Grammar Schools Clock Is Ticking

exams 1Yes, it’s yet another 11+ post. You see, once we’ve decided to go down the ‘let’s try to get our child into a grammar school’ route, it has taken over my life.  With the deadline fast approaching (only three months to the Selective Eligibility Test – the first exams round), we breathe and live revision and practice test papers. All utterly boring and tedious, not only for the children, but also for the parents who, in their madness, have taken it upon themselves to tutor their child at home (that would be me).

Tutoring your own children for grammar school exams can be quite involved. You have to decide on a particular piece of work they should do, get them to do it, check it, go through the mistakes together, explain a few things for the empthieth time, find another appropriate piece of work for them to do, etc, etc.  Remember to take a break between checking maths and comprehension to make dinner and feed the family, sort out the laundry, ironing and cleaning. You will find yourself wandering through the aisles of Tesco, Asda or another supermarket of choice, planning the next chunk of 11+ revision in your head while trying to do the weekly shop. Try acting natural if you come home without the things you went to buy, but with some extras you don’t really need.

At some point, multi-tasking becomes challenging even for the most seasoned 11+ parents. Ask anyone who has a child going through the selective schools exams preparations and they will tell you they hate the whole thing and can’t wait for it to be over. If they don’t, then either their child is a pure genius who will sail through the exams without any effort, or the parents in question are not quite as truthful as they could be.

Bribes work – sometimes

A few months ago, we were doing some revision 2-3 days a week, but with the exam day getting closer, it’s more like 4 or 5 days  now. We try to mix different things, for example a bit of revision of a particular topic, or a practice test paper (either maths or English), with some verbal reasoning practice thrown in.

I have a fairly typical child, who’d rather do something else than additional school work, so keeping motivation going can be a challenge. I have already solemnly promised my son that as soon as the exams are over, he will not have to do a single piece of work other than the compulsory homework set by his teacher. I’ve bribed him with cinema trips, Xbox games, ice-cream and baking a cake together so that he would do one more piece of work. If none of the treats stimulate interest, I back off and we have a break for a day or two.

Depending on a day and mood, our discussions vary from ‘just do these four pages and you can play on your tablet,’ to ‘Tommy’s mummy said he was doing some work every day from 5 to 6pm,’ to ‘I am not going to make you do it, but you know it’s important if you want to have a chance to get into a grammar school,’ to ‘I can’t see the point in trying to make you do something you don’t want to, so why don’t we just drop it and forget about the whole grammar school thing.’ By the time I finish saying the latter, I feel an utterly rotten, wicked witch of a mother. So there – consider your options very carefully if you are not prepared to deal with emotional upheavals.

Why do we want a grammar school?

I do wonder sometimes why we are doing all this. So many people say ‘Annie/Tommy/(insert a name as required) went to a bog-standard comprehensive, got to a university and are doing fine, thank you.’ I don’t dispute that. I am sure that a bright AND motivated (motivation being a key factor in my view) child can potentially do well in any school they end up in – as long as that school is good enough.

It all boils down to a definition of the ‘good enough’ – what seems perfectly good for one person, may not be ideal for another. Also, in our case, the only comprehensive we have a chance to get into, is not a good school, with the official levels of achievement below national average and consistently declining over the past 3-4 years. Would I want to send my son there as a guinea-pig, just to test the hypothesis that he could do well in any school he would go to? I’d rather not, if I can help it.

We are lucky to have a choice of some very good schools where we live – many people don’t. Given one below average comprehensive and three excellent grammars on the doorstep, the choice is obvious for me. There are no guarantees we will manage to get into one of the schools we would like – all we can do is try and hope for the best. Apparently, last year there were roughly 1600 – 1700 applications for 450 places, so wish us luck…


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