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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.

ohmygosh123 Fri 27-Jul-12 20:38:41

Just a bit of encouragement ... I coached a kid for entrance exams with very little time to spare. Instead of trying to cover everything, we focused on what would give her points. We also worked out which questions would be a nightmare, and to not worry about those and to focus on the other 80-90%. The plan was that she wouldn't run out of time and so would definitely answer the questions that we knew she could do. If there is one element that she can't get then ditch it. Also look for things that are quite easy to get, that she hasn't yet done at school, and that you can teach her at home.

For DD I've found Singapore Maths is very good for understanding concepts - maybe you need a two pronged approach. Some things just are and she has to learn them (eg an obtuse angle) , other things can be done in a tangible way. Then once it is over topics can be reinforced more slowly so she is confident for secondary school after she has got through the exam.

ohmygosh123 Fri 27-Jul-12 20:48:19

If your DD has a mental block on one type - teach her to identify the question, and leave it until the end or ignore it. Will be way better than getting upset and panicking, and therefore screwing up other questions. If she realises that one question ignored is pretty irrelevant to overall mark - it might help her not get as upset.

The kid I helped was in tears over verbal reasoning - so we focused on what she could do, and not what she couldn't do, and built up from there. V sensitive, high achiever, probably not disimilar to your daughter. We did a list of what she needed to do, and ticked them off in order of how easy she found them. And kept practising what she found easy so she was fast, and had time to do the other questions.

Also I think the more questions she practices, the more likely there will be something similar on the exam paper, and therefore the more chance she will be okay, simply because she recognises what she is meant to do, even if she doesn't completely understand the concept. thinks back to physics GCSE when we had a clueless teacher but a fab revise guide

trinity0097 Sat 28-Jul-12 12:59:09

You said that there are no independent schools but there are 17 listed on the NI education website.
My experience is that good children will always do well regardless of the school, as long as they keep their head down and don't misbehave.

Olympicnmix Sat 28-Jul-12 13:13:33

Your dd is probably like me, not bad at maths actually but not taught in a logical, systematic way that makes sense to her. She probably needs a 'story' attached to the math's process you're teaching her as a way of an aide memoire and then repeat the process again and again until it's drilled in. You then need to look at the exceptions so she's not thrown when she sees them. And practice the type of questions she is going to encounter over and over again, so she gets the 'code' for what the question is asking of her. You will then need to speed her up. Lots of positive reinforcement.

Olympicnmix Sat 28-Jul-12 13:14:41

Do you have plenty of 11+ resources to use with her?

Caoimhe Sat 28-Jul-12 13:26:20

trinity0097 - those are not "ordinary" independent schools - they are either Christian or Irish medium or special schools or not senior schools.

OP are you not near an integrated school? Some of those are closest to being comprehensive. My nephew is an integrated school and got all A grades at AS level and is predicted A* AA at A-level.

NotLikeThatYouWont Sat 28-Jul-12 13:42:45

trinity, I don't know where you are but I'm originally from N.I. and still have family there. There really is very little culture/awareness of independent education, and what there was is very religion-centred. I checked the list as I was really interested on seeing if things had changed.

10 on the list - possibly more, but definitely the ones with "Christian" in the name, will be tiny schools run by particular fundamental Christian groups, to protect their children from the evils of non-Creationist teaching.
1 other is a prep school.
1 other is an Irish-medium primary (Bunscoil)
2 are special schools

That only leaves 3 that might be suitable (depending on where the OP is and their finances.) One is Steiner, one has no website so is an unknown, and one looks like an ordinary independent school.

Howmanyteachersistoomany Sun 29-Jul-12 08:52:47

Of those 17 schools, the buddy bear trust school is for conductive education for children with special needs.

The "independent Christian" ones are all free Presbyterian ones. Run by religious zealots. And you have to be free Presbyterian to attend. I'm not.

Bunscoil ones are Irish medium - ie all taught in Irish Gaelic

Glencraig, again, is a school for those with a special need.

The Steiner school is, well, Steiner.

Living rivers is attached to a completely nutty fundamentalist Christian evangelical church

And Rockport is miles away (70) from me.

So, basically, in northern Ireland, the independent that you think of in the uk doesn't apply.

SophySinclair Sun 29-Jul-12 15:17:58

Had a bad experience at that particular Steiner. My DD left after 2 years.

Turniphead1 Sun 29-Jul-12 15:54:42

I'm appalled at the tutor. When you return from holiday I would be having another word with her. I would be asking why this so-called fundamental problem wasn't mentioned during 6 months of tutoring - and be asking for your money back. As others have said - she is clearly protecting her pass rate.

I think your plan is a good one. Indie just isn't an option in NI. One of the reasons they were never needed was I guess because in general the grammar / secondary system served a lot of people well. And anyone truly posh would send their kids off to a Public school on the " mainland".

Good luck.

MaryHansack Sun 29-Jul-12 17:42:54

I would be asking why this so-called fundamental problem wasn't mentioned during 6 months of tutoring - and be asking for your money back. As others have said - she is clearly protecting her pass rate.
too right, she was happy to take your cash for six months......

Mutteroo Thu 02-Aug-12 01:16:32

Another saying please don't worry. My DD was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 15, 11 months before she took her GCSEs. We were told she had a Maths 'age' of 8 by the educational psychologist who was very concerned with the lack of support DD was being offered. 11 months later she passed all her GCSEs with a grade C or above; so even with a Maths age of 8 & minimal support, she still gained that C she needed for 6th form. Your daughter could pull the rabbit from the hat also (so to speak) but would the grammar be the right environment for her?

Call the secondaries, go & look around. There's no harm in you helping your daughter with Maths catch up, but it more important to make her feel worthy & find out of there's a reason why her Maths is where it is. Good luck OP. All is not lost.

transferworry Wed 08-Aug-12 14:34:42

Thank you. We are now back from holiday. (Have been a couple of days, but didn't get back to thread until now blush.)

We very deliberately didn't mention anything about the bloody Transfer all through the holiday because we all needed the break! However, since we got back we've arranged to get some help a couple of nights a week from a family member with a Maths degree. He doesn't have teaching/tutoring experience, but he did manage to help his own ds through the exam a couple of years ago, with Maths being the focus there as well. Someone also recommended an online Maths thing called Mathletics, so she can do a bit of that.

I've been through all her school work, including a few test papers that she brought home from school. Everything - apart from the tutor's opinion - seems to back up the school's take on it, which is that her Maths is on the low side of average but not dreadful. In fact, nearly all her errors show that she does understand the work, but she does silly things like doing all the calculations and then forgetting the last, simple part. Because of this I'm inclined to think that her level isn't as low as the tutor think - it's more that she knows her Maths isn't brilliant so she panics and rushes, or zones out somehow. I'm going to sit in with her the next time she does a practice test - will tell her it's to get her used to having an invigilator - and see if this is happening. However - surely the tutor would be able to tell a silly mistake from one that shows a lack of understanding. So maybe I'm in denial.

I'm also going to ring the friendliest of the other Mums whose ds is visited by our former tutor, and find out whether she goes through the papers with her ds before the tutor arrives, or whether he's doing it blind. I want to make sure that the tutor's opinion about dd was formed on a level playing field.

Finally, I'm going to try to get into school either just before term starts or as soon as possible afterwards, to discuss all this with the teacher.

So it's good to have a plan of action, at least. We want to make sure that we've tried the best we can to find out why she's struggling.

Thanks, Mutteroo. Re: whether a grammar would be the best place for her - this is the basic problem. Her English and all other work is academically well above average - it's just the Maths that is low. "Grammars" in our particular area aren't like English grammars - they have a much wider intake, meaning that the secondaries (or at least the ones local to us) really do have very low academic expectations. I don't think she'd fit into the very academic one that dd1 attends, but there are others that take far lower Transfer grades, stream the pupils by ability and give lots of support when required. I think her best place would be in one of those.

Pythonesque Wed 08-Aug-12 20:12:26

I hope you've been able to contact an Ed.Psych. My mother has worked as a private remedial teacher for years and I've heard all sorts of interesting stories about children she's taught with very specific difficulties. You need a more experienced tutor to deal with this situation - once you have the difficulties defined.

I've heard things elsewhere about the rigidity of the N.I. school system, but I hope that with assessment and support that there may be a good way for your daughter to be appropriately placed for secondary school.

transferworry Thu 09-Aug-12 09:50:12

Thanks, Python. Right now we just don't know what to do about getting in an Ed Psych, because of how close we are to the date of the transfer test. Dd is hugely sensitive, a real worrier, and (possibly because of highly academic sister) her confidence in her abilities is very low, despite our best efforts at boosting her over the years. Because of the way the ex-tutor went about things, she thinks that she isn't being tutored any more because she is "rubbish at Maths". sad

From looking at the answers she's been giving, and the inconsistency between what the school says and what the tutor says, it's possible that her Maths really is approaching average, and the problem is panic and rushing due to lack of confidence. If we start with the Ed Psych at this stage - knowing dd as I do - it's likely to confirm her belief that she's "rubbish" and there is "something wrong with her". If she does have the ability to answer the questions, this would just make things worse when it comes to test time. She'd get a low grade in the test and end up in a school which doesn't suit her.

But if we don't get an Ed Psych in, and she does have a processing problem with Maths, then she won't be getting the help that she needs. This happened to one of my best friends when he was at school - a perfectly bright guy with dyslexia - and he was pretty much dismissed academically when he got to secondary school. He had to work for his English and Maths GCSEs after he left school because so many jobs require them.

So we have to try to second-guess whether we think it's the confidence or the processing that's her problem. We're probably going to speak to the school before going down that route, unless the new tutor raises the issue as well. It's all because we don't have any time before the test, as we had no indication of any issues before now.

transferworry Thu 09-Aug-12 11:05:21

Caoimhe - sorry, I just saw your question now. There is an integrated school about 15 miles away. I looked into it a few years ago for dd1, but it has a completely dreadful reputation - said to be the worst school in the area, including the secondaries I mentioned earlier. It's a real pity because integrated/comprehensive is much better IMO.

transferworry Mon 03-Dec-12 12:19:12

Hi - thought it might be good to update, as the N.I. transfer tests are now over, and everyone was so helpful when we were worried.

As I mentioned earlier, my BIL came round a few times to see if he (as someone she knows well) could work out the source of her troubles. He was able to iron out a couple of small issues where she had the wrong end of the stick, but nothing out of the ordinary, and could find no fundamental problems such as the tutor had mentioned. By then I had also been into school and spoken to the Principal, who was also confused and showed me standardised annual tests dating all the way back to P2. They all showed her literacy above average, numeracy pretty much exactly average for her age. The only comment they had was that dd tends to be blinded by panic when she meets something new in Maths, but that this isn't a problem of understanding. It's very odd. If we'd never brought in a tutor, there would never have been any mention of dd having a problem. Her teachers, the standardised tests, homeworks, school exams... all of that consistently says the same thing.

On that basis, and with school keeping an eye, we pulled dd out of any tutoring outside of school, with either the original tutor or with my BIL. We considered asking for help with anxiety, but by now it was so close to the test that we didn't want to rock the boat still further. Dd's work hasn't suffered at all as a result - in fact, her Maths has improved. We don't know how she's done in the Transfer test but the main thing is that she is much happier.

It does make me extra worried for the children who have to transfer under this system, with all the stress that's involved. There is yet another big overhaul on its way in our area, which may help the intake of the local non-grammars, but I'm not sure how this will affect dd's year.

But that's where we are for now. Thank you again for all the advice.

AnnIonicIsoTronic Mon 03-Dec-12 14:02:59

Glad it finished well.

Sounds like a self important twat of a tutor

transfer.... I was very weak at maths all through school, always average or severely below in tests. Never grasped the concepts and honestly felt like it was a different language and I didn't have a phrase book. I failed my leaving cert maths.

Funnily enough I've done/ am doing science at third level and did a maths module last year that I got 96% on grin

As it turns out my problem was nothing more than a lack of confidence and needing to have things explained in a different way that the Irish education system was doing.

I'm sure your daughter will surprise you in the long run.... once maths stops being a chore she has to get through she may find it enjoyable. Just don't count on that being during her school career.... I was 24 when I had the realisation that actually maths could be enjoyable

transferworry Tue 04-Dec-12 09:25:15

Thank you, Summer - I do suspect we're dealing with something like that with dd. Having these tests at 10/11 really does add a huge layer of stress on top of that, and it sounds like you had similar issues with your Leaving Cert. Very glad it's worked out for you! smile

Ann - yes, I'm pretty sure there's been a strong element of "I'm the tutor and I know best" with this. Certainly her one size fits all approach hasn't worked for dd. Ironically, we had brought a tutor in partly because we felt that dd needed a more personal approach. She seemed to be more of a factory trying to marshall children through this bloody test.

Blu Tue 04-Dec-12 19:25:34

Bloody hell, Transferworry, as a London parent (and goodness, some of us get our knickers twisted over secondary transfer grin) I have never encountered anything as anxiety-inducing as your OP - my chest was tightening for you!

Well done for getting to the bottom of it and keeping calm, a big boo to that 'tutor', and a biger one to the system you are in.

Fingers crossed for your dd's place - it sounds OK, doesn't it? When will you know?

transferworry Wed 05-Dec-12 10:08:29

Thanks, Blu. Yes, it's a nightmare of a system - has coloured the entire year for the children involved, especially those like dd who seem to be natural worriers to start with. We find out the results in Feb - but that will be just a number, because the minimum scores for entry to particular schools vary year on year. The schools aren't allocated until May.

Our plan is to put it out of our minds now, for as long as possible! The main concern is that dd is happy, and has given a good account of herself in the test - not artificially low because of anxiety or high because of cramming, which we also never wanted as that would increase her anxiety levels when she got to secondary. We're quite hopeful now that this is what she's done smile.

LoopsInHoops Wed 05-Dec-12 10:21:58

Keeping my fingers crossed that your DD gets her place, or if not that she gets into a lovely school and is happy smile

transferworry Wed 05-Dec-12 10:36:45

It's what we can hope for them all, Loops. Thank you - you've all been lovely smile thanks

transferworry Sat 02-Feb-13 18:22:32

Here I am again for one last time, on the N.I. Transfer test results day.

Dd has done extremely well in the test. Her score is excellent, easily enough to get her into the same school as her sister, or another grammar if that's what she prefers.

It is pretty much exactly the score that I would have predicted for her, if we had never had any remarks from the tutor. It fits with what the school was saying and what we thought ourselves, based on her schoolwork, etc. However, it goes completely against everything that the tutor was saying about her "fundamental problem with understanding maths", and not being a grammar school candidate.

We are all delighted with dd, who did this on her own despite all that was done to undermine her confidence. We stopped all tutoring and did no extra work with her, after BIL had checked that she did understand the concepts. So we know that her result reflects her ability, which is all we ever wanted.

I still haven't decided what I'm going to say or do about the tutor and her attitude, but today is about dd and I'll think about that tomorrow.

This tutor was recommended to us by the parents of older pupils at the school. As I said, I was against the idea of tutoring to begin with, but hoped it would help dd's confidence (ha!) if not her innate ability. I really didn't want her to be struggling in a school either above or below her ability level.

It has worked out well for my dd in the end, but I'd advise parents considering tutoring to be very, very wary of who you choose.

Thank you all, once again, and now we can draw a line under all this. I hope that anyone else whose child was doing these tests got the result that works best for them smile

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