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bright boy, dull school

(29 Posts)
tiptabletops Fri 14-Mar-14 19:08:15

Probably not the right place to post this, but I suspect that you all might be able to help me.
My child is a bright boy and top of the class in a very mixed ability and very bog standard school. A third of the class is below average, a third average and the final third above average - average being as measured by NC levels.
He has a nice group of friends, working not far behind him. He is a voracious reader, as are two other children in the class. He is L4a for writing, L5c for reading but L4C for maths. He doesn't put in much effort to achieve, and certainly no more is asked of him than the average (he occasionally gets homework which is pitched far below his level). He does loads outside school off his own back - learns piano, swims, joins clubs, reads history, writes endless stories. In my view (and we are a family of writers) he has a talent for writing. His maths is only OK, but that is the one subject in which I have not put in any effort at home. There is a disparity between my maths IQ for example, which is above average, and my actual achievement in maths, largely because I was very poorly taught.
I am dreading the next two years, as I know the school will gear up towards SATS. Their focus will be on pulling up the average (many children do not manage L4 in the final year) and I am worried he is going to be lost in a slump of boredom.
I'd like him to go to a selective independent school as I think he will enjoy being around lots of other clever kids. But I'm not sure how to achieve this. How easy is it for a naturally bright kid to be tutored at home. Not in a mad, test practicing way, but in a way that will showcase his skills in an independent school exam, and allow him to pass the grammar school exam. I could also send him to a local prep school, but it is not selective so I am not sure how much it will gear up to his ability. I am also thinking of just getting a tutor in maths and English (perhaps shared with one other child in his class) and just getting him up to speed outside school.
He is otherwise happy at the school: popular, loads of friends etc.
What would you do in this situation?

ShellyF Fri 14-Mar-14 19:11:28

If he is year 4 his grades are not exceptional.Many children these days are achieving similar.

HanSolo Fri 14-Mar-14 19:16:35

It would depend what style of teaching the prep school use really.
I am assuming he's Y3 or 4?

tiptabletops Fri 14-Mar-14 19:17:07

I'm not sure that's what I asked, but thanks for putting me in my place!

PandaNot Fri 14-Mar-14 19:20:17

His levels are not so exceptional. I would expect my dd, who is in y1 at the moment working at 3c across the board, to be at those levels in y4. However that doesn't mean that there isn't an issue with a school being boring. For my dd this isn't a problem, but if it genuinely is for your ds I would be looking for a new school.

PandaNot Fri 14-Mar-14 19:22:21

Jus reread your op. It sounds like he's happy there which goes a long way. I'd deal with the issue if it arises. They're obviously meeting his needs at the moment for him to be working at those levels.

tiptabletops Fri 14-Mar-14 19:22:54

Sorry Shelly. Didn't mean to sound snappy. I sometimes feel as if Mumsnet is a big boot waiting to stamp down.

The problem is that he is 'exceptional' in his school. So he is not being taught above the level he is now achieving and yet very probably could achieve more. The school doesn't really cater very far above the average. I am frightened of him being switched off from learning.

PandaNot Fri 14-Mar-14 19:35:23

But he is above average and they've met his needs so far so why don't you think that will continue as he gets older?

ShellyF Fri 14-Mar-14 20:06:20

No offence taken.Been teaching a long time and have recently seen a surge of good level 6 results at the end of Y6 .
All schools should make provision for the most able children.
With regard to moving him I would weigh up how happy he is at his current school against what the other schools you are considering can offer.
Sounds like he would do well wherever he is.
I am not a frequent poster and certainly not in the habit of trying to upset anyone.
I just have too many years experience in education. smile

tiptabletops Fri 14-Mar-14 20:16:31

I am concerned for a number of reasons:

1. The school has a reputation for not meeting the needs of more able children. This is partly to do with teaching (results consistently below average) but also to do with the very mixed cohort (a focus on those who are struggling).

2. I think my son is not being, to use a horrid word, 'stretched'. The levels he is currently achieving are effortlessly attained and the school seems happy with this. He is not being asked to put in any effort, and not being given work that is challenging. He says he wants 'harder work'.

3. My own experience feeds my concern: Belatedly discovered to be 'gifted', but already experienced the dreaded 'switching off'. (This is not the case with my son at the moment, but it is my constant fear).

So, really, what I want for him, and what he wants for himself, is an environment where he can really go for it. I think he will get this at a selective school (state or private, I don't care). He could probably get it at a good non-selective state school, but sadly that option is not currently available to us. So, my problem is, how to best attain this? He is socially able and happy with his friends. Does tutoring work well in these circumstances? I'd really love to hear some positive stories...

tiptabletops Fri 14-Mar-14 20:17:26

No Level 6's in my son's school, for e.g.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Fri 14-Mar-14 20:22:39

OP You don't need to persuade anybody here.

There seems to be an implication that there is a cut-off point - above which you can go to an independent school, below which you are condemned to an unfavourable alternative. That's nonsense. The vast majority of very bright children are at state schools and many, many children at independent schools will be less bright - by any measure - than your DS. (I can't say anything about grammar schools and I'm not clear where they come in your thoughts...)

You know your child best. You clearly feel that he could do better elsewhere. So it is up to you to find a suitable school, one that meets your aspirations for him, and to allow him to convince them that he should be there.

tiptabletops Fri 14-Mar-14 20:33:41

All I really want to know if tutoring is enough for a bright kid in a crap school to get into a good selective school/grammar school. And if anyone of you have done it? And if so, how it went.

I agree: there are loads of bright kids in non-selective state schools. But if they live in our area (a secondary-school black hole) they are probably being failed, or at best, having to put up a mighty struggle to succeed. That might be character building, but I'd really like to avoid it if I can...

ZeroSomeGameThingy Fri 14-Mar-14 20:46:41

Sorry, I obviously didn't put that very well - I was trying to argue for you.

I don't actually think your specific question can be answered - specifically. It would depend entirely on the character and ability of the child, the relative selectivity of the proposed school and the individual suitability of the tuition.

Thousands of children move from state schools to selective independent schools. And the same is obviously true of grammar schools. I would suggest you can take a more flexible approach with regard to an independent school, which is more likely to take into account talents, interests and interview-ability in addition to hard exam results.

Roughly where in the country are you OP and how soon would you envisage moving him?

tiptabletops Fri 14-Mar-14 21:01:04

Zero: I agree re specifics.

I think what I should have asked for, rather than an answer, were stories of what others had done in this situation. And the pros and cons of those decisions.

I'll stop now. But thank you for your help.

HanSolo Fri 14-Mar-14 21:19:05

There is a thread currently in secondary education about whether it's possible for a child to get into grammar without tutoring... here.

It really depends where you are tbh. In our area, you must be level 5 in Y5, because only 4.5% get into the grammars (super-selective), and hundreds that pass the exam still do not gain a place.
There are parents that go down the tutoring route, others that switch to prep school at Y4, but it's becoming v difficult to do this, as the pressure on school places is becoming critical in our LA (all schools, of all types, even the appalling ones, are over-subscribed). Some home educate too.
State schools in our area are not allowed to prepare for the 11+ at all, in fact most seem to actively discourage sitting at all hmm. I feel it would be completely unfair to enter a child without some form of coaching, even just in exam technique and time-keeping, though the non-verbal/verbal reasoning is quite different to the what many children are accustomed to.

Beware of pushing for L6s though... people on another thread yesterday (in education) were complaining about how much pressure their children were under in KS4 to achieve all A*. We are seeing more and more children coming in with 6s, and they HAVE to achieve A*, or the school is classed as failing! Parents feel it's very unfair for children to be set targets of 11 A* etc, but if they're very able, then secondaries have to have the highest expectations of them. It's a no-win situation really.

HanSolo Fri 14-Mar-14 21:22:08

Sorry, I also meant to ask how much time you (and his other parent if around?) have to stretch him outside the classroom. Because if you (or both) work full time, it may well be easier to find a school that offer lots of extra-curricular opportunities, to encourage other interests, and stretch him through new learning, whether that is selective or not, fee-paying or not.

tiptabletops Fri 14-Mar-14 21:56:26

Thanks, HanSolo.

I have lots of time.

We do a lot together already. We are constantly out, visiting places, going to the theatre, taking journeys. He has played the piano for two years and goes to Forest School on the weekend. He has loads of interests outside school: I just let him go with it and don't really intervene. He is an avid reader and has hundreds of books on all sorts of subjects, though he loves fiction best. He seems to have ploughed through most of the library at school. He likes to write stories and poems in his spare time. He is constantly active.

I'm good at all that kind of thing. What I'm less good at is the more routine stuff. The basics. The stuff I'd like a school to cover well. He does not have a thorough grounding in maths (which is why I was hoping to outsource to a tutor) and he writes extremely well, but with poorly formed letters (the school never set much store in handwriting). He can argue and think very well (he notices stuff in books we read together that I've missed - and I have an English degree from Oxford). What he can't do is organise this into a good argument/coherent essay, because he hasn't been taught how to do this. The stuff he produces at school seems to me below his ability, and yet the school are more than satisfied.

In short, I'm good at the fun stuff, but have no clue how to go about the grunt work of basics. I am concerned that he is going to end up in the position I found myself in as a child: with ideas and potential far beyond the tools he has to express them (and the route that led me out of this was luck, so I can't rely on it for him).

So: what I want is to cover the basics, thoroughly. And then build on these so he can have a shot at passing grammar/good selective school exams, where I think he will get opportunities to properly develop his interests. But I'm not sure if I've left it too late for tutoring. The preps open to us are not particularly good, though they are a better standard than his current school.

OutragedFromLeeds Fri 14-Mar-14 22:17:00

Have you raised this with the school? How did they respond?

It sounds like tutoring could be ideal if all you really need is the basics, study skills etc.

Being happy is the most important thing, I would think really carefully before moving a happy child, particularly if the other school choices are not massively better than the one he is currently at.

simpson Fri 14-Mar-14 22:31:08

What year is he in? I am guessing yr4. My DS is in yr4 and those levels would be pretty exceptional (but not at the school of MN wink).

My DS's targets in reading/numeracy are a 5C for the end of this school year (literacy a 4C) and I already know what they will be doing for him next year when in yr5 (only because he has had other issues at school this year and the teacher brought it up, I did not ask).

In your case I would be asking what is going to happen for the next school year. In my DS's case he will have 2 mornings where he will be at school from 8am to do G&T maths and have pull out lessons a couple of times a week (he is not the only kid at his level, there are about 3/4 of them).

On the tutoring thing (it is something I have considered for the first time this academic year, due to poor teaching) it would really depend on whether your DS is up for it or not.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Fri 14-Mar-14 22:31:42

OP Possibly you are over-thinking and confusing yourself. (You say you have lots of time but also that you're not sure if you've left it too late...)

Let me tell you what you want.hmmgrin

IME good, old fashioned basics are very well covered in a good, old fashioned prep. You haven't said how old your DS is but pps have assumed around 8/9. In which case you are very well placed to seek out and enter him for the very best prep he can get into. Which may well not be local to you. (It would, in my opinion, be a complete waste of time, effort and money to consider any that are less than the very best.) He does sound very well suited to that sort of school and, by about 10 years old, he will be more than ready for all the challenges and opportunities it should offer.

tiptabletops Fri 14-Mar-14 22:39:49

Over-thinking and confusing myself: yes.

Muddled about what I want (both progressive AND traditional education): Yes

Prep school as a favoured route: yes (if I can find one. So far, unsuccessful).

Talking to school as back-up: Will do so.


HanSolo Fri 14-Mar-14 23:23:39

Aw- he sounds fab! smile

"The stuff he produces at school seems to me below his ability, and yet the school are more than satisfied." I'll whisper this, but- I think most of us feel like this. My children are in a selective school, and I still feel this, sometimes. I think it's just a modern parenting hang-up tbh.

If you're struggling to find a suitable alternative school, by all means engage a maths tutor. You certainly sound as though you could cover English, and certainly begin to teach him how to form coherent arguments and write essays. Is it worth looking on the 11+ forum (separate website, not on MN I mean) to look for advice/experience regarding the secondaries in your area? It may be helpful to you to know what you're aiming for, and what the obstacles might be.

Lonecatwithkitten Sat 15-Mar-14 07:46:19

A first step would be to go and look at the independents you are interested in and speak to the admissions officers about what kind of levels they are looking for (some even offer pre-testers to let you know if your child is on the right track).
It would also allow you see if these schools would suit your child or not, a lot of independent select for a 'type' of child.
You may also find from talking to the school that there is more emphasis placed on certain elements at certain schools, from example I have been advised that exceptional Maths and excellent interview will out weigh average English as the schools strengths are Maths and Science.

moginthedark Sat 15-Mar-14 10:03:48

This was us exactly, right down to the description of the class, and we moved to a private school exactly at the point when we saw DD switch off (she stopped even trying to complete bits of perfectly straightforward work, because no one was expecting it of her).

I think you are limited vis a vis the school, given their reputation. It's like trying to turn a supertanker around with a stick - we tried.

The pros of making the leap are that she is being taught much better, and also that all of the extra stuff (drama, music etc) is helping to keep her engaged. I don't like the fact that it is far less socially mixed, and obviously don't like the fees.

But I agree with Lonecat and think you need to do some serious research into what the options are. Given that you have grammar schools in the area, might going for a prep for a couple of years be the solution? Even if they are not brilliant, simply better it might then reassure you about the exams. I also found that just going to see lots of schools really helped to focus my mind on what the problems were, and what the potential answers might be.

And are there any other state schools locally?

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