Is entry to independent school really like this?(120 Posts)
I've cut and pasted this from The Times, it's one woman's experience of getting her dd in to a selective independent school. I was quite shocked, is that really what you and your dcs have to go through if that's the kind if education you want for them?
It’s 11-plus season. Helen Rumbelow hears a mother’s story of betrayal, lies, intensive tutoring and parental neurosis
It was like a scene out of a civil war — and in a way it was. Outside, van loads of extra police had been drafted in by the council to try to stop adults careening their cars over the road. Inside, over a thousand children were corralled in a vast hall.
Still only 10, they knew there was something very ominous about the day and had the pale faces of young children whose stomachs were in knots. Chances were, they were about to let their parents down. Parents who were so determined and competitive that normal social conventions had gone out of the window the minute stakes got this high: from illegal parking to lying that bordered on sabotage.
The cars of over a thousand parents ramming against each other for space was a good metaphor. Inside, some children were in tears, some fled the room saying they felt sick.
Jane watched her ten-year-old daughter Molly take her place bravely at one of the most competitive grammar school examinations in West London — and probably the country. “I did think at that point: this is quite cruel.”
Cruel to be kind? When Jane first had children, a decade ago, it never crossed her mind that this was where she would end up. She and her husband had both grown up outside London, and had good educations at state schools; Jane at a comprehensive, he at a grammar school. They both went to top-tier universities and on to professional jobs.
“Looking back, I am so surprised.
I would never have dreamt that I would have a daughter at a private school.
And I had absolutely no idea what the selection process would entail.”
Now bruised and battered Jane has — anonymously — co-authored a guide to the whole process which is part battle-plan, part post-combat stress therapy. It was written for others like her who came to the realisation late: that you can trust no one. This Christmas season, hundreds of thousands of ambitious parents will be putting their child forward for an 11-plus-style exam at selective state or private schools.
What they are also subjecting themselves to is an ordeal in which their child and their family are pitted directly against others in the neighbourhood: friends turn into vicious rivals, giving away nothing — or mis-information.
“The secrecy surrounding the 11-plus,” writes Jane on the book’s website, “can feel like you are trying to do the equivalent of breaking into the Bank of England.”
For an anthropologist studying the genus Parentus neuroticus in their natural habitat, the Perfect Parents’ Insider Guide to the 11 Plus could not be better fieldwork.
Jane first knew something strange was going on when she exposed a previously good friend’s betrayal. Having always assumed that Molly would go to a state secondary, it was only in her penultimate year of state primary school, Year 5, that Jane began to consider private education.
Molly desperately wanted to go to an all-girls school, of which there were no local state options. She was, said her teacher, bright enough to endure the examination process. But when Jane started to ask around, she was told — a full year before the exams began — that all the tutors were booked up, because parents started reserving places when their child reached Year 3.
“One friend said, ‘Oh, just relax!’. She had two children in private school, and another in my daughter’s year, and she said they didn’t believe in tutoring. They just did a few practice papers.”
Jane was quite prepared to believe her, except that when she did eventually find a tutor through a late cancellation, she bumped into the very same friend on the doorstep.
“She did look shamefaced. It turned out that she had used a tutor extensively for all her children. And this, we found out, was widespread. Everyone pretends that they are not really tutoring.
‘We’re laid back,’ they tell you. ‘If you have a bright child, you’ll be fine.’
Do not believe them. I don’t know anyone who gets into a selective school who has not been tutored or very heavily supported by their parents.
“Because I went to a comprehensive, I had no idea how many hoops you had to jump through. The first is that people will not give away the names of good tutors because you are competing with your children’s friends. It’s a horrible situation to be in.”
Jane took on the role of “detective and investigative journalist”, tracking down contacts through parents of older children and sourcing material on the internet.
She found herself feeling naive again. It was not uncommon for children to have multiple tutors: specialising in English, maths and non-verbal reasoning parts of most tests. This was on top of the music tuition that many paid for in the hope of getting into selective schools that reserved places for those of musical aptitude.
“We thought that because Molly was grade four on the piano, she was pretty good. We gave up on that thought pretty quickly though, as the schools we went to weren’t interested in piano, as they were recruiting children for their school orchestra. Children had the best chances on ‘endangered instruments’ like the bassoon. Most schools were demanding at least the level of grade 5, one grade 6.”
As the year went on, the levels of preparation intensified in direct proportion to the numbers of parents saying “we’re staying laid back”. Children at nearby private primaries were given practice papers every day, so Jane sourced her own from the internet. But they came without the answers, “so you end up having to do the test with your child”. One 90-minute paper a day was considered the norm through the Christmas holidays, “although we had Christmas Day off”.
“I had to bribe my daughter with a lot of clothes. My friend was bribing her son with games for his computer. Because no normal child really wants to be doing a practice paper.”
Molly did exams for six different schools, and went through to the interview stage. Jane was again appalled to realise that some parents had employed a specialist interview tutor.
“At the first interview, the girl next to her had a whole portfolio of art with her to show. It was intimidating but in the end I don’t think it was necessary.”
Finally, Molly got into her school of choice: a private all-girls school in London. None of the others that did so got in by chance: “They were the daughters of parents who were very committed.”
However, Jane and her peers spent a year in a state of paranoia and neuroticism, and Molly could have had more fun. So, was it worth it? “Yes. We wanted to make sure that we had done everything we could for our child.” Does it bring out the worst in people? “Yes.”
The Perfect Parents’ Insider Guide to the 11 Plus is available from 11plusperfectparent.com
May Contain Nuts by John O'Farrell
The book I have mentioned describes exactly that...
There are no grammar schools in West London.
Oh I see, so it's not that far fetched then? (The article I mean)
No. Not in my experience and DS1 went to a top ranked independent.
He turned up and did a couple of exams , met some boys he liked and some he didn't then had an interview with a small panel of tutors.
We went and did one shopping and had some lunch before picking him up.
He didn't play an instrument, was fairly quiet and never had a minutes tuition.
You cn chose to behave like a nutter if you want. I have seen a couple of parents chose to. They were the parents who then went to see the Head to suggest that their boy should be Head
Perhaps it is location specific?
Not round here. I assume you mean private, fee paying schools?
DD sat the exam and was offered a place at a high achieving independent girls school. She did a few non verbal reasoning exercises that I found online, but had no tutoring. We declined the offer because we had insufficient income and had been refused a bursary. At no point was an interview required, nor did we become neurotic about it all.
I think that as we live in an area that isn't terribly affluent the competition isn't that fierce for independent school places, and I heard that this year's intake for said school was much smaller - no doubt due to the current economic climate.
Not in my experience either but I have heard of similar stories re a Grammar School in London.
It was London- I expect that it is- judging by posts on MN!
We are in South Yorkshire BTW and the school is in West Yorkshire.
If you think it's that stressful for girls, try getting a place for a boy in W or SW London!! My username was born when I first found mumsnet, going through the process two years ago for my oldest boy.
Don't get sucked into the frenzy - if you apply to a sensible range of private schools you will most likely get into one or more - remember most children sit at least 4 private school exams.
If you over-tutor you risk getting children into schools beyond their capability. Tutoring should be used for exam technique and question practice and to make sure they have covered the syllabus in time - not for hot-housing!
This is so totally removed from our experience to be laughable. Although she went to a private primary and they did do some practice papers it was CERTAINLY not every day and only a couple over the xmas holidays, no tutoring outside school and my child passed all the exams we put her in for with a scholarship, to very competitive schools in south london. It IS totally possible not to get in a complete state about it. I also teach at a state primary and absolutely know that there are kids who get in with very little outside help. Some are heavily tutored but it is by no means necessary. A bit of practice on exam technique and VR is all that is needed if a child is bright enough. I am almost never surprised by the children from my class who don't get in, despite the tutoring. Ditto, the children who DO get in, often without.
I guess in London it can be a scrum, because people are so unsure of getting a reasonable state school place.
It sounds hideous though, and will a child that has been put through all that like a bloody performing animal actually do well in a very selective environment?
Should have said "most children in this area" sit at least 4 exams...
There are a lot of private schools round here!
There's a lot of hype. I think the schools encourage it TBH. If, as a parent you don't go completely batshit crazy over the whole palaver, obsessing about every grade and not discussing anything else, it's assumed you are secretly cramming.
And it's a London thing.
In London it is like that in the most selective schools - not in the rest of the country though.
DS2 will be doing entrance exams in February and to him it will be just like any other day at school with a test on Maths and English. This is a fairly selective school as well.
It's like that in northern Ireland and has been for years!
It is London and 11+ areas. We have never had to get involved with comprehensive education. It is definitely very common if you read much on MN- especially when people are serious in wanting a tutor for a 3yr old!!
Yes in some schools in ondon it can be like that sadly. Not good for kids, parents or the schools
The church going parent is equally as serious in some areas.
It is terrible for them all! I wish that they could devise a test that every DC sat cold.
I really think it is like that in some specific parts of the UK. Either where competition is fierce for massively oversubscribed top 50 independents in wealthy parts of London and areas that still have grammar schools.
Certainly, out in the sticks where I am, I only know of 1 person paying for private tuition (and that is to go from our non-selective Prep to a highly selective top 20 day school).
Wow! How depressing I think my sister is being sucked in to the hysteria, but then she's in SW London so perhaps it's in the by laws We were having a discussion
argument recently about the hysteria surrounding exactly this sort of thing. I rather naively breezily declared I would never tutor ds, if he was smart enough for grammar school then he shouldn't need tutoring. My sister looked at me as though I was mad! Perhaps I owe her an apology? We live in East Surrey so I reckon it's probably just as bad around here worse luck.
My first thoughts were "May Contain Nuts" too
'I rather naively breezily declared I would never tutor ds, if he was smart enough for grammar school then he shouldn't need tutoring.'
Problem is that there will be 40 or more children on the same cutoff mark for a lot of the London state selectives (and so will be subject to a distance or some other tie-break test). And another 40 who miss out by 1 mark etc. And several hundred who are easily up to grammar school standard, but only the top 120 or whatever will get the place. The 11+ test isn't about seeing how bright your child is, or whether or not they are capable of keeping up, it is just to help set a ranking for how the places will get allocated. There is a myth of the overtutored child who falls behind and really can't cope, but the reality is that the cutoff is so high that there are no "average" children. There are certainly many who do still get tutored for certain subjects after admission though.
Ds2's prep school, in addition to practice papers and booster classes, now send out details of "areas that your child's tutor might like to concentrate on", so it is not just the state school pupils who are tutored!
With hindsight I wish we'd concentrated on music more. It seems (relatively) far easier to get 10%+ off fees with grade 4 viola than through academic merit.
'areas that your child's tutor might like to concentrate on' Seriously? I am genuinely shocked by that. I can see that at a state school they might not have covered enough of the curriculum, but surely a prep school should be...er...prepping for the exams?
They do - the list is individual for each child. Even private school children have the odd thing that they struggle with. And if anything the private school parents are even more mental in terms of competitiveness.
Oh I know that private school children struggle with things. It's the assumption that you'll be at a private school and have a tutor that I'm shocked by.
Hmm, London! Am in Surrey, DD went to private junior school, did some practice papers in the term before entry exams, few bond online tests, no tutor got a place at preferred selective senior school. A fair proportion of the intake had tutors but mainly those from state primaries where they didn't get much support in terms of practice papers.
Certainly didn't see the levels of stress in that article on exam day, fairly relaxed looking kids, went in, did 3 papers and some fun activities and lunch. When I asked my daughter how it went when I picked her up, she complained that the chips at lunch weren't very nice!
Once passed the hurdle of the entry exam, the interview day was relaxed. Had an allocated time to go in, DD went off with a small group, came back smiling and said they had spent most of the time talking about surfing.
Glad I never lived closed enough to be sucked into the world of Kingston Grammars mind you!
If either of my DC's schools suggested tutors I would ask for a discount.
It makes a good story, and a convenient excuse if your child doesn't pass, but it's far removed from reality for huge areas of the country at least. I don't know of anyone who used a tutor for 11+ entrance here (unless they are all closet tutor users, which I doubt). I do know people who have used tutors for GCSE areas of difficulty (eg maths, mfl) in both state and private sectors though which seems like a better use of resources to me.
You are sticking your head in the sand if you think that people don't use tutors for primary aged DCs. I thought about being one, having been asked by several people. I have no doubt that I could have built up a business in no time and if I lived in London or Kent or similar I would be turning them away!
@ladymuck - I totally agree that the high pass mark required to gain a place at a highly selective secondary is not indicative of the level at which a child is expected to work at once in.
Unfortunately too many parents with bright children fail to see this. If I had a penny for every time a MNetter made that comment about how if a child needed tutoring to get in then that child will struggle once in ......
Aren't this woman the OP writes about just scaremongering (in the same way as the 11 Plus Forum) in order to flog a book with the ostensible aim of "helping" others.
Isn't this woman of course. I'd fail English!
Elegantlywasted I'm very glad to hear your experience... whereabouts in Surrey are you? We're on Redhill/Reigate borders so we'll hopefully be able to get ds in to Reigate school which is currently really good (who knows what it'll be like in 6 years!) but I was thinking about alternatives if that plan fails. It was scary talking to my sister, but she lives in Balham and there are no decent state secondaries around there (according to her), so she's been looking at Sutton Girls, or Old Palace in Croydon. But her dd is in yr5 and my sister is already borderline hysterical about getting her in to a good school. DN does maths and English tutoring twice a week, but no music lessons, she's an excellent swimmer though. But the hysteria is really freaking me out.
headfairy we're in the same area. I thought a bright child would be okay anywhere but seeing the different attitudes of children from the schools around here I now know that's naive.
I'm already being told by some folk that my interest in my child's education is 'intense'.
Is it seriously unrealistic to want them to read with understanding, or write legibly by yr3.
doyouwantfries I'm surprised by that... I would have thought if anything Reigate was a bubble of middle class educational angst ;-)
I have never ever thought of myself as having an "intense" <frowny eyes> interest in my child's education (if anything I'm a bit too laid back - according to my sister, but she's bonkers) but I would also expect a Yr3 child to be able to read and write.
I hate that I feel like I'm being sucked in to that ridiculous competitive bollocks. I casually mentioned to someone that ds was quite sporty already and if he carried on showing an interest in it that we might look at Royal Alexandra and Albert and I got an almost hysterical reaction, "oh you won't get him in there, you're far to far away" <complete with boggled eyed smugness> Even apparently settling for Reigate school isn't enough. We "have to start tutoring in a couple of years to get him in to Reigate Grammar". Erm, no we don't!
RA&A seems lovely , the children I've met there are shockingly polite which I like. I say shocking because I'm definitely on the Redhill side of the border.
However, in this area it seems not so much which school you'd choose as which school you're given.
So much comes down to your child's attitude to learning and that is where school should be really engaging them. I like to think I have years to think about secondary education but it doesn't hurt to consider the options, everything could be different by the time I need to make a decision.
Ladymuck is right. The 11+ (in London at least) isn't about seeing whether your child is bright enough to go to grammar school. Thousands of children in London are bright enough for a grammar school education but there aren't that many places available. The 11+ is about directly competing against all the other bright children to beat them to a place.
Even for the state grammars here, people tutor early and have specialist tutors (a different tutor for English and maths)
It is not because their child isn't clever (a lot of tutors insist a child is level 5 in Year 5 before even signing them up) but because competition is crazy - thousands of equally bright children for a few hundred places.
So no that article sounds a pretty accurate reflection of the lengths some parents (and increasingly larger number of them) go to.
sorry headfairy but your sister has lost the plot!
No decent state schools near Balham? really?? what about Graveney? and Chestnut Grove is improving dramatically all the time, then there's ADT (children we know there are very positive about it) and Dunraven in Streatham
And there are dozens of private schools which are much, much nearer than Sutton and Old Palace
I'm afraid swimming won't help much ... unless she's national standard and applying for somewhere like Millfield ... most girls schools regard it as a nice extra and would be counted in your niece's favour if they had two girls on the same score and had to choose one
Your sister needs to calm down!!
(My dd is in Y5 in a similar area ...)
@headfairy - the flip side of your competitive mum is the one that said I was too pushy when I said that it would be nice if DS went to university. Ok, he was only 10 at the time but wanting your child to get a university education was being pushy???
No matter where you land, there will inevitably be those who think you are too pushy or not pushy enough.
basildonbond It wouldnt' be the first time she's lost the plot
I think she's discounted Chestnut Grove because improving dramatically all the time isn't enough for her pfb. To be honest, much as I love my niece I'm not sure she's as special as my sister makes out. She's hard working and dilligent though.
I know she had her heart set on our old school (a highly competitive catholic comp girls school in Croydon) but she's been told she's too far out for that. She really wants her to have a catholic education, but for some reason she's ruled out St Philomena's. There's not much else on the catholic girls schools in the area, hence she's started thinking of Sutton grammar schools as her plan B.
But yes, she is bonkers.
The main reason we moved out of the South East because we didnt want to put our children through this to get them a half decent education.
It is insane and I can say that as a parent who has had both children in an extremely selective school and one of whom who has an academic scholarship.
Let me say it again. It is insane and is a product of the claustrophobic hypercompetitive, resource constrained South East.
We deliberately took our children out of the hypercompetitive school (ie one that parents tutor their children to get into) and went to a place that had a school that cared about eductional standards and gets children into Oxford and Cambridge but also catered for children who were average academically and who had other skills and talents - like sport, art, drama, music.
I'm feeling very glad I'm not in London. Lots of independent schools round here (Bristol), all officially selective, but even the most selective admits I think nearly half of all applicants. DS and a friend had a few joint sessions with a tutor to go through practice papers a few weeks before the entrance exam, because they'd never encountered anything like the verbal/non-verbal reasoning tests before, but it never even occurred to me to do any more than that.
But if you think London is bad, try Tokyo. Children spend literally hours every evening and at weekends going to cram schools for coaching in how to pass entrance exams to the top schools. It's common to have 3-4 hours tuition plus extra homework every evening, and longer at weekends, in the run-up to high school entrance.
MoreBeta - tons of comprehensives like that in and around London (including in SW (where I live) Dunraven, Graveney, Chesnut Grove already mentioned), its just that a lot of people (a lot of MNers) don't want to go there for all sorts of reasons - such as "no-one else I know wants to go there, so I don't want to either"... and it gets circular and competitive for the very few selective/indies...
I'm also surprised at what the quote describes as applying in selectives (in London). Anyone know which one.
I have heard similar stories about the Tiffin schools and other super selective grammars, but thought that (although still competive), the indies where a
lot little more relaxed.
But isn't one of the problems that you can't predict which comprehensive school you might get? Dunraven obviously is very good, but oversubscribed, and in looking at their admissions policy it would be hard to predict how likely or not you are to get a place. Ditto Graveney and Chesnut Grove. Unless you have a sibling at the school already, or live on the doorstep, then there is a high measure of uncertainty, and as parents you have very little control.
Sure - but you can't really predict whether you are going to be 140th (or higher) place in the Tiffin test or 230th (which will only be a couple of mistakes apart)!!
@ohdear - the indie process IS a bit more relaxed
If something is good AND its free then the competition is going to be much greater than for something where people have to pay.
Plus if you are prepared to pay then you will find a place that you like even if it's your fourth choice. Parents who go for the GS invariably have that choice or the so so school down the road.
So, when you only have one choice the pressure, both on the parent and the child, is going to be much greater.
Live somewhere with a good comprehensive school. And avoid all this angst.
We arrived to DS exam at a superselective grammar late, stuck in traffic, jumping out of the car, running under the rain. Got there two minutes before doors closed. An empty entrance, empty street. I thought: "Oh goodie, this is good, there is noone!" ...There were already 1600 boys sitting inside. People has been standing for ages to get in. We had missed the whole hysteria!
In answer to the question in the thread title, sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Depends on the school and the parents.
I don't think any of the West London girls' schools have 1000 sitting the exam, never mind competing for parking spots? It all sounds like a big dose of exaggeration.
Having said that in my experience parents do get ridiculously competitive and anxious about these exams and it is entirely unnecessary.
DD1 applied for four West London girls' schools from overseas, she had a bit of tutoring simply because her International School hadn't covered the whole syllabus but it was a cosy hour at a favourite teachers flat with tea and biscuits once a week for a term, and she loved it. She sat the exams at her school, and we flew back for the interviews (or she had them the previous summer ) and got in everywhere.
So far, so relaxed.
DD2 was at a west London prep and I developed the skills of a SAS hostage rescuer so quickly did I get her out of that playground, and away from the desperate air of parental angst and competition, during the terms leading up to the exams. The school did more than enough to prepare them and yet still there were parents taking their poor daughters off to tutors after school, and giving them hours of extra work as well as homework, it bordered on child abuse, and all according to the assumed demands of getting DDs to the schools at the top of a ridiculous perceived league table of local girls' schools that makes a yawning gap out of the tiniest differences. All of the schools they apply to are in the top 50 in the country, and yet for some anything but SPGS is failure! You just have to look at the questions on the exam papers to see that the schools are looking for ability and not crammed knowledge but that doesn't stop people. It didn't make a blind bit of difference, the girls all ended up at the schools that were right for their level of ability, much as it frustrated some parents, especially as they really could not comprehend how dyslexic DD2 got into a more selective school than their tutored DDs. In fact I will admit I got a bit too seduced by that league table and ended up wishing DD2 had gone somewhere where she would have been above average instead of average and that is the choice she has made for sixth form.
Anyway to counteract the hysteria here is a rather old but still good article from the old Head at Surbiton www.guardian.co.uk/education/2003/oct/08/schools.uk5
It is quite something though. One of mine tried for a super selective sixth form this year and was asked how she would solve the arab israeli conflict.
It really is insane - I agree with Beta and Copthall, insane and bordering on abusive. If its like that (my dds - at local state primary - are still young and happy, and I haven't encountered the Y5-6 angst yet).
And we are in SW London - ick. At least there are no grammars around.
I would say there is more hysteria around entrance exams to grammar schools than even the most selective independent schools. At grammars its all down to your final exam mark so no chance to shine at interview or be given some leeway for having sports/ musical appitude. Also most indies tend to charge for the enterance exam whereas at grammars its free as is the education should you get in.
Sparrows [interested) and could she?! Blimey.
Elibean you will discover the hysteria attaches to Graveney in Tooting (partially selective) and to the relatively easily accessible (depending on what part of SW london you are in) in Sutton/Kingston/Kent!
"It is quite something though. One of mine tried for a super selective sixth form this year and was asked how she would solve the arab israeli conflict."
Ah. I would expect anyone trying for any 6th form to be able to come up with an opinion on that! blush
Not sure if this is about Grammars, Independents or Privates.
I know I never had extra tutoring before doing our senior school exam, but then maybe they allowed more of us in because we were at the junior school already?
I have to say my exam for my independent school was no more stressful, in fact actually less diverse than the 11+ if I remember rightly!
One of mine tried for a super selective sixth form this year and was asked how she would solve the arab israeli conflict."
Seriously?! Some of the best brains in the world haven't been able to solve this for more than 50 years. Obviously they should have gone to the super selective sixth form for a solution .
We are putting our dd into the 'system' for prep school at the moment. My practice (and it may be wrong) is that we have will not be tutoring her, apart from having a brief look at past entrance papers to get an idea, because surely, if we have to do this, to force her to do something she cannot do anyway, then she will struggle once she gets there? She took a pre test at the school to check if we should bother letting her take the main entrance test and sailed through it - the head said they would be very happy to offer her a palce on the strength of that alone. (And before I get told, as I was, on another thread, that it must be a dreadful prep school,and I have no idea...) it's actually one of the top ones in the country...The thought of putting her through such stress only to potentially fail when she gets there is appalling.
LaVolcan- I suspect the just wanted to hear her thoughts! And, frankly, the only time you're likely to think you have all the answers is when you're 16!
I do remember a similar question in an Oxbridge paper decades ago!
OhDear I am in Richmond Borough - is there hope for avoiding hysteria, then?
No hope at all. I already detect signs of Tiffinitis. Very common in Richmond.
Elibean sneak Valium into tea at the year 5 coffee morning!
headfairy We are in Redhill, our state option was The Warwick, which to me wasn't an option. Reigate School at moment is good, but I'm not sure what catchment is, a friend who is well inside RH2 was allocated The Warwick a couple of years ago,although she is geographically closer to St. Bedes and Reigate school.
I have to say I don't think that state school provision in the area is that good, at primary level we ended up going down the independent route as our two closest schools were church schools and I wasn't prepared to get religion, or Wray Common that at the time was pretty bad.
The problem is only going to get worse as there is already a shortage of spaces and they are still dragging their heels over building a new primary school to account for the children on Watercolour/Park 25.
Tiffin does generate this sort of hysteria - but this thread title refers specifically to independent schools. From my observations locally, some people do get terribly over-frenzied about particular independent schools, but ultimately virtually everyone gets into a school they are happy with, and there are lots of good ones around this area.
In many cases the school chooses you, rather than the other way around, which is quite a difficult concept for parents who are used to being in control.
I'm sure the article is describing the exam for Tiffin or similar - none of the others I have been to (9 different independent school exams for dd and ds1 - that's between them, not each!) were remotely like this.
That does sound like Tiffin. I have no experience of the girls' school but was there for the boys' one this year.
I think this is a case of not letting facts get in the way of a good story, and the success of a book exploiting all the parental angst. She does specifically say a girls' grammar school but then also that it is private (comprehension skills everyone, perhaps we all need tutors ) I'm guessing it is an amalgam of all the scariest stories because as a whole it doesn't stack up with any single school. No doubt they'll be laughing all the way to the bank, along with all the tutors......
Having seen my nieces and nephews navigate entrance into competitive private schools in London, I would say that there is a awful lot of truth in that article. As the outside, it seem completely NUTS.
Yep, there are no "interview stages" at state grammars nor AFIK any reserved places for DCs playing endangered instruments.
Agree - scaremongering to sell books.
PMSL @ One of mine tried for a super selective sixth form this year and was asked how she would solve the arab israeli conflict.
Maybe that's the test, if you even attempt it then you're an idiot. If you say "how on earth am I, a 16 year old school kid, supposed to come up with a solution when hundreds of experts with decades of experience in the area can't?"
Yes it can be like this, but it goes without saying, that not all parents are like it.
DS1 (who is 13 on 8 Dec) is off to senior school next September. DH and I were very relaxed about the whole pretest/interview process, there was absolutely NO tutoring (and I say that with complete honesty), because we didn't want to put any undue pressure on DS1.
Two of the Alpha Mums at DS1's prep-school had the damn cheek to actually say to me, that DH and I were "bonkers" for not having DS1 tutored, and that he wouldn't get into any of the top senior schools let alone 'The School'. 'The School' is a particular senior school that most parents at this prep-school want to get their sons into. It's the Holy Grail if you like.
DS1 aced the pretests for 'The School', and clearly performed well in the interview, because he received an offer (conditional obviously, on his performance in the CE). He received offers from all the schools we put him forward for.
As for the sons of the two Alpha Mums I mentioned, well they didn't get offers from 'The School', and I really wanted to gloat. However, then I realised that would make me as bad as them, so I fought off the urge!
Letty- I hate to break it to you, but it is very unlikely your son had the best marks in the county in his SATs. There are a finite number of marks you can get, and it is pretty unlikely that only one child in the county got full marks. Full marks is brilliant, though. But he probably wasn't alone in that.
ds like the experience of the exam, they got hot chocolate and loads of biscuits...
Elibean - yes - I was taken aback by mad Arab/Israeli conflict question - I would have run a mile. I asked her how she answered and she said she told the interviewer she would remind both sides they must share some fundamental values underneath all the detail, and that they should try and strip back to those. I was impressed tbh - especially as she cleverly disguised her complete absence (i am guessing) of any knowledge at all on the subject. Oh to have the cockiness of the 16 year old. My brain would have whirred around in a blind panic regretting never tuning itself into the today programme as it is always too early in the morning. They offered her an academic scholarship. I felt v proud!
It is hell and my son went through it last year. I was coming from a primary state, and quite naive. This is what I wrote on my blog last
This is the link for previous commentmindbodybeautyhealth.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/the-hell-of-getting-into-a-london-independent-school-at-11
I think it's he'll because for some reason everyone seems to be invested in it being hell. Parents to justify the fees they're about to pay, schools to get the application fees.
Unclench and l
Sorry. Blobby fingers.
Unclench and relax- l
I give up.
The system needs a lot of stressed parents. Try not to buy into it.
Thanks, Kathryn, did he get one of the places he was after?
Any other tips for those of us coming from state primaries??
Katryn For everything you say on the blog that ramps up people's anxiety I could say something to counter it. Yes big numbers apply to each school, but they each apply to more than one school, there are enough places to go around and you are only likely to lose out if you are too focused on certain highly selective schools and not including schools that your child has a realistic chance of success at.
Yes there are some tough questions on the exam papers but that is because schools are wanting to test every aspect of children's abilities, and even the brightest (and some of the brightest might actually not be very accurate when it comes to straightforward questions). Just because they are there does not mean they expect every child who gets in to get it right. The irony is that the schools that include the straightforward questions are with some justification accused of setting exams you can tutor for, whilst those who include reasoning type and more obtuse questions that are difficult to tutor to get accused of making the exams formidable... In the end they are wanting to select the children with most potential and they especially want the children from state schools with potential, so they take educational background into account when they assess pupils and they make sure that they set exams that are tests of potential not cramming. However this is not comfortable for parents who want in some way to be in control of the process and really can't cope with not being able to do very much to influence the outcome.
The most important thing you can do in the process is actually the opposite of that last sentence, relax, don't let your child think you care, don't set them up to think that one outcome is success and one failure, especially if the outcome marked success is a narrow target and the one marked failure a yawning chasm.
DD's friends whatever schools they went to at primary and secondary level have ended up at the universities that their ability would lead you to expect them to get to, including Oxbridge. A bright child from a caring and supportive family is going to be enabled to do well wherever they go to school.
^^ what cop said.
I know journalists and bloggers need copy, but these handwringing xy or z is ruining my child's life are part of the problem.
Exactly. Most schools, on pure figures, are oversubscribed because almost everyone applies for more than one school. So these scary stats about 1000 for 100 places don't mean there are nine children left weeping without a place. That Toby Young is always going on about how oversubscribed his school is without clarifying that they are using figures which take all without taking into account which ones place them as a first choice.
Having said that I am freaked out by the idea of my ds poss doing some 11 plus style exams in a couple of years' time. But then I realise it's crazy when I meet the products of these elite procedures and they seem to end up in the exact same universities (smattering of Oxbridge, bit of Leeds, sprinkling of Sheffield) as the products of my local comp. I did enjoy Kathryn's blog post and found it heartfelt, but I wonder whether her boy will end up pretty similar whether he goes to academic boys school or c of e secondary.
Headfairy - I think I know the RC school that your sister wants and distance is a low criteria - she should not have anything to worry about if her dd fits the catholic criteria
Yes my DC did get a place at at one of the three schools he applied for and he's very happy there. But my advice coming from state primary, is to tutor and go through exam papers for much longer than we did - at least one year before the January exams.
Copthallresident - I totally agree with you, you are spot on.
Interesting that you use the word "control" like I did - "However this is not comfortable for parents who want in some way to be in control of the process and really can't cope with not being able to do very much to influence the outcome."
In my opinion this is the reason for most of the angst!!
Farewelltoarms Yes you're right to make the point that he may well end up at the same university as he would have done if he'd gone to CE state. In fact he's gone to a co-ed school, not highly academic boys. But as I said in my blog, once he'd looked round the glossy private, with its acres of playing fields, and compared it to the very very (outstanding) good state, (which seemed crowded in comparison and with not much access to outside space) he was hooked in to the private and really really wanted to go. Having put him through the process of tutoring and the exams, I couldn't then turn around and say actually you're going to the state - even though by then I felt it probably would have been as good, but in a different way. Hard to explain here.
Katryn, I think you explain it really well both here and in the blog. I could empathise with all you say and it sounds as though at times you were cursing your mother's generosity. My dcs aren't at this point yet but I feel really angry at myself for hassling the teacher for levels and stressing about tutors because my eldest is already doing really well at his fab (but very ordinary) state primary. The teacher looks at me as though I'm mad when I talk about him needing to be equivalent of level 5 by end of year 5.
It's what surprises me about these private schools - not that they do so well, but why they don't do better. I wonder whether any school with the raw material they're getting wouldn't do as well.
And also take your point re the facilities. The private primaries we looked at were shocking, they didn't even have playgrounds, but the secondaries are a different matter.
I suppose also your story actually confirms what Copthall is saying - that despite all the scary statistics children do seem to end up with a place somewhere. I'm glad he's happy where he landed.
ps I did book a tutor from jan 2014 y5 - she's just rung to say would I like one of the jan 2013 places and I said yes.
I hate myself!
DD sat an exam for the local selective - it was a bit like this, but only about 130 children after 40 places.
We rejected the school (although DD passed the exam) due to the fact the parents was over competitive and fraught and I couldn't see how we would ever fit in.
DD also said the other girls were "not nice" and the test was "boring".
She is at a non selective now.
However, many many West London parents go through this - when you step back and look as an independent observer it is bonkers.
Farewell: The teacher looks at me as though I'm mad when I talk about him needing to be equivalent of level 5 by end of year 5.
Yep - I get those looks too. The parents of the kids at the top in the (likewise) excellent but ordinary state primary withthe full mix are the ones who hassle the teachers more about progress! And we want level 6 maths by end of year 6!
but actually doesn't matter too much what level he's at at end of year 6 since the tests will have been and gone months before.....
Katryn, thank you for linking your blog - that is exactly how I am feeling and trying desperately not to at the moment. My DS is sitting them all now and in January. Also from a state primary. I am dying to know which school your DS ended up at as we are in the same area ... Just curious, and desperate! I shall be so pleased once 14th Feb has been and gone!
West London parents do seem to be in a total frenzy. A tutor I know already had a waiting list of 35 last year for reception chidren who will not be starting tutoring with her until Year 5 in 20?? Crazy. Can I just say to parents who are embarking on the tutoring - we have done it from Feb in Yr 5 after much deliberating and I don't think I will do it with my other 2 DCs. The most effective help we have given our DS has come from us and working through exam questions/bond papers. Other people have said this to me too, though of course it's hard to tutor your own child without getting emotional, finding the time etc, etc. But even with all that I will still not be paying for another tutor. At the moment
<waves at Castles, sends good luck to miniCastles, makes mental note to stick coffee in diary asap in NewYear!>
Copthall, you sound wise and experienced - I shall remember your advice (including Valium in Y5 tea ).
I don't think many parents in dd1's state primary class will be thinking of private schools, so stress levels may be a little lower than they clearly are for some Richmond parents.
Tbh, I find the pressured, competitive stuff so disagreeable that I need a lot of convincing that its worth it - I think I would only put dd through it if the desire came from her (I will take her to look around a whole variety of school when she's in Y5).
Ironically, she is actually being tutored at the moment - not because we want her to go anywhere in particular, but because she had some gaps in her early maths which meant she was under-confident for her ability. She's flying as a result, in terms of her current Y4 class, but am sure she wouldn't be in selective test terms!
I too loved the Valium in the Y5 tea. 11+ for us was pretty awful. Sudden realisation that daughter was dyslexic and likely to struggle with independent school English papers, but to late to do much about it.
In Year 3 she had told us that one of her classmates received tutoring on both Saturdays and Sundays. This enabled us to grimace when passing the brilliant project work "produced" by said child and prominently displayed in the school reception, but otherwise had dismissed it as a bit odd. Then a friend revealed she lived next door to someone who did tutoring and it was really interesting who she had seen entering the house.
DD ended up applying to quite a lot of schools (5 independent and two selective state - not much hope on the latter but one was only 10 mins walk away so we needed to know she had tried; I now resist the sour grapes temptation to write to the school complaining about behaviour of their pupils on the bus) and got two. Luckily the two she wanted most - perhaps schools are good at selecting.
Our focus was to enter the exam as confident and equipped as she could be. For English I strongly recommend the Galore Park book. We used it in all sorts of ways. Write an essay first thing on a Saturday for an hour before we go out. Put together five essay outlines, again within an hour. Since it was a textbook there was scope to use the class discussion topics in the car or at dinner. Her older brother was really helpful. Oddly family involvement seemed to share the load. The point was for her not to be stressed but to go into the exam able to do as well as she could.
Indies are far nicer to exam candidates than state. These are, after all, potential customers, likely to pick up preferences dependent on food or friendliness. To be honest my daughter enjoyed the day off school. Rather than take her back to school we went out for a pizza and indeed at one school met up with her friends and all went out together. The child who fared worse was the one who did not sleep the night before the exam.
The article is a bit of a composite. I think the police were called to Wallington Grammar a few years back to help with crowd control and we have come across some extreme anxiety and over-tutoring. Looking back brings a bit of perspective. Some over those over-tutored kids really go off the boil at the upper end of secondary. They are bright enough but have not learned to enjoy and engage in education for its own sake. A real pity given the fantastic opportunities offered by some of London's schools.
People also forget that West London has lots of very good schools, most appearing in National top 100 tables. Certainly several people I know have decided to by-pass some of the "top 10" schools in order to have their children avoid this extreme anxiety.
Almost everyone gets something. Ideally only apply to schools you like and dont set you heart on one. Have a solid Plan B. If it all goes pear-shaped, and this is really rare (there was the girl who got four wait-list places (none of which came through...) it may be for the best. One friend is really pleased that their son ended up out of the London rat-race and in a sporty boarding school where he has thrived, probably more so than if he had been squeezed into one of the day schools he had initially tried for.
Sorry all rather long. Good luck. Glad we dont do that again.
Elibean Not wise at all but experienced and with one now at uni and the other having just pitched out of a certain very selective girls school with rolling acres to sixth form in a urban coed, largely because of the bitching from a particularly nasty (and notorious) group of alpha girls who turned up there. It wasn't the schools fault, they could have turned up anywhere. GCSE results have plummeted them down the league tables this time too and teachers are tearing their hair out at finding themselves with sixth formers who don't want to learn (quite a lot of the ones who do having left ). It all rather makes a mockery of all that obsession with league tables, open days and desperation to get in. Funny thing is that DD1 walked in there and knew it was right and thrived, DD2 just wanted to go where big sis went but I felt where she has gone now felt right for her, tossed and turned the night before the letter of acceptance went in and dreamt the town centre school had rolling acres withy lovely kind sixth formers welcoming DD2 in!!! So I do know the getting in is the easy bit......
By the way both girls are dyslexic, DD2 got extra time at all indie entrance exams. They really do want the brightest rather than the ones that are tutored.
Elibean! I am really keen on a school that probably doesn't require much (or any) tutoring for your DDs if you are looking at private schools further down the line. I'll tell you about it when we meet. Soon!
Copthallresident, I really used to want to believe your last paragraph, probably in desperation and idealism, but after DS got turned down today for a highly selective school at the first round (which I expected) and his extremely highly tutored friend of equal ability (probably less in maths) got through, I suspect they don't really care if they are tutored or not, they just want the highest achievers at this stage. Sadly, I agree that many of these highly tutored children do go off the boil or just can't do it on their own: sometimes this doesn't become apparent until the first year at Oxbridge.
As usual on a thread about state schools or comprehensives the assumption is that all comprehensives are failing their children . Sure some are, but not all .
I teach in a comprehensive which in every year group has children that are there who were bright enough to go the the grammar but choosed to attend the comprehensive . This means that the situation is not the "norm" and therefore blanket statements about them do not apply. Many if those children are the children of teachers who could and probably would tutor if they thought there was any point. It speaks volumes that they choose not to take the grammar route .
Reading about parents taking delight in the fact that their child can rip the shit out of another child makes me even more certain that I have made the right choice for most of my children .
I clearly still to raw to be on a MN thread . Off to find a nice corner of MN or to pop a sleeper.
I have how posted on the wrong thread . I think the drugs have kicked in.
castlesintheair I am not sure how to take that comment. I do have two dyslexic DDs and DD2 did get extra time! I am sorry your son didn't get through the first round for one school, but really with all DDs' peers, although there were some that didn't get in everywhere, they did get in somewhere that suited them. There isn't any accounting for off days, or papers that don't suit. Maybe the tutored one had a good day, I assume second round is an interview? They learn a lot at interview.
The very selective boys and SPGS are a bit of an exception as well. They don't get a very high proportion of state school pupils, the boys schools because they are not geared to 11+ entry, so there just aren't many places. I did challenge SPGS about the low proportion of state school entry and they said they started at a high level of attainment and weren't prepared to help pupils catch up. It was one of the things that put DD off.
I did actually ask for feedback after they got in to their very selective school. DD1 because the Head of her International School wanted to benchmark their levels of attainment and DD2 because I was concerned she had scraped in. On both occasions they said it wasn't about there being a finishing post, that they looked at each child individually, they highlighted the DDs' strengths, which were all about their abilities, and commented that in the main the weaknesses were that they made silly mistakes (which is typically dyslexic, except that we didn't even know DD1 was dyslexic at that stage). Attainment really didn't come into it, and in IIIrds they went back over Year 6 again for consolidation.
I really don't think that anyone gets into Oxbridge these days that doesn't totally belong there, the issue is that so many bright pupils don't get in. It is so much more competitive than it was in the past. There is the odd course that is a relic from the past that isn't so popular but otherwise they really are struggling to distinguish between the very, very bright for entry. It's as hard to get into other elite unis now as it was to get into Oxbridge not so very long ago. One thing I found really reassuring was that wherever DD's peers went, state or private, they got to the unis that you would expect from their ability.
Perhaps I am cynical and think that hysterical articles like that contained in the opening post are a PR stunt to sell services or books to gullible parents.
My elder daughter applied to the selective independents in London about 7 years ago now: St Paul's, Godolphin, Notting Hill and Ealing etc and was offered places at each and it was a fairly civilised process. There were exams and interviews but it was as relaxed as possible in the circumstances. She also sat exams for Henrietta Barnett and a grammar in S/W London, which were less so. In the end she went to the latter where she is now in Sixth Form. We practiced at home with papers bought from WH Smith.
I do meet people who have tutored for years to get their daughters into the selective independents, but none have failed to get in somewhere. Sons seem less lucky for some reason. Perhaps because there are less places? I do wonder how effective the tutoring is.
As far as the super selectives go, I understand that you now have to be not only clever but tutored as it has become like an arms race, as "everyone" is now tutoring.
In the sort of area you refer to, Muminwestlondon, it is much harder for boys.
You have Westminster, Colet, Kings Wimbledon - which take only a few at 11, and are highly academic. Then there is Hampton. Then what? St James' is not for everyone, and a long way out now. Halliford is also a long way.
Then there are the more academic co-ed schools - eg Latymer, Kingston Grammar, where you boys are competing with girls for places.
For girls there is St Paul's/Putney/Wimbledon/Surbiton/LEH/Godolphin/NHEHS and probably others I have forgotten, which take a full cohort at 11. So the mathematics mean that there are a lot more spaces for girls!
I still maintain that there is no need for hysteria or frenzy as long as you have a range of realistic choices and back up options.
My bright but not genius children were at a good state school and had a small amount of tutoring. My daughter got offers from everywhere she applied and my son got offers from all but one. Between them that's 8 offers from 9 schools, 7 of which are named above. I genuinely don't know anyone who got nothing at all unless they only applied for one or two.
My DS went to very selective school in Surrey, no tutoring, turned up did the exam ,had a short interview with the head together with a couple of other boys then we picked him up. No drama, no fuss. Same with DD although her school is not quite so selective. I only entered them for one school each based on what we liked so no experience of other schools.
We gave DS a mock paper at the end of year 5 at his state school. Based on that score (60%) my DS would have failed the 11+ if we hadn't tutored him during the summer break.Today he is at an indie ranked in the top 15 (Sunday Times) and is in the top third of his year with predicted GCSE grades of at least A in all his subjects.
I always thought of him as being quite bright but whenever I read someone post that their DC just turned up on the day with no tutoring I go - wow! that kid must really be bright.
I believe many people haven't tutored, but I bet they have practised . (Which in itself is a sort of reverse boast - saying that their family is clever enough to do its own coaching without the need to resort to outside help.)
I really do not believe that a child could walk in to an 11+ exam, having never seen those sort of questions before, and answer them all accurately and at speed.
I suppose mine did practise at school but not at home. What I'm saying is there wasn't the huge amount of hooha that appears in that article. It was all very low key and unstressed. I didn't get involved too much just drove them there and had a nice meal ready when they'd finished.
Newspaper articles about families calmly rolling up to take the CE/11+ makes boring reading so they tend to dramatize it a bit.
Having said that DS came out of his maths test saying that it wasn't too bad but he was saying that a few kids were in tears.
Some kids are obviously pushed beyond their comfort level so exam time can be most stressful for both them and the parents but for us it was down to the local cake shop afterwards for a de-stressing hot chocolate and cream cakes
My dd and my best friend 's dd are in year 8 at a local selective. From my experience the part of OP is true. I always believe tutoring has a negatvie impact on a child' s ability. I may be wrong. My poor dd had no tutoring but some practice papers at home and one mock exam. On the exam day she came out in tears. She was absolutely in panic. On the contrary the friend's dd who was heavily tutored from age 7 came out with a big smile. Oh dear ! But in the end both got a place at the same school. My dd is doing extremely well and i am very proud of her.Now looking back, I can say to myself what's all the fuss about...
APMF It's a bit more than exaggerating to sell a few more newspapers, it's a book too. As I said earlier between the writers of these books and the tutors it is an industry that profits from a vortex of parental desperation that it helps create, along with competitiveness and some real anxiety. It really is crazy around here, with a ridiculous mystique built up around tutors. I know many many parents who in the aftermath can't quite believe they fell for it and put their children through what they did. I was lucky that first time around I wasn't in the country and second time around I knew from the other side how ridiculous all the Chinese whispers in the playground were.
If your child isn't at a school that prepares them for the exams then yes, some practise papers or some sessions with a tutor who will make it a positive experience but surely blatantly being crammed around some
old mercenary bag's experienced tutor's kitchen table endlessly repeating practise papers for years is only going to be a negative, and even hated. And certainly you do not write in to your child's prep school when they are at the end of Year 5 and have not been made "Head Girl" that " She is a failure, where do we go from here?" ...........
lurking: I agree that for some kids tutoring can be stressful. However, for some kids a lack of tutoring can be stressful as well.
In our case, our DCs had tackled past papers from various selectives from around the country. Come exam day there were questions they couldn't do but at least overall it wasn't a shock for them.
castles oooh! I am excited now. Will you pm/email/text me more? I know we're doomed not to meet till 2013 now, but not sure I can wait till then
ps sorry ds got turned down for that school - though am equally sure other, probably more interesting, schools will snap him up!
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