My husband and I went to grammar school, and I always assumed my children would, since they are very bright. I knew there was a tutoring culture, but also knew my eldest would pass without tutoring. Then the 11-plus changed. As my eldest approached Year 5, I looked into the new 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 11-plus 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 couldn’t afford to tutor our child, and she didn’t respond well (to put it mildly) to our teaching.
Year 5 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 couldn’t 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.
Why didn’t we push for an appeal? Well, I looked at the evidence of mental health issues in the grammar schools and decided I didn’t want that for my daughter. Plus, she was adamant that she wanted to go to the local secondary.
I am still not against grammar schools per se, but I believe they will need to be scrapped if the playing field isn’t levelled. Although, how can the test be made fair? There are children at the grammar schools who are less bright than my child, who may be struggling to keep up and children at upper schools who are very bright and possibly feeling desperate for that extra stretch. A comprehensive system would resolve these issues.
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.
I opted my second daughter out of the test as she didn’t want to take it. What a relief that was! She will go to the local upper school with her sister – who is very happy there, thriving and blossoming.
I have one more child to go through the system and I am dreading it. He is in Year 3, and I think some parents have already started the tutoring. I desperately hope the system changes by then.
(Names have been changed to protect identities.)