of my children began disappearing off to private tutors after school. By Year Five, pretty much all of their friends were being tutored. Reluctantly, to ‘level the playing field’ I caved in and my eldest daughter started tutoring. We did not, however, tutor our youngest daughter – she felt completely overwhelmed by the experience.
To me, it felt that selection had become ‘selection by tutoring’, i.e. for those who could pay. I saw stressed out parents with stressed out children in their wake. Fearful parents seemed to be prepared to do anything to obtain that coveted place at grammar school. If you had the knowledge of how the appeal system worked and the confidence to use it, that seems to be a definite advantage.
How they performed on that one day when they were 10 years old will have an impact on the rest of their lives
There are many things that happen in my local area (Watford) as a result of our partially selective system. Firstly, a significant number of parents send their children to independent prep schools to give them a better chance of getting a place at Watford Boys’ or Watford Girls’ Grammar Schools, meaning that increasing numbers of bright, state-educated local children now see these schools as totally out of their reach. They are effectively private schools, but without the big fee.
Secondly, the private tutoring phenomenon is thriving. And not just for a month or two before the test either. Many children are being tutored for a whole year or two beforehand – that’s right, children aged eight and nine years old are spending time after school and at weekends prepping for a test. Surely the test is designed to identify naturally bright children whether or not they have had tutoring? You might think so, yes. But of course those children who have spent time getting used to how the test is structured, doing practice papers and answering questions under pressure have an advantage over those who have received no tutoring.
Even those well-intentioned parents who wholeheartedly disagree with private tutoring in principle end up giving in. It is easy to say that you would never get a tutor for your child when the whole process is a long way off; but when you start to see the rest of the year group being prepped for a test that your child will also be taking, of course it is natural to want your own child to have a fair chance too.
Another thing that happens as a result of our partially selective system is this – children frequently do not attend their local school. And really, what should a school be? Part of and representative of a community, is what I like to think. Surely every child should have the chance to attend their local secondary school if they want to, but that often does not happen here because where you end up going to secondary school is based on how you perform in a test when you are ten years old. And so bright children from further afield often gain places at excellent schools at the expense of local children. Friends are frequently split up at a time when the very thing that matters to most children of that age is staying with their friends.
Let’s also think about these children, who instead of developing a love of reading or dance or sports are spending time preparing for a test. They are not developing in-depth or useful knowledge of anything, they are being taught how to pass a test. They are being forced to compare themselves to their peers and being labelled at an age when learning should still be fun. How they performed on that one day when they were 10 years old will have an impact on the rest of their lives; when we all know that children develop at different rates.
And what about the pressure to live up to parents’ expectations? Parents who have paid for extra tutoring sessions, who may have taken on a second job or extra shifts to be able to afford the private tutoring in the first place. How does a child feel telling their parents that actually, the tutoring didn’t quite pay off this time? And if the child is successful, what about when she arrives at the school that she has been tutored to get into? What about the child who has scraped her way into the grammar school, but then feels like she is under-achieving because she is getting Bs when most of her classmates are on As and A*s?
I have one final question, which is this – why don’t we value young people for anything other than the ability to pass tests anymore? That’s what I would really like to know.
No child should be put through this to get a good education
I have one child who passed the 11-plus, one who failed and my youngest is in Year Five which, in Trafford, means I have a year of stress and uncertainty ahead of me if I decide to prepare her for the entrance exams.
My eldest daughter had always been in the most able group in her class at primary, so I felt reasonably confident that she would pass the 11-plus and as a teacher I was able to prepare her myself. This did lead to a great deal of stress and conflict at home: my daughter did not want to spend weekends learning algebra and non-verbal reasoning and I felt terrible for making her do so. But I had little choice if I wanted her to stand a chance of passing.
As the exam drew closer, nerves amongst the parents of other children in her class were contagious and I had many sleepless nights worrying about the exam. On the day of the first exam, I felt physically sick. My daughter sat three exams and was so exhausted after the third that she looked ill. I felt horribly guilty for putting her through it but felt I had no other option due to Trafford being wholly selective. Luckily she passed but most of her friends did not, so her friendship circles were broken up, adding to her worries about leaving primary school.
My second daughter had identical levels of attainment to her older sister so I assumed that she too would go to grammar. She however wanted to go the non-selective high school where most of her friends were going. This led to a year of horrendous arguments and stress. I felt that I had to give her the same chances as her sister and that as an able pupil she ought to go to a grammar. The only preparation she did for the exam was under duress and ultimately she did not pass. My daughter was fine with this but I felt that I had failed her as a parent.
I now have to face the 11-plus rigmarole again with my youngest daughter and whilst my heart tells me to turn my back on the whole system, spend quality time with her instead and send her to the non-selective school that I now know to be very good, my head tells me that I should give her the opportunity her sisters had. I really resent being put in this situation by an unfair, outdated selective system. My friends who live in neighbouring areas do not have to go through this; their children are able to go to comprehensives where they have equality of opportunity and are not judged by their school uniform.
In my time tutoring for the 11-plus I have encountered many situations and outcomes that have led me to conclude that the selective system we have in Trafford is unfair. I’ve seen many very bright children not pass due to exam nerves and less able children hit lucky on the day and pass. You either pass or you don’t – having a bad day or panicking is just seen as an excuse. For many children of a broadly similar ability the exam becomes little more than a lottery of luck rather than a test of ability.
I do not accept that grammar schools in any way facilitate social mobility – the chances of a child passing the exam without significant preparation, whether with a tutor or their parent are long gone. The percentages of children gaining a place at a grammar school in the least affluent area of Trafford, compared with most affluent, speak volumes.
I believe that the pressure of the system has a very detrimental effect on the mental health of children and personally know of several children who have fallen ill under the weight of expectation. Children who don’t pass often suffer significant, sometimes lifelong, damage to their self-esteem. No child should be put through this to get a good education and no child should be labelled a failure at ten or eleven years-old. I do not believe that the annual misery inflicted on the majority of the children who take the 11-plus in Trafford, is worth the advantage for the lucky few.
The biggest wallets and the sharpest elbows win the day
We live in Warwickshire, which was so laid back it never quite got around to abolishing grammar schools in the 70s. What seems to matter to win a place is the levels of commitment and anxiety of your parents. I’m sure some children beg their parents to let them take it, but there are plenty more who decide it’s probably not for them.
Then there’s the tutoring. I hold my hands up and say that my son has had a tutor. We momentarily thought about sticking to our principles but knuckled under. There is no avoiding that fact that the 11-plus is a competitive exam. There aren’t enough school places in the borough, let alone a grammar place for every child who knows a bit of algebra.
An arms race ensues. No matter what anyone says, if you take two children of the same ability, and give one plenty of practice and send the other one in cold, the practiced child will do better. The biggest wallets and the sharpest elbows will win the day. We found someone who was kind and encouraging, and who could persuade my son to sit down and become familiar with what the questions look like and make him believe it was something he was capable of. There is also now a tuition centre in our local Sainsbury’s, so your child can be tutored while you get the weekly shop done in peace. Others have had tuition since Year Three and paid for mock exams and past papers (even though they are not supposed to exist).
Small children are horrible, really horrible. They all discuss who has tutors and who doesn’t. My son comes home and tells me of boys in his class who tell others that they are going to fail because they don’t have one, or just that they are not up to it. And I would walk away from it all tomorrow, except for the overwhelming feeling that whatever I do, I’m failing him.
He is an intelligent boy who, at 10, I would argue has yet to decide whether to use his powers for good or evil. He is my baby boy who I still sing to sleep, and read bedtime stories. He can’t be persuaded to wash more than once a week, let alone think about his future career prospects. He would like to be a stunt man or a rally driver. How on earth are we to decide now what levels of academia he will aspire to, or what kind of education he is worthy of?
The exam will test him on his vocabulary, his maths and his ability to pick out a pattern. It will not test him on his passion or enthusiasm for learning. It will not test him on his leadership skills, or a knack for conflict resolution. They will not test him on his Mr Ripley like ability to lie charmingly and convincingly to get himself out of trouble. It will not examine if he can find a better way of doing things that nobody else has thought of (even if it does involve zip wires).
The world has changed. No longer do we need children divided into manual labour and professional classes. What we need is for the next generation to be innovative, creative, push boundaries, motivate those around them, be resilient enough to get up again when things don’t go their way, to collaborate even when they don’t like the other person. These are not necessarily going to be found in a school where everyone is of the same ability and most have the same background, work ethic and temperament, whatever the prospectus says.
So why are we bothering with the 11-plus? The alternative schools are constantly fighting against the reality that the brightest, wealthiest and most aspirational kids have been skimmed off the top. For all the progress a grammar school child gets, the opposite occurs to the other 80 per cent. Yes, there are children who thrive and do well, but they are doing it despite the grammar system, not because of it.
If the government were serious about social mobility, they would make sure that all schools were great, with valued and rewarded teachers. Then they could shove their non-verbal reasoning.
Tuition makes the test unfair
As my eldest approached Year Five, I looked into the test, and was shocked by my findings. The test seemed to be a GCSE English literature exam in places and the vast majority of content was from the Year 7 curriculum. How could a child pass this without tutoring, I wondered. Well, they cannot. If you have never been taught algebra, for example, then you cannot answer a question on it, not matter how intelligent you are.
The 11plus went from being an intelligence test to a ‘how much tutoring can you afford’ test. I hate elitism, and this is elitism as its worst. Digging further, I found that the 11-plus pass rate for private school children is nearly three times the pass rate for state school children. We could not afford to tutor our child, and she didn’t respond well (to put it mildly) to our teaching.
Year Five was horrendous. Emily, who is competitive and has always been at the top of the class, was suddenly ‘overtaken’ by her tutored peers. This is what people never think about. 11-plus aside, all the tutoring over-inflated the children’s abilities, leaving Emily a little behind, leaving her feeling rubbish and depressed. She could not compete with them, they were learning tons of new things which she had no access to. The playing field was no longer level. It was a horrid year for Emily, and I couldn’t help feeling cross at this awful system that had been created.
The good news was that we made it very clear to Emily that the 11-plus was a money test, not an intelligence test, and that only the rich passed. She still wanted to take it, not wanting to be left out. She scored 118, and was delighted! She felt pleased that she got such a high score without tutoring – particularly as she knew very tutored children who got the same mark.
I do understand the pressure to tutor. Everyone is doing it, so if you don’t you put your child at a disadvantage. Unfortunately, for most families, there is no choice – no extra money or time for tutoring.
Tuition is wrong
I failed the 11-plus and felt awful. My parents spent more than £1000 on a tutor and we couldn’t really afford it. Nearly everyone in my class had a Kent Test tutor so of course they had to pay to compete. It’s an awful system, I wish there were no 11+.
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