Bad situation with dd and secondary transfer (warning: VERY long)

(79 Posts)
transferworry Fri 27-Jul-12 05:52:12

Am not even sure that anything can be done about this, so feel free to ignore my pointless ranting.

My dd is 10 and about to start her last year at primary. In our area (not England), there is only a grammar/secondary school system. The grammars in our locality operate a common transfer test based half on numeracy and half on literacy. Dd’s test is in October.

These may not be “grammar” schools exactly as you’d understand them: the range of pupils attending grammar is much wider than in the English system. Instead of only the top small-ish percentage of academic ability, around 70% of pupils go to grammar here. The rest are left into a secondary system with little academic ethos and a bad reputation. Many people, including myself, object to this, but it’s all there is. There are no comprehensive or private alternatives.

All through primary we’ve been told that dd’s literacy is well above average, whilst her Maths is average or slightly below. We therefore felt that dd had a fair chance of being in the 70% grammar intake, as her literacy score in the test would compensate for a lower numeracy performance.

Starting in January this year, we did another thing that EVERYONE (literally) in dd’s school does – we took on a tutor to help her practise for the test. Most of the rest of her class use the same tutor. Again, we don’t agree, but felt steamrollered, in that dd couldn’t afford not to have a tutor if everybody else had one sad. We also thought it would help her confidence with Maths, as the school said that lack of confidence was one factor affecting her performance.

The tutor has now told us that dd has virtually NO chance of making it to grammar. She says that dd lacks a fundamental understanding of how numbers work together, and has huge gaps in her knowledge, including things that she should have mastered in Y3/Y4. She said that coaching her for the transfer test isn’t appropriate as dd can’t follow the work. So she isn’t coming back any more.

She called round with some Y3/Y4 workbooks for dd to go through during the rest of the summer –whilst her classmates will be practising past papers of the transfer test. Although we didn’t discuss this in front of dd, the departure of her tutor and arrival of these workbooks made it obvious. What little confidence she had is in tatters. sad

We can’t say that the tutor has got it wrong, or that the school hasn’t covered the curriculum properly, because this tutor is also teaching everyone else in dd’s class and they don’t have this problem. It’s just dd. The tutor has been successfully coaching children for the transfer test for years, so can predict pretty well.

I asked the tutor if she thought that dd had some SEN involving numeracy. She said she can’t judge that, but assessments are “only offered in failing schools”, which dd’s primary is not.

So I said that – whilst we’re shocked at getting such conflicting messages from the tutor and the school – we aren’t precious about dd not going to grammar. If the point of the transfer test is finding the right school for a child, and a secondary school is the right place for dd, then that’s where she should go. We would opt her out of the test.

But the tutor said it isn’t that simple. She said that whilst it’s normal for a child to be better at one area over another in numeracy/literacy, she has never seen a difference as pronounced as with dd. She says that dd is academically bright, and extremely able in literacy, but it’s the Maths bringing it all down. In her opinion dd will be unhappy and frustrated in a secondary school, and won’t achieve her potential, but she stands little chance of getting into a grammar. sad So that’s that. And off went the tutor.

So dd apparently fits into NO school. All the time we were being told that she was “average”, huge gaps were apparently being missed, which we knew nothing about. If there is any SEN involved, there is no chance of her being assessed. And the transfer test is in 3 months’ time. We can’t get into school to discuss this as it is closed until September.

I’m not actually sure that anything can be done, but we are very worried, angry and frustrated, and we feel that dd has been badly let down. If anyone has advice on how to proceed it would be gratefully received. I’m very angry but think that blaming people at this late stage won’t help poor dd. I’m more interested in thinking of anything we can do to make things better for her.

Thanks for reading.

Ozziegirly Fri 27-Jul-12 06:08:06

This is awful, your DD has been really let down. And I can see the problem, if she's only "behind" in maths, but this will basically drag her down in everything else then you have a bright girl in a not so good school.


So, I guess you have a few options;

1. Can she go to a private school out of the area?
2. Maybe the non grammar school won't be as bad as you think and actually she will be top of the class in English and everything else and in the middle in maths which will actually give her a boost?
3. You move and she goes to a normal comprehensive schoool.
4. You work with her like absolute buggery over the summer break to coach her for the exam, she passes and then you give her extra maths tutoring outside of school so she can maintain the standard.

Are the non grammar schools really awful? I guess that's the issue here. If 30% of kids go, then surely even if say 5% are your "typical" no work slacker types then there will be the remaining pupils who will all just be like your daughter. Is there anyone you can talk to whose children go to these schools?

transferworry Fri 27-Jul-12 06:31:13

Thanks, Ozziegirly. It really helps to see options clearly set out like that, as my head is full of confusion just now!

Options 1 and 3 aren't possible because by "our area" I mean our actual country, not a county/borough where there are different types of school elsewhere.

Option 2 - some of the non grammars aren't too bad, but the ones in our area do have a very bad reputation. Moving out of our area is a problem as our house has been on the market for 2 years now. We could move in the future, if we managed to sell, but it's likely that dd would have already started secondary by then.
A teacher friend has suggested that I visit the secondaries and find out how they stream, which she says is key. If they have separate streams for Maths and English then this is fine - she'll be top set English and lower set for Maths. However, some of them stream jointly for both, which would be a big problem and to be avoided. Apparently the top set in our closest secondary is encouraged to work hard and has most of the same GCSE options as the grammars. But if dd is streamed by Maths and isn't in the top set she'd miss out academically for all the rest. I might have a chat with the Principal as perhaps they could stream dd differently because she is so skewed.

Option 4 is probably good as Plan A, and we would maintain it with maths tutoring if she did make it into one of the grammars. We will try this, but it woudl have been a heck of a lot easier if this problem had been identified sooner. Even her homework was fine. I just don't understand it.

I think we'll coach her like buggery for the rest of the summer and put her in for the test - although I'm concerned that this will be worse for her confidence if she doesn't pass. TBH it's rock bottom anyway so can hardly be worse sad. We'll also try to find the secondary that would suit her best as far as the streaming goes. If it was just a simple matter of her not being academic then I wouldn't be worried at all.

Thanks for your help thanks

FinnBuckingham Fri 27-Jul-12 06:31:47

were her problems with maths never mentioned at any parent evening or in any report, ever? if not I would be seriously annoyed with her primary school.
My daughter is in the special ed class at her comprehensive, and it is a shame really, as she is quite keen and hard working and bright enough, but because her writing is poor, she and some others like her are lumped in with the rude and disruptive idiots.

IfElephantsWoreTrousers Fri 27-Jul-12 06:35:34

You need a different tutor certainly. If she has lots of pupils she is wanting them to go through her "process" like a factory and she probably has no spare time for tailoring lessons individually.

Is there a University nearby to you? University students (ideally postgrads as you need some maturity) can make excellent tutors even with minimal experience as they have relatively recent memories of learning these things themselves.

Look for "education consultants" in your yellow pages - there will be private individuals who cater for special needs, tutoring of people with dyslexia etc (not that dyslexia is relevant to DD but the people who offer these services will understand your needs and know what you should do).

transferworry Fri 27-Jul-12 06:40:51

Finn - never, ever mentioned. We knew that she was no mathematician, but the school reports, all meetings, etc. described her as "average" or "slightly below average" with explanations about how very slight that "below" was. It isn't that we were't asking the question. Some of these descriptions came from their computerised assessments. If it wasn't that this tutor has been successfully coaching students from dd's primary school for years - so can recognise an average/pass candidate when she sees one - I'd have been saying that she was wrong. If we hadn't called the tutor in, we still would have thought that dd was average.

If dd just wasn't an academic child then secondary would be the place for her - it would be better for her confidence than struggling in a grammar. But we're being told that she is academic, just brought down by the Maths.

transferworry Fri 27-Jul-12 06:42:20

Thank you, Elephants - I will look for that type of help. Certainly the tutor had a system that didn't seem to be very flexible - but she had a very successful track record with other pupils from the school, which is why we chose her. Dd clearly doesn't benefit from this approach.

EatingSwansHorror Fri 27-Jul-12 06:42:55

You need an educational psychologist ho will evaluate her profile. Having a large variation in ability in one or more areas suggests a processing problem(dyslexia is just one of many). An ed psych report will give you, her and her teachers valuable info about what the problem is and ways you can cope with it. Good luck.

FinnBuckingham Fri 27-Jul-12 06:45:10

I imagine you live in NI.
it is so sad, all this testing and coaching and assessment and stress we have to put our kids through. I am so disillusioned.

transferworry Fri 27-Jul-12 06:46:38

Thanks, Swans. I wonder if she'd need a school referral to an Ed. Psych. or could we do that ourselves (e.g. via the HV?). It's not a thing that I'd thought about - and it's maybe too late to help with the transfer side of things - but obviously it would be great to identify any problems so that we can start helping her properly.

transferworry Fri 27-Jul-12 06:47:08

Finn, that is exactly where I am. You too, eh? sad

FinnBuckingham Fri 27-Jul-12 06:50:26

no, tw, I just guessed..I live in Wales, where the schools claim to be 'truly comprehensive' - such a load of monkeybollicks.
definitely try to get a report from ed psych, I wish I had pushed for that for my daughter.

transferworry Fri 27-Jul-12 06:53:21

I'll definitely do that, Finn - will starting looking into it.

Ozziegirly Fri 27-Jul-12 06:58:50

It seems madness that she can be so disadvantaged just by one subject. I hope once you have visited the schools they will seem like a slightly better option, but maybe the best bet is just to almost go back to basics with maths over the summer, get her confidence up by starting with easy work and just build on that?

It's very frustrating that the school didn't pick up on this, as presumably you could have worked with her to improve her understanding much earlier.

But you have nearly 3 months, if you set aside some time every day to work through it all she may be ok. I think with maths if you don't get the basics it's quite easy to get left behind, BUT on the plus side, once you do understand the basics, it's fairly easy to catch up.

Good luck.

EatingSwansHorror Fri 27-Jul-12 07:00:55

If you can get a referral go for it. It's around £300 privately, funding for it in Engand has been cut dramatically and referrals are becoming rarer. The earlier it is diagnosed, the better. Good luck.

KateUnrulyBush Fri 27-Jul-12 07:01:43

Firstly, sorry for your situation, we are in a grammar system here and I sympathise. I think your options have been summarised pretty well already so I won't go over those again but:

This tutor sounds like one who only likes to deal with definites, IMO. By that, I mean certainties to pass. This can happen with tutors, they like to keep their stats high, ie: a 100% pass rate for pupils tutored by them. It is not uncommon for some students to get ditched a short time ahead of the exam for this reason. Particularly mercinary types will take your money for as long as possible before telling you they can't help your dc.

Your tutor sounds a bit like this to me (just from what you've posted, obv). They have possibly laid it on a bit thick to ensure you give them up.

So, in short, don't despair just yet. If she is 'exceptionally able' in literacy you still have a good chance.

Investigate all options for specialist maths tuition (don't try and do it yourself unless desperate). Uni students is a great idea, but interview a few if you can first too, before choosing - genius mathematicians don't always make the best teachers as they don't 'get' why you don't understand.

Try another local tutor familiar with the exam as well, and get hold of some past papers.

In other words, get some second and third opinions and don't take everything you have been told as gospel just yet.

Good luck smile

MattDamonIsMyLover Fri 27-Jul-12 07:06:45

I can't believe the tutor was happy to take your money since January but only now mentioned how fundamental your DD's problems are. There's dyscalculia etc which an ed psych may diagnose. Your poor DD, such pressure on her.

transferworry Fri 27-Jul-12 07:08:03

Thanks to all.

Having looked at the waiting list info, with such a short time between now and the transfer, I'm trying to find a private Ed Psych, just in case there are any SENs involved. It would be good to have these identified before the test, as it would help us know how to proceed. However, there are of course, very few of those here Northern Ireland. Will consult some friends who may know, once it's a reasonable time of the morning.

The tutor did indeed go very suddenly from telling dd she was doing well to telling me about these problems. However, I think that was probably because the "doing well" was in front of dd and the "no point" was on the phone to me without dd listening in. All the same, if she'd seen these issues it would have helped one hell of a lot if she'd mentioned it sooner. She's been working with dd2 since January.

Certainly, transfer exam or not, dd needs help with her Maths and we will find a Maths tutor rather than one who is geared towards this bloody exam.

transferworry Fri 27-Jul-12 07:10:50

I'd been trying to be vague in case I was identified, but now that I've accidentally said "dd2" I might as well add that she has an older sister who is off the scale academically and currently storming her way through a very academic grammar school. As far as dd2's confidence goes, this is also not ideal sad.

transferworry Fri 27-Jul-12 07:14:45

This is why a proper comprehensive system would be so much better. The system we have is working fantastically well for one of my dds but is failing the other one. Dd1 would be fine in a proper comprehensive school, and dd2 would have been as well sad.

HidingFromDD Fri 27-Jul-12 07:39:14

Just to say, don't discount the idea of tutoring to get through the maths and then help whilst at the school. My eldest sounds like yours was at primary, I would have said 'good average' but weak maths. For a variety of reasons, we chose independent school which was academically selective and tutoring for the entrance exam.

All through the school, maths has been a struggle but she has managed to keep up (it's streamed and she's 3 of 4). In her other subjects though, my 'good average' has really blossomed, is predicted A/A* in most of her other subjects, and has just selected her A levels (fingers crossed for results day).

One of my dds problems with maths was also confidence. As soon as she couldn't understand a question she fell apart and has had some truly appalling maths results (18% in one exam). Working on strategies to get around this has really helped (has taken years though). It does sound like the tutor just wants a 100% pass rate, and because there may be a possibility your dd doesn't pass has decided it's better if she is no longer on the tutor's list

carabos Fri 27-Jul-12 08:06:51

Don't panic. Get another tutor. If its a confidence issue, then the tutor may be part of the problem, not the solution.

transferworry Fri 27-Jul-12 08:30:09

Thanks all (getting ready for the day now so not around so much!)

Hiding that is a very encouraging story. I'm glad that your dd is now doing well smile.

It looks like a different (probably non-exam-focused) tutor is definitely the way forward. I'm also going to gather together all the notes from dd's lessons with the tutor, to try and identify precisely where the gaps are that she found, and what type of questions she's having difficulty with.

I think part of it may be that when a question is put in a different way from what she's used to, she either doesn't understand, or panics and thinks she doesn't understand. Either way, she gets the wrong answer.

There's also an issue that I know from her homeworks - she can be taught a method of how to do something, and whizz through getting everything right at the time. But she hasn't grasped the concept behind it, so can't build on it, and is liable to forget the method as well if you do something else and come back to it a few days later. In fact, I went into school and discussed this with her teacher. I was told that teaching method alone is the way Maths is taught at primary level, so dd not getting the concepts wasn't a problem. But the tutor seems to be saying the opposite, and dd's classmates being tutored by her are apparently not encountering these problems hmm.

Anyway, the plan of action for now is:

- Find a new, non-exam-oriented tutor specifically for Maths.
- Go through the tutor's notes and dd's work, to try and find the problem areas.
- Visit the secondaries to find out how they stream, and how they might deal with a child whose abilities are unusually skewed.
- Get a meeting with the school at the start of term to explain the situation and try to find out what's been happening.
- If there seems to be an actual processing problem, consider an Ed Psych investigation.
- Depending on how things go, possibly enter her for the test, tutor like mad and be prepared to keep tutoring her up to GCSE level.

Thank you - things are definitely looking clearer.

DormouseInATeapot Fri 27-Jul-12 08:40:07

I do feel sorry for you and your DD. Not much advice I can give because I'm not a teacher, but you can hunt down an Educational Psychologist here:

Hope that helps in some way.

transferworry Fri 27-Jul-12 08:50:31

Thanks, Dormouse. There are a couple of possiblities in N.I., albeit quite far away from us. I have a friend who may be able to recommend the best of the available ones.

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