How do you decide if grammar schools are right for your child?

(33 Posts)
KathyBeale Wed 07-Sep-16 17:45:20

My son has just started y5. We live in an area where he could potentially take three different tests for grammar schools. He's at a good primary school and is doing well academically. He's also really good at a sport and trains several times a week.

We need to decide whether he is going to take the grammar tests fairly soonish and I just don't know how to make that choice. I think I'm projecting slightly (a lot) because I went to a grammar school and despite being in my 40s now, I think I've got a lot of issues STILL because of school. He's a bit of a worrier like I was, which makes me think it might not be the right choice for him. Also, I worry about him being judged solely on his academic ability on one day, when there's so much more to him.

In my day, you just rocked up on the day and took the test - no tuition or whatever. But if he's going to do these tests we're going to have to prepare and maybe get tuition or certainly do lots of extra work with him so we can't put off the decision until the last minute. I sort of feel like he may as well do the tests, but then it's a lot of work and pressure on him...

Can any of you who have decided one way or another lend me the benefit of your wisdom and experience?

FlyingFortress Wed 07-Sep-16 17:51:38

I think you have to take into account what the alternative schools are like. Some areas (eg Kent and Bucks) still have the grammar v Upper/High school approach, where 25-30% of the population will go to grammar school. In other places there are a small number of very selective grammar schools and comprehensives. Go look at the comps and see how they fare with high achievers. Some kids will do better by being towards the top of a wide ability range than being towards the bottom of a narrower high ability.

MaQueen Wed 07-Sep-16 19:13:49

Both our DDs are at a girls' grammar.

We judged the GS was the right environment for them because they were both very academic (DD2 especially) and quite competitive.

Also, they both have plenty of self confidence, with 'rolls with the punches' type personalities. Neither of them are 'wallflowers' at all...

DH went to a grammar, too, and was similarly very academic with a robust personality.

I think being like this is a real benefit at a grammar where the atmosphere is quite competitive, and you are just expected 'to keep up'.

Eglantyne Wed 07-Sep-16 19:20:56

My DD goes to a grammar school. Our local comps are genuinely scary - onsite security, knife checks etc. She is bright and conscientious, and I couldn't bear her having to spend 5 years + pretending she isn't, like I had to at my comp. We didn't chose a super selective, we chose the one which talked about school life being more than just academic work and backs this up by offering masses of extra curricular activities.

For you I suppose it depends what the alternatives are like.

bojorojo Wed 07-Sep-16 20:04:42

I assume you are not Bucks, or your DS would be entered automatically and you would have to withdraw. Also, the Aylesbury Vale area of Bucks certainly does not get 25-30% into grammar schools. It is usually below 20%. However, you cannot say his experience will replicate your experience and only you can judge if the schools are likely to be a good fit by looking round them. I do not see how anyone here can possibly know. Most grammar schools I know educate the whole child and obviously have some range of ability unlike, say, Westminster School or St Pauls Girls. Go and have a look and meet the teachers.

KayJBee Wed 07-Sep-16 21:55:24

I'm in a similar situation. Though being on a county border, if we don't do the grammar school route, we have a good truly comp comprehensive, takes everyone as that county doesn't have grammars. We've decided to do the tutoring and put in for the 11+ so we can keep the option open, kind of just delaying the decision really. Will do the open days for both grammars and comps and see if that help the decision. I went to a grammar but dh went to a fairly rough secondary so I'm hoping he might be able to balance out my slight grammar bias when we look around.
I keep swinging 60/40 one way then back the other way. It is such a hard thing to decide.

228agreenend Wed 07-Sep-16 22:04:45

The best advice I can give is to visit the schools and see whether you like the feel of them. When you visit, don't think of them as a 'grammar school', but as a potential 'school' ,for your child.

I agree with taking the tests as it keeps you options early.

I also agree with tutoring to make your dd prepared for the exams. You don't need to over-I tutor, an hour per week is standard. Some tutored kids are over-tutored, but most are tutored to,prepare them for the exams, and exam technique in general.

What are your concerns? My ds go to two different grammar schools which shut their personality. Ie. Academic gs for dc1, and move relaxed for dc2.

KathyBeale Thu 08-Sep-16 06:22:14

Visiting the schools is very good advice. My concerns are that my son will feel like a failure if he doesn't get in. It seems to be a balancing act between assuring him it's okay if he doesn't but taking it all seriously enough to make him do the extra work required. I also work full time so I couldn't do anything with him after school. And I found out yesterday that most tutors are now booked up and most of the kids have been having tutoring for a year already. It's completely different from my day when it was more genuinely about helping clever kids no matter what background they came from, and it doesn't sit very well with me!

We are in Bromley, close to the border with Bexley and not a million miles from Kent.

Pradaqueen Thu 08-Sep-16 06:32:55

All is not lost if you are going into y5. A year is plenty. Take the time to visit the grammars and the alternatives this term. Meanwhile arm yourself with cgp and bond books and do papers at home. That way you'll identify the knowledge gaps. Then you might only need a maths tutor not specifically 11+. Join the 11+ forums plenty of advice there for your area. Good luck! Just started y6 here so we are at the end of the process. Thank god.

browneyedgirll Thu 08-Sep-16 06:33:22

I could have written your post OP. We've decided, I think, to put DS in for test & do some prep with him throughout the year, although not get a tutor. We can't really afford it & to be honest I'm not sure he'll go to a grammar anyway, I'm not sure it's for him. We just want to give him more options. I absolutely hate the thought of him feeling under pressure tho at 10/11. Very hard to get a balance

CatherineDeB Thu 08-Sep-16 06:56:24

We are in the same boat OP, only a year ahead of you ..... Tests this weekend.

We have worked through a few books at home and bought a pack of mocks and DD is passing easily. We started at the end of June and have kept it very relaxed.

However, I am not sure that GS is necessarily the right place for her, very bright, not generally confident and I think I would prefer a less pressurised environment for her as I think she will thrive in a different setting. DH on the other hand hmm.

That aside I don't really approve of grammar schools tbh and would prefer an all inclusive system as, let's face it, children with parents who don't put the effort in at home or pay for tutors are at a massive disadvantage.

I went to GS by the way.

tiggytape Thu 08-Sep-16 07:47:11

Grammar school systems vary hugely area to area
In some places they are almost the default option for all top set children.
In others, a superselective system is in place and only the top few % of children go to grammar school with the rest of the top set going to comps
It is possible therefore that there would be great variation in the atmosphere, ethos and expectations of some grammars compared to others so a visit is good advice (especially attend the Head's speech) to allow you to judge how suitable it seems for each child.

There are lots of competing theories as to which type of child best suits a grammar school.
Some say a bright child who has a tendency to coast gets most out of them because they won't be allowed to fail to meet their potential.
Some say ultra competitive children do best at grammar school because they will have higher ability peers to compare themselves to so will strive much harder.
Some think children need to be very robust to attend because of the pressure to succeed, the possibility of being placed in bottom sets if they are used to being top and the fast pace of learning.
Some see grammars as a refuge from bigger, scarier comps so more suitable for shy children.
It probably really does depend on the grammar school and of course on the alternative provision you have in your area.

Badbadbunny Thu 08-Sep-16 08:14:45

The best advice I can give is to visit the schools and see whether you like the feel of them.

That's what we did with our son. The grammar was the only one out of six we visited where the teachers seemed interested - they were the ones doing the tours, sitting down with the pupils doing activities, etc. Sadly, the teachers at the others mostly looked disinterested and spent their time stood in huddles talking to eachother whilst the first years did the tours! He absolutely loved the feel of the grammar and how friendly the teachers were and it spurred him onto wanting to do the 11+ to get in there. Your child will be there for 5-7 years so it's important that they like the feel and ethos of it.

Badbadbunny Thu 08-Sep-16 08:18:27

Some see grammars as a refuge from bigger, scarier comps so more suitable for shy children.

That is the exact reason for my son. He had aspergers and is very sensitive/shy, just like I was, and I am of course biased/blinkered, but I had a horrid time at my large comp back in the day due to bullying etc and being lost in the crowd, so we were very wary of the same for my son.

His grammar is also ultra-competitive particularly with sports so we were worried about my son's lack of sporting ability, but there are so many other shy and sen kids there that he's not had any problems at all.

Dixiechickonhols Thu 08-Sep-16 08:58:56

I agree will above. Visit school now yr 5 - do check asap, the open evening for our grammar was yesterday. Your son needs to want to go. My DD (and we) much preferred it to our safe bet when looking around. Plus her friend at home has just started (won't it be good if I can get the bus with x next year) and her best friend at school is hopefully going.

The norm around here is to tutor once a week from yr 5 after October half term so you are not late. It does take commitment - DD's tutor checked how much extra curricular they were doing and advised against doing too much - the training several times a week may need reconsidering. Don't get me wrong DD did activities but It wouldn't have been doable being out every evening on activities plus school homework plus tutor and tutor homework.

Over summer we have done practice papers probably every other day/every 3rd day. I work and DD is in summer childcare so it is doable.

I've tried to take the approach with DD that whatever happens work will benefit her for her SATS and secondary school.

If you look on the 11 plus forum don't panic. There are some very focused mums on there. It has not been my experience in real life.

Test is in 2 weeks for DD. I'll be glad when it is over either way.

bojorojo Fri 09-Sep-16 00:50:08

I live in a grammar school county and the 11 plus is taken by all y6 in about 2 weeks unless the parents withdraw the child. In all my years of observing this system, I think the notion of feeling a failure if you do not get to the grammar is overplayed.

However, In some families, years ago, failure was keenly felt. In those days, when you took CSEs and not O levels in the secondary schools, the problems of moving on from that were obvious in that the preparation for A levels with CSE work was poor. Lack of A levels cut out university. Therefore there may have been a true feeling of failure. With GCSEs, that problem has gone. As long as the alternative school is good, no child is a failure and I see many parents around me truly embracing the local secondary school and like the fact their children can do well there and even be top set - not achievable at the grammar school for obvious reasons.

The vast majority of children know where they "sit" in terms of the brightest children in the class. The bright ones know they are bright, the middle know that too and the lower achievers are well aware of their position. In my DDs class, it was fairly obvious who was not going to grammar school, but not one child was a failure. They had an opportunity to do well where they went and the vast majority did. They did not, and neither did their parents, spend all their time looking at the grammar school children and feel they had missed out. They knew the local secondary was a good school and were happy to use it and support it. Having said that, few were coached and clearly for some parents, the grammar school place meant everything. This is why children get fearful. Expectation and shattered dreams of parents. So try and avoid this at all costs.

PettsWoodParadise Fri 09-Sep-16 08:20:15

I live in an area where the children often take the three tests of Bexley, Kent and one of the Bromley schools. There was no question for us as DD was very academic and the superselective grammar is actually our closest secondary school. We did worry about things going wrong on the day or meltdown but it all worked out in the end and she is loving her grammar school. A lot of DD's friends went down the same path. Key were that the children wanted to do the test, that they already had natural ability, that they had a good command of English and a wide vocabulary. For us it was more familiarisation and timing techniques at home plus some mock tests in a controlled environment to identify weaknesses and to get that whole exam type atmosphere. For others I saw them doing four hours a week, it was more out of desperation by the parents than anything else and it generally didn't really make much difference. If you happen to be in my area OP and have specific questions do feel free to send me a PM.

MaQueen Fri 09-Sep-16 08:26:26

What a very sensible post bojo and I agree with everything you say.

stonecircle Fri 09-Sep-16 08:26:51

Kathy - if you're in Bromley then you might be thinking of St Olaves which is super selective (ie they take boys with the highest marks in their own test). Competition is huge and parents do start tutoring for the rest years beforehand.

If you're thinking of Bexley (Chis and Sids, Bexley Grammar or Beths) then your DS would sit the Bexley test and places are allocated on distance, regardless of scores - provided you pass.

Unless your DS is super bright I'd give St O's amiss and I'd suggest you put him in for the bexley test and do some preparation at home with him.

KathyBeale Fri 09-Sep-16 16:43:35

Yes, St Olave's seems out - which strikes me as a shame as I have lots of friends and family who went there. But it's not for local kids any more, like it was back in the day. (I think it's unfair that Newstead has a catchment area, while Olave's doesn't, actually). We went to look round it in June and he loved it, but he knows it's very hard to get into so he's already saying he doesn't want to try in case he fails. Lots of kids from his school go to Chis and Sid, which our next nearest grammar (think about 30 went this year). I have a slight preference for a single-sex school for him though but we are going to look round them all.

It's just the pressure I worry about. It's so different from how it was when I went to school.

stonecircle Fri 09-Sep-16 16:51:31

The other thing to bear in mind is that St O's has quite high entry requirements for the 6th form - something like 5 As and 3 Bs minimum. Like most selective schools, miss by one grade and you're out - despite the fact that they've educated you for 5 years. Quite ruthless.

It's a lottery really. I've had 3 dcs at selective schools - 1 would have been far better at a good non-selective. But you just don't know beforehand.

Pradaqueen Fri 09-Sep-16 17:50:46

Kathy, we are in a super selective Grammar county. I think in terms of the pressure you need to assess your own child's personality once you have seen the school options and then decide. The process need not be stressful if a) your child is prepared to put in some extra time over the course of the year above his other extra curricular activities and existing homework and b) you are realistic about his chances of success. Only you know where your child's likely ranking is in the class. I totally agree with pp about pressure coming from parents who want to be able to say 'he/she got a place' regardless of their intention to send the child to the school. Utter madness. It also fuels the insane tutor business' which Spring up around the selective schools. There is a tutor group business near me which charges £60 for two hours for your child to do bond books there rather than at home. They mark it and give it back three times for the child to do corrections in the whole book. No 1-2-1 tuition. Then they do mock exams at £120 a throw (at least twice a week in the summer holiday before) plus papers, papers, papers throughout the year and revision courses (£120 a go) expected attendance of around 8-10 during the year with some chap (who is not a qualified teacher) stood at the front barking at the kids and berrating them about their scores rather than actually helping them. This is not the only firm available to do the same shock. I take my hat off to the schools who try and make the test untutorable as this really does sort out the most able students not those whose parents are prepared to/able to throw a ton of money at it. It cannot be right to tutor your way into a school for years in advance and expect a child to keep up once there. They will burn out.

nicp123 Fri 09-Sep-16 21:39:21

Personal experience here.
We knew our children were above average in most of the academic subjects so we visited all the local schools and Grammar S at the beginning of Year 5.
The kids loved getting involved in producing the lists of Pros/Cons
and putting their opinions across. They did not fancy following the crowd
from their primary and wanted somewhere different.
From the beginning we agreed that DIY preparation & plenty of practise were vital and we prepared them mentally &emotionally in case they were not successful.
I believe that if you have children with a love for learning and driven they won't need paid tutoring.
Grammar Schools exams are based on material taught in every primary school.
There are many free practise tests online if you need.
You might want to invest in a Mock Test (usually organised by PTA's @ Grammar Schools) if your child want to experience the testing environment before committing to the real thing?

Inthebathprobably Fri 09-Sep-16 21:55:31

That's a really useful post nicp123

That's what I hope we can work to in this house when the time comes.

DioneTheDiabolist Fri 09-Sep-16 22:03:15

He says he doesn't want to try in case he fails.

Oh OP, this is very sad.sad Is there any way you could encourage him to try and reassure him that even if he fails it's ok? Because if you can teach him this lesson it will be so beneficial to him throughout his life.

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