“We are having to home educate our children.” A parent’s story

We have lived in Buckinghamshire for over 30 years and always thought that our children would go to a good local school. We are served locally by many grammar schools but lots of students are from out of catchment. Our secondary schools are failing many children.

We have found the grammar process to be very unfair where students with marks as low as 87 are being accepted, yet those with a far higher score are being refused. Grammar schools are not serving the local community. They are being used as a private education for wealthy people without the school fees.

What happens to our local children? We are having to home educate our children with no support from the local authority – and there are hundreds of parents forced to do the same.

Our son at the age of 10 did his 11-plus and was very confident that he did well. We did not have him tutored as we felt that he was a very academic boy and was capable of doing this on his own. Even with his disjointed education, where the local authority left him without a school place for over a year, he still managed a score of 111 and a non-verbal score of 160. We were very proud of him but the disappointment that he felt at the young age of 10 was heartbreaking. He felt like such a failure. He lay in his bed and cried himself to sleep. Children should not be experiencing this at such a young age.

The school supported us and we went ahead with the review process. Talking to other parents a lot of children got into grammar schools with similar scores and had a straightforward, happy school life. We felt confident. We live close to three grammar schools that are just a five minute drive. However, the review was unsuccessful.

So then we had to go through the appeal process. This was exhausting as we put his name down for the three local schools which meant three appeals. But at this stage what choice did we have but to keep fighting.

Finally, one school said that they agreed that the review was not carried out in a fair and consistent manner. Yet they went on to say that they felt that he would not cope. With a score of 111 and the strong recommendation of his primary headteacher, he would not cope?  So why do the review panels let children in who have scored far less and who are not recommended for grammar school by their headteacher?

We asked Bucks County Council under the Freedom of Information Act for a breakdown of results and were sent on a wild goose chase. After three months we finally received some data that clearly showed that many children were accepted with lower scores, even as low as 87.

So my question – apart from why our education system in Buckinghamshire is so unfair – is how are children with such low 11-plus scores and without the support of their headteacher getting grammar school places through the initial review process? How is this fair? And why aren’t the criteria that are used to make these decisions published, to make the process open? The grammar schools should be answerable to parents and not allowed to make such important decisions behind closed doors.

I spoke to our son recently about his experience. He said he doesn’t remember anything apart from the fact that he failed. I explained to him that he didn’t fail – he failed in the eyes of Bucks grammar schools, not in real life. He is home educated now and receives a structured and more secure education. He would still like to try school like his friends, but for now, after his experience, he needs all the emotional support he can get.