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Not going to be Oxbridge material

(64 Posts)
BlogOnTheTyne Thu 18-Oct-12 13:15:20

DS2 has always had his heart set on going to Oxbridge - along with some other very fixed aims for his life. He's only 11 and has high functioning Asperger's (hence the fixed goals/ beliefs thing) and so far done v well academically.

New senior school has recently assessed all the Yr 7 intake. DS2 falls within only the third quartile in ability for this very academic school.

The school sends a lot of students to Oxbridge from the 6th form but this means that they only 'support' the absolute creme de la creme in applications. At another kind of school, DS2 may have had some chance at least of applying. But he won't be in that cohort at this school.

I was lucky, several decades ago - to be at a school that had never sent anyone to Oxbridge. They put me forward and I got in, purely, I think, because the college that accepted me - and the university at that time - wanted to show that they gave places to people with a potential a chance but from schools that didn't 'prepare' you for Oxbridge.

By investing in DS2s education, I'm actually going to be putting him at a disadvantage. He'll be coming from a school known for its academic success and Oxbridge/Russell group Uni success.

I suppose I have several choices available to me across the next few years:

Help DS2 to see that he can be happy even if he doesn't achieve one of his 'rigidly fixed' life aims (probably the most important aspect of this whole thing anyway).

Take him away from this school where he's really, really happy and already doing well and put him in a school where he may have a better chance to aim for Oxbridge and be in the very top few in his cohort.

Work with the school, across the years, to hope they'll support him with what he wants to do - and begin now on that track.

I get the impression that they've already categorised the 11 yr olds and will get from each of them what they now expect.

Has anyone else had children in the same position? What have you done to help the situation? Did you just 'bow' to the opinion of where your child ranks in the class cohort and let go of trying to enable your child to achieve their goals, if these are unrealistic, in the context of that kind of school?

WinklyFriedChicken Thu 18-Oct-12 13:21:52

I think he's very young for you to be worrying. Encourage him to work hard at school, see if he'll get involved in extra curricular activities, point out life beyond Oxbridge - dentistry, accounting, other subjects that they don't offer. Ultimately the school cannot stop him applying to whatever uni he wants & by the time he turns 17, they might have a different philosophy or a different opinion of him post 16 when he gets his exam results.

Pancakeflipper Thu 18-Oct-12 13:22:04

Are you really sure that at the age of 11, the school has made a final decision on who will apply for Oxbridge? Have you spoken to the school about it?

My school decided in the latter years. At 11 how can they tell who will have a love of politics, of theology, of physics, chemistry etc....

MrsWobble Thu 18-Oct-12 13:22:58

i think you should chill a bit. he's 11 - it's far too early to know which university will suit him - and given the pace of change in education and employment it might not be his best option anyway. i appreciate that the school may identify cohorts, but this is unlikely to be as rigid as you feel - although i can absolutely appreciate how it feels. all children, but particularly boys I think, develop at different paces so determining their future at 11 just isn't possible or sensible (and the rationale behind a lot of hostility to grammar schools)

and do bear in mind that getting in to Oxbridge requires an element of luck, even for the best candidates from schools wiht the best preparation. I can appreciate that Aspergers makes dealing with uncertainty harder but i think the best you can do for him is help him see that there are many many options for him and he should keep as many open for as long as possible.

ReallyTired Thu 18-Oct-12 13:25:41

I think you are applying autistic thinking to this. Your ds may have different ambitions and want to change schools at year 11.

The makers of CATS tests don't even think that their test are accurate enough to predict who will be Oxbridge material in year 7. There is lots of evidence that shows that children's brains mature at different rates. CATs are designed to help pick up learning difficulties like dyslexia. Ie. if a child comes into a state school with level 3s and the CATs tests show the child has an IQ 150 then its possible the child has seriously unachieved due to undiagnosed specific learning difficulites.

CATS tests also test the entire range of intelligence, ie if your child's literacy/verbal ablities have let him down due to autism it could bring down his overal IQ score. He might be able to read maths at Oxbridge, but should avoid doing A-level English.

I imagine that most sensible schools will look at the child rather than CATs results after a few terms. Has your son been put in lower sets? Why don't you ask the school.

homebythesea Thu 18-Oct-12 13:28:25

No experience (but an Oxbridge girl myself!) However moving school seems to me a bit drastic - even if he becomes top of the class elsewhere doesn't mean he will be any cleverer IYSWIM. And he's only 11 FGS - who knows how he will develop and blossom in the next many years? I have a 15 year old who was VERY average at 10/11 but now showing signs of being an A grade student at GCSE and maybe even beyond. Do you think his rigid aim is to do with the fact that he wants to follow in your footsteps? He can't actually know much about a particular Uni surely far less what he wants to study?

FWIW I think you need to explain that having aims is one thing (to be applauded) but sometimes for many reasons you can't always tick everything on the list and things change and he will change and you just need to go with the flow a bit in life generally. Obvs don't have experience with SN as to how easy this might actually be!

wol1968 Thu 18-Oct-12 13:29:57

Can I just say, it's very early to be worrying about Oxbridge entrance? Your son's still only 11 and a huge amount can happen in the seven years or so till university starts. While he has Aspergers and some 'rigidly fixed' life aims at the moment, there are still a few years yet to learn that there are other ways of achieving, that Oxford and Cambridge aren't the be-all and end-all, and that volunteering for a wide range of activities is just as important, if not more so, than grades. Even being a little bit 'odd' (if you'll excuse the word) can be a positive thing, if you know what you're good at.

For the record, I went to Nonsuch in the sixth form, and my feeling about it back then (about 25 years ago) was just like yours about your son's school. I got the feeling that they stratified you, and for a long time I wondered how many others in my year might have got into Oxbridge if they'd had a more supportive attitude. However, I can also add that my brother failed to get into Cambridge. When he got three A's at A-level, another Cambridge college offered him a place. He rejected it and went to Imperial.


Arcticwaffle Thu 18-Oct-12 13:30:36

However bright your child, it's probably wise to make sure they don't set all their hopes on Oxbridge. For every place there are 4 very able and enthusiastic candidates. Most of them won't get in. There's a strong element of luck involved in getting in, as well as ability. As a goal, it's a bit risky.

As a parent I'd be trying hard to show them alternatives. Oxbridge isn't the be all and end all. I did go to Oxford and enjoyed it, but it's not the best for every subject and every student, there are fantastic courses elsewhere in very good unversities.

BusyDad66 Thu 18-Oct-12 14:36:50

I agree that it is may be a bit soon to be worrying about this...

But I do think that there is a concerted effort out there to disadvtange kids who have parents who actually care about their education. As you allude to, if someone goes to a grammar/private/otherwise successful school, they have that counted against them for university admissions. It makes me sick to be honest. Just today on the BBC website there is Alan Milburn talking about lower offers for poor kids and other much nonsense! Your DS goes to a good school that gets lots of kids into Oxbridge...personally I think that should count in their favour when applying as the school obviously prepares its pupils well. Us parents should not have to move our kids to worse schools, and as you say your DS is happy, just because the government fancies a try at social engineering.

Best of luck to your DS, some kids take longer to develop and who is top at 11 is not the same as who is top at 16/17. Let him try stuff he enjoys and instill the value of hard work in him and he will probably surprise even himself.

Sympathique Thu 18-Oct-12 14:49:32

While I agree with the above that it's early days, I'll answer your question. Yes we've been there. One DD went to what I think is called on MN a super-selective. 1st-term assessment put her in the bottom handful (horrid tutor waggled fingers of one hand at me) of the 90-something in the year. [Aside: leave you to imagine how I felt - hadn't had her coached, just did test papers at home, this was never meant to happen].

Guess where she ended up? She had no thoughts of oxbridge at that stage and it only really emerged slightly after GCSE and became a real possibility when AS's followed same trend.

We were told the test results would be used to flag anyone not meeting expectations. I guess DD couldn't do worse than expected, but we were never aware later on that anyone remembered or referred to them. They judged her on how she did during the term and in school exams. Your DS's school may be different, but hope not. Stay strong - he'll get a brilliant education with like-minded souls.

Sympathique Thu 18-Oct-12 14:53:02

Should have said, it wasn't a school that sends 50% to oxbridge either. Think ca. 15 a 100+ 6th form went, some of whom had come from other schools for sixth form. Not boasting, just illustrating that the kind of test your DS did have their limitations - as does any such process.

Yellowtip Thu 18-Oct-12 15:19:00

a) it's nuts to be worrying about it this early.

b) it would be even more nuts to move him from a school where he's really, really happy.

c) the school need have next to nothing to do with his application. The reference is the only point at which it cuts in and the exam results he gets in the next five to six years and the ability he shows in any aptitude tests are still going to weigh far more than any school reference. Apart from which the school will give him a glowing reference, certainly if he deserves it and almost certainly even if he doesn't smile

Copthallresident Thu 18-Oct-12 15:24:01

DDs school was quite rightly ruthless with any parents who mentioned the word Oxbridge before well into Year 12. They would rightly say that they would be supporting their DCs to make the choice that was right for them from amongst the many excellent options. DCs that cope well until GCSE can find the work at the higher level difficult whilst some that did not shine can come into their own.

Also to emphasise what others have said before, just think about the impact of widening access, to women, to schools that didn't traditionally send candidates, to overseas students and those with SLDs and ASD to Oxbridge and top unis. There are many many more able candidates applying and it is more difficult to get into top universities now than it once was to get into Oxbridge. The academics there find it increasingly difficult to select from so many able candidates and certainly in DDs cohort there were very able, 4A*students that did not get in and some not expected to that did, but some of those are doing courses that, if they actually wanted to go on to postgraduate research rather than just have Oxford on their CV, would not have been the best option. Do you really want your son to be aiming for such a narrow, uncertain and possibly even misguided, margin for success and huge chance of percieved failure?

I would facilitate him to indulge his interests, and focus his goals on excellence in those, exposing him to what is going on at other universities, so that he develops a perception of what he wants to aim for that is more aligned with reality. As someone with two DCs with SLDs I would also be focusing on ensuring that being below average in a very able cohort doesn't affect his confidence and that he appreciates he is within the top quartile of the population.

Gigondas Thu 18-Oct-12 15:27:32

Load of rubbish- I wouldn't have been assessed as Oxbridge material at that age (had reasonably conclusive proof in how well I did in entrance exam). But got in - as copthall says its a decision for down the line.

saintlyjimjams Thu 18-Oct-12 15:29:14

Oxbridge is much more about excelling in a single (or limited range) of subjects than overall ability. I am crap at many things and still managed to get in (and didn't even consider it a possibility until after O levels).

I would encourage him to widen his goals though - even if he's a supposed dead cert he isn't guaranteed a place. Anyway there are lot of other universities out there, one of those might suit him better.

EdithWeston Thu 18-Oct-12 15:39:50

Oxbridge entry is far from guaranteed even for those in top streams.

I can't help with most of your enquiries, but I think it would be wrong to move him from a school where you think he is thriving and will continue to thrive; just on the belief that being at another school will somehow improve his changes. I's impossible to guarantee that such a move would help one iota. And his education is as much about the journey over the coming years as it is about the end point.

Kez100 Thu 18-Oct-12 15:54:06

I know a girl who ought to have been a shoe-in for Oxford. A* all the way at GCSE and A level (4 academic subjects) and both schools/colleges were not that great. Grade 8 LAMDA and on an instrument, and the most easy to talk to girl you can imagine. Loads of helping out locally with youngsters (which is how I know her). I honestly thought they would snap her up. She didn't get in.

You have to keep options open and manage his expectations even if only slowly does it.

ReallyTired Thu 18-Oct-12 17:11:51

It may well be that your son would be better at one of the Ivy league universities in the US or prehaps he might want to study in Europe.

Being the bottom third in a super selective is not the same as being bottom third in a normal school. Hard work goes a long way in life.

BlogOnTheTyne Thu 18-Oct-12 17:47:22

Thanks for all the feedback. Yes, I realise it's far too early for him to be thinking about this and I was only telling him last night that at his age, I only wanted to be either David Attenborough or Julie Andrews (this will date me somewhat!!) but hadn't even thought about University and barely realised what University was!

The trouble with DS2 is that he thinks far too far ahead and has already 'studied' the Russell Group Universities, the colleges at Oxbridge and is even trying to finalise what subject he can do - ie either English or Politics or History. As far as I remember, all those subjects are v hard to get into anyway.

He cried when I gently suggested he broaden his horizons to consider other options than Oxbridge. On the other hand, another ambition of his is to run his own successful business and I did talk to him about how many people do this and don't even go to Uni and earn a lot more than I ever will.

I think what's worried me is that, whilst the school have said the assessment tests are only part of the picture and they are also invested in 'value added' for all children, I do get the feeling that being in the third quartile isn't going to mark DS2 out as a high achiever for this school.

The test they use is called the MidYIS (has anyone heard of this?) and measures Maths, Verbal, Non Verbal and exam. type skills. The school is strong on Maths and Science and this is where DS2 has his weakest area.

He's a bit of a whizz at English related subjects and scored high on exam. skills too (because of his rather obsessional, conscientious personality) but you can often score high on Verbal tests if you've had the parental input and the school wanted to check on raw IQ. So if you haven't had a lot of parental input, you may well still do very well in things involving Non Verbal tests and Mathematical skills.

I think therefore that the school will see DS2 as having had helpful parental input but less 'raw ability'. There are some children in his cohort who have had excellent parental input but who are also really genius level at things like Maths and Science. There are others who haven't had as much parental input but are clearly a lot cleverer than DS2. DS2 hasn't a hope of catching up with them.

Je IS a single subject, obsessive kind of person, so in theory, might enjoy studying something he loves at Oxbridge but as everyone agrees, there's so much luck and so many unknown factors involved in Oxbridge and it's still 7 years away before he'd apply! I'm just not wanting him to be 'written off' - in the context of this particular school - so early on.

I did mention Ivy League unis to him. He's got a lot of growing up to do and who knows how he'll turn out. Right now, he's very home orientated and can't imagine going far away but who knows about the future.

Maybe what worries me most is that I've made a mistake in enabling him to go to a v academic school and that this will 'go against him' for many reasons.

lingle Thu 18-Oct-12 18:19:33

Help DS2 to see that he can be happy even if he doesn't achieve one of his 'rigidly fixed' life aims (probably the most important aspect of this whole thing anyway).

too bloody right that's the most important thing ..... am a bit surprised there hasn't been more emphasis on this.

Sympathique Thu 18-Oct-12 19:00:01

"Maybe what worries me most is that I've made a mistake in enabling him to go to a v academic school and that this will 'go against him' for many reasons."

No it's too early to say, & why should the school write anyone off at this stage? They have a staggeringly bright intake. All in all only one point on the graph, wait and see.

homebythesea Thu 18-Oct-12 19:05:35

Wow so much going on here...

You seem to "know" a lot about the skills of his classmates. Do you really or are there lots of boastful Mums?!

Why are you so concerned he be marked out as a high achiever? How will the "marking out" manifest itself? What will it achieve for your D'S. or will he just work exactly the same way, achieve the same marks he was always capable of and not be any the worse off?

You need to work on the expectation management- or secretly is this what you expect of him and you are disappointed he is not top of the class? No shame in that but maybe you need to examine your own feelings here. As I said there might be an element of him thinking this is what you expect of him.

And finally you need to stop over thinking this all and comparing to his classmates- that way madness lies! Yes he may not be in the top sets but in a top selective that merely means he might get a plain A in a couple of subjects instead of A*- he will not end up on the scrap heap!!

Niceweather Thu 18-Oct-12 19:09:35

I wouldn't take the CATS tests too seriously. I would hope that teachers might use them as an initial guide only. There are loads of reasons why you might not do well on them. Gifted kids can over-think questions or being in a room with loads of other kids could distract you. My DS scored 27 points lower on his CATS test than he did on a proper IQ test which is far more accurate. Another friend's son was predicted E Grade GCSEs from his CATS test and ended up with A*s.

GrimmaTheNome Thu 18-Oct-12 19:17:39

Blog - I would take a bet that someone with a 'rather obsessional, conscientious personality' would do better in an academic school than in some others where sadly he might get bullied for such traits.

TheLightPassenger Thu 18-Oct-12 19:19:49

yep, agree with Lingle that for many reasons if you can encourage him to realise that getting an Oxbridge degree isn't the be all and end all that would be wise. It isn't the best for every subject by any means. And some people don't enjoy the Oxbridge experience/teaching system if they do get in.

getting back to the subject in hand, I really would read nothing into these early IQ type tests, noone mentioned the Oxbridge words to me until my first years of A Levels. I completely agree with jimjams that getting into Oxbridge is more about excelling in the relevant subjects to your degree, so if your DS is more inclined towards Arts/Social Science subjects, merely being average at his school at science rather than gifted will not be an issue at all. I have an Oxbridge degree and am absolutely useless at non-verbal intelligence tests, have v little spacial awareness, IQ wise would probably scrape about 120.

In general, I would encourage him to read widely in his areas of interest, a genuine passion for whatever subject he chooses to study will serve him well. Possibly if he is inclined towards Drama/Debating club, that sort of public speaking experience might increased his confidence in general.

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