Here is my first blog. It will be the first of many as I hope to write one a week, on, parenting, education, and the books your children should read. Reading will help them gain the general knowledge they need to pass the 11+. It’s not all about maths, arithmetic, punctuation and grammar. Verbal reasoning is becoming more and more important. One person who will inspire your children, to want to learn more about the world around them, is David Attenborough. His knowledge, and unique way of observing and transferring to us all he knows about animals, is a must for any child and their parents. Watch him as often as you can, on the BBC or use his DVD’s and read his books.

Today I am going to write about the 11+ exam, particularly grammar schools and whether these are the right choice for your child. There is an enormous amount of pressure involved in getting your child prepared. Some grammar schools only take 99 children in any one year. Yet 7000 children often apply for those 99 places. Is your child capable of being one of those 99 children who make it to a grammar school?

The recent serious changes to grammar schools admissions policies, in order to attract pupils from more disadvantages backgrounds, has made passing even more difficult. The government, according to the Grammar School Heads Association, is involved in talks with grammar school heads to make the 11 plus tests less ‘coachable’; to avoid middle class parents gaining an advantage through being able to afford private tutoring.

Previously maths papers would have contained classic grammar school style questions appropriate for a typical bright eleven year old. However, a few years ago there was the introduction and increase in multi-step problem, requiring more complex reasoning. Various specialist assessment companies were commissioned to provide ‘tutor-proof papers’. It is clear that even the brightest children need support and guided practise to manage their maths and reasoning exams. Tutoring is an incredibly important part of the preparation process for the eleven plus exams. It reduces stress by preparing children adequately, so they know what to expect and how to execute the tasks to the best of their ability.

Entry to private schools is a separate topic, primarily because you are paying around £12,000 a year for your child to be a pupil there, IF THEY PASS the entry exams. Again that is difficult if you aim for ‘AAA’ rated schools like St Paul’s, Westminster, North London Collegiate, Merchant Taylors and Haberdashers. Preparation for those should be as intense as it is for grammar school entry, although the exam layout will be different and will include something on creative writing, which requires proper guidance. Again top private schools get thousands of applicants for only a few spaces. So the use of high standard tutors, who know what they are doing is essential. (Some really lack experience in preparing pupils!) But the lesser known schools and less demanding schools will accept your child as long as their standard is reasonable, as they need the funding.  This gives you a private school to attend, if that’s what you want for your child. But this may not be the best way of educating them. Parents often come to my tutorial school, distressed at how little their child has learnt at some of these schools.

So is the 11+ entrance exam the right choice for your child?

Will your child cope with the amount of work you need to do with them? If not, it may be fairer to send your child to your local comprehensive or a lower calibre private school where they will not have to be highly prepared for entry. Another consideration is whether you will be able to cope with being their secretary for the two years it takes? I see mothers holding folders, knowing exactly where every piece of writing is, and even what is in it. It isn’t because they have done the work for their children, but because they have supported them. These are the children that are successful; the ones who have that level of support. So you need to be one of this new breed of parent if your child is to succeed. You need to become a PA to your offspring. It helps enormously in getting children into good grammar schools, that don’t cost a fortune, but gives them an excellent education.

But is your child going to pass the state selective secondary 11+ exam and then be happy at a select school? Once they have got into their ‘dream school’ that is another important consideration.

So how do you do it?

Ask for the school’s current and predicted national curriculum levels in Maths and English. Better still, get an independent assessor to measure not only their current achievement, but their academic potential as well.

To gain a place at a grammar school, to be competitive and to succeed there, how bright does your child need to be?

Firstly, they need a high level of reasoning ability. They require the ability, to solve complex, multi-tiered, problems, quickly and accurately. They need high level maths and English, to be able to work quickly and accurately in both subjects. A good varied vocabulary is essential. One parent’s idea of ‘high level’ may be quite different to another parent’s. Similarly, being on the ‘top table’, in one primary school for maths and English, may not equate with another primary school; it will depend on the cohort of children in the year group. But, unfortunately, entry to grammar school depends on precision, excellence and intelligence. So if it is your desire, start with adequate time to prepare and then your child will find competition and achievement far easier to cope with.

Until next time, Elisa