Secondary School Admissions – Share the knowledge!

As the first month of a New Year comes to a close, Christmas is over, winter is well and truly setting in and we just feel to semi hibernate, my mind starts racing about the beginning of a year, my future goals and a wish to ultimately be able to reside in warmer climes – just whilst it’s cold. I also start to think about my hopes and dreams for those around me and what I’d like to see them achieve. I am sure this sentiment is shared by many and that it is at this time of the year we begin to plan for our children’s future too.

Recently, a friend approached me and asked if I’d help her to write a book about how to apply for Grammar schools. Although she had experience of the Bexley grammar school application system – the process for most grammar school applications are fundamentally the same. Given my background and training in the secondary admissions process, we decided this was an ideal partnership.

My research for this book came almost simultaneously with me being approached by a parent to tutor her child for the 11+ examination and this made me stop and think about how much of a big business operation this whole 11+, grammar school malarkey actually is annually. Ultimately, the importance placed on potential grammar school attendance comes down to parents wanting to give their children opportunities and more importantly – increasing their chances of success. The realities of modern life and the odds being stacked against those without access to money makes it paramount that our children are given the opportunity to achieve what those who can afford to, will pay handsomely for.

Yet my baptism into the whole process of 11+ preparation gave me a rude awakening; understanding of the foundations that would need to be set in place for a child to attempt the test, with the best possible chance of success. One major thing that struck me and has stuck with me since is how language and moreover semantics are so crucial in achieving success in these tests. Meaning, on the flipside that if you have not had wide experiences, access to certain topics and discussions and/or you do not read widely, language and your understanding of language can be a major stumbling block in passing the tests. For example, I remember a verbal reasoning question that my pupil was faced with that asked him to spot the odd word out of bridle, saddle, rein and horse. He circled bridle. When I asked him why – he said a bridle was to do with a wedding. He clearly had no idea of the equestrian context of the word and in fact this was one of several words that he did not know the meaning of e.g. Buoy, Epoch and Plateau.

This is a very bright young man, with professional parents and access to much more than many children I work with in the inner city, yet his lack of understanding of these words made me really think about the possibly unconscious bias of these tests. I am going to call it unconscious and unintentional as it would be soul destroying, discriminatory and downright cruel to even begin to think that this was intentionally being done. If there was evidence of intention then surely what this would mean is that the 11+ is being used as a tool to restrict access solely to those who would understand as routine part of course, what such words mean.

After further research, a television documentary on the subject and much debate with my co-author and friends, I realised that as one school’s head teacher put it “grammar schools offer your children the best education available without paying for it”. Therefore if you wish your child to even stand a chance of getting in to grammar school my first piece of advice would be to start preparing them early. Remember these schools are not for everybody and often have high demands, expectations and workloads. So be honest with yourself, you know your child and what they can and cannot cope with. If you know that Grammar School is going to be too demanding for your child and will not meet their holistic needs then don’t do it to them!

If I’m honest, I personally feel that if you have a child that likes to read widely (very important trait), has access to extra-curricular opportunities, is dedicated and academic, then Grammar School can be a great option. However, I would suggest starting to prepare for the entrance examinations and requirements from around the end of year 3. You may say that’s excessive but do your research and you will see that the many facets of the entrance tests require a great deal of preparation and it would be better you started too early than too late.

They say that you cannot coach your child through Non Verbal Reasoning tests and that they test aptitude as opposed to ability. However, I would argue that even if they cannot be coached, they can be prepared to ensure that they are familiar with the layouts, terminology and expectations. Such preparation means that they can enter such tests and be at ease because they know what is required in terms of method, responses and process.

All in all, you are your child’s first teachers and biggest advocates – it is down to you to support them throughout their lives and through crucial stages such as secondary school. You have the benefit of age and hopefully wisdom. I would say use your experiences, networks, knowledge and passion to prepare for whatever establishment your child will enter and remember that secondary school is at least 5 years of your child’s life.  For more information on the 11+ grammar school admissions and general secondary school admissions please purchase our book 11+ Survival and Success – Available on Amazon now!

Remember Knowledge is Power – Share the knowledge!

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