Those of you, my readers, whose children have been, or are going through, 11+ preparations and exams, will probably relate to what you are about to read. If, however, you have not experienced the 11+, let me tell you this – it is an extremely stressful process and possibly the hardest, most unpleasant, year of the entire primary school.
This is the year when you find out who your real friends are.
We used to have relaxed, friendly chats at the school gate. Granted, there were always a few parents who I hardly spoke to, but then it is unrealistic to expect to have a chat with every single person. Come 11+ and the atmosphere changes. Suddenly, some of the mothers I used to chat with, are either too busy to talk or are talking only to the mums in the year above. They may not have known them before, but now they are their new friends. Why? Very simple – the year above has THE KNOWLEDGE. They did the 11+ last year, so now they are a valuable source of information.
There is nothing wrong with seeking insider knowledge. What disappoints me, though, is that most of our year group parents have become extremely secretive. They never volunteer to share any information about the exams they may have discovered. If you ask them a question, they either avoid the topic or say they don’t know. The chances of anyone willing to recommend a good tutor are very slim. The same goes for sharing tips about the most useful resources for 11+ preparation or dates and organisers of mock tests.
Suddenly, as soon as you’ve decided to put your child through 11+, you become an enemy. After all, your child and the other person’s child are going for a place in the same grammar school. Given that the number of applications is easily about 4-5 per place, no-one is going to say or do anything that might increase another person’s chances of getting in.
Maybe I am naïve, but I have always shared with others whatever useful information I’ve found. Most of it is in public domain anyway, so courtesy of Google people can find out about things as easily as I can, right? Well, not everyone seems to agree – a lot of parents at our school have started keeping things to themselves. As the saying goes, ‘You find out who your true friends are in the hour of need’; this is exactly what happens with 11+ exams – you do find out who you can count among your friends.
As it happens, I seem to be down to one, maybe one-and-a-half friends at school. The ‘half-friend’ person does occasionally share snippets of useful information, so it would be unfair to write her off completely. The one ‘proper’ friend I’m left with, is a mum of another boys who is going for a grammar school and we regularly chat about what we do with our children at home in terms of exam preparation, share tips on types of questions that might come up or recommend useful books/test papers to each other. I am really grateful to her, otherwise I would have probably gone insane without being able to discuss these blasted exams with someone who is not super-competitive or secretive. She is just refreshingly normal and nice.
Take comments with a pinch of salt…
I have made an interesting observation. Last year, there was a group of a few mothers who were very vocal in their views that grammar schools were a choice of over-ambitious, snobbish and pushy parents; they were adamant that they would only send their children to a local comprehensive. Oddly enough, the same mothers now seem to suffer from amnesia and are the first ones to criticise their previously favoured secondary schools.
I still remember a discussion we had over a year ago among a few of us – one of the mums said she had better things to spend her money on than private schools, and another one was determined that the most important thing for her two daughters was to go to a school next door and be with their friends. After all, children’s happiness is the key thing in life.
A year on, and the first mum is paying substantial fees for her child’s private grammar school, while the second one spends her time ferrying her daughter from one tutor to another, in a bid to increase her chances to land that ‘snobbish’ grammar school place. It doesn’t really make a difference to me what they do, and everyone chooses what works best for them, but the lesson I’ve learnt from that is not to assume that people actually mean what they say.
We have roughly seven months to go to the exam day.
I knew this was going to be a tough year – both mentally and emotionally – so why have we decided to go for it? A very mundane reason: my older son is in a selective school and my youngest wants to go there, too – he always wants to do what his brother does.
Having a sibling in a selective school makes no difference for one’s chances of getting in, but he is a clever boy and I think he may be able to make it. There are no guarantees, but as long as he wants to give it a go, I will do my best to help him through it. If I didn’t, he would interpret it as ‘I was not good enough to try,’ and I could not let him think that.
My mother has always told me this: ‘If you want something, go for it. You may well succeed. And if you don’t, at least you know you gave yourself a chance. Better to regret the things you have done, than those you didn’t even try…’ I am a firm believer in that.