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How to survive grammar school

(12 Posts)
VitAL Wed 19-Dec-12 09:49:53

Hi all,
I'd appreciate any advice on what to do in our situation. DS went to a good state comp in N London, sat a 6th Form entrance test and got admitted to a very selective grammar school. He does maths, FM, physics and chemistry now.

He had A*s for these subjects at GCSE, got them pretty easily, but is now struggling to cope with the grammar's pace, especially that he missed first three weeks of the autumn term and studied OCR at his comprehensive which is weaker than the grammar's Edexcel. He has only 50-70% for the tests now, and they want him to drop a subject, either FM or chem. It's a very tough decision for us as he needs 4 'hard' AS to apply to a good uni. It's particularly bad in case of chem as he won't be able to sit the exam as a private candidate, he needs to do the experiments etc. Dropping FM is not much better as he wants to read pure maths at uni and they require FM A-level. We hired tutors but it will take time to catch up while the school wants a decision right now. I have a meeting at school today and am really at a loss what to say to them, they are so pressing and we didn't have any experience with grammar schools and their way of doing things...
Any ideas would help.

DS has Asperger's if it matters.


Phineyj Wed 19-Dec-12 10:10:00

I think this is more a question of surviving the university admissions system than grammar school really?

As a grammar school teacher (although not of your DS's subjects) I'd say A* at GCSE means nothing in terms of student achievement in the lower sixth. GCSEs are way easier than AS. By definition the majority of the lower sixth have A*s in the subjects they take in sixth form at a grammar school. Missing the first three weeks of the autumn term is a serious issue though -- I had one student who did that this year (came from another school) and he is still flailing.

Is the urgency because the school wants your DS to sit some modules in January? If not, stand your ground. I think it's unlikely they'd require a final decision on which 3 of the 4 to pursue until later on in the school year. His results in the summer exams will obviously be relevant, and by then the tutors should be able to make an impact.

As regards the ASD, that's not uncommon at a grammar, however, if you haven't already, speak to the SENCO and check that your son's teachers are all aware and are doing what they can to help him. For example, one of my (male) students with ASD responded well to working on a laptop and also needed a lot of reiteration of what had been covered previously, also often needed a prompt to get started as he tended to panic when faced with a blank sheet of paper/screen -- that sort of thing. In relatively small sixth form classes there's no excuse for teachers not making that sort of adaptation (in my school the other students were also v. kind to that student and would do things like look up concepts for him -- not sure what the culture is like in your DS's school and the fact the student was a rare boy among girls may have been relevant in our case).

The ASD may be relevant if there are a lot of unspoken expectations that your DS is not picking up about the school culture e.g. at a grammar sixth formers are (generally) expected to make and organise their notes, read round their subject outside lessons, seek help e.g. from subject clinics or the intranet where they need it and teachers may not make this explicit, especially if the majority of students have come up through the school.

Stay assertive and all will be fine, although you might like to weigh up whether 3 subjects at higher grades will serve your son better than 4 subjects at lower grades -- if his ambition is to study Maths then possibly the Chemistry is the one that should be dropped, as Physics is more closely aligned. He would still have the points from the Chemistry AS to add to the total.

I can ask my DH for advice if you like as he is a university lecturer in Engineering and gets asked those sorts of 'points make prizes' questions about admissions all the time. PM me if you want me to do that, ideally with some indication of what you mean specifically by a 'good uni'.

VitAL Wed 19-Dec-12 11:16:40

Hi Phineyj,

Thank you so much for your reply.

At the moment I don't even think about the university admissions as I'm terrified they might want to get rid of him altogether so that his results don't impair their brilliant statistics, and he will end up nowhere at all... I knew that GCSEs meant nothing, especially when joining a grammar school after spending years in a comprehensive, I just didn't expect the problems would be that serious. Perhaps I was not prepared properly for this.

They don't enter the students for exams in January, at least it's not mandatory, and that's also why I was surprised by the urgency of their demand. They actually gave us time to improve his results until Christmas only, and it became known less than a month ago.

As for their SENCO, they are absolutely brilliant, we've never received so much support at any of DS's former schools and it's rather reassuring, but at the same time the school pursues its results targets which is quite understandable. You actually mentioned one of the issues absolutely correctly, the teachers think he doesn't make enough efforts whereas in reality he studies till 10pm at home every day including weekends. But he never seeks help, that's true, never asks teachers about anything and has a lot of difficulties in organising his notes and studies in general. This is the case with many ASD students as far as I understand, but it seems the school doesn't consider it an excuse. Again, it's quite understandable as they send about 40 students to Oxbridge every year and want to maintain the standards. We only need to figure out how to survive in this environment.

Thank you very much for your offer of advice on uni admissions, I will PM you after the meeting at school, with more information.

Thank you!

Phineyj Wed 19-Dec-12 13:00:16

You're welcome. Seeing it from the school's perspective a little: they are under the cosh, as grammars are judged very much on their results (yet have much more restricted resources than independents). Your son is an unknown quantity to them and is currently working at B-D level based on what you say about test scores.

In some ways the fact they are picking up what they see as a problem and taking early action is quite encouraging, as it means they are trying to do something while there is still time to make a difference. A lot of schools wait until the AS results come out and then some students will end up repeating year 12, dropping out, or wasting a lot of Y13 with a string of retakes.

Year 12s don't always realise how important the AS results are for UCAS. We teachers can often see problems really quite early in year 12 (certainly by half term) and are reliant on the sixth form team to take an overview, as we don't necessarily know if the student is struggling across all subjects.

The SENCO sounds great -- perhaps go back and see her and see if there are ways your DS can work smarter not just harder so to speak -- studying every day till 10pm is a lot, he must be exhausted! At least it sounds like there are no problems with his work ethic...

Try not to see it as a them and us thing or that they're somehow wanting your DS to fail.

By the way, I didn't mean that A*s from a comp were any different to A*s scored by your DS's new classmates at the grammar -- just that GCSE is not a great predictor of A level performance as they are too easy for the brighter students. At sixth form it's the independent study skills and ability to be strategic that really start to matter and GCSE doesn't prepare for that very well.

Phineyj Wed 19-Dec-12 13:01:14

Hmm, I am being sexist, there must be male SENCOs not that I've met one!!

NamingOfParts Wed 19-Dec-12 13:21:12

I would second the 'stand your ground' comment. The school knew where your DS had come from so shouldnt be surprised. It isnt simply that there is a big gap between GCSE it will also be that the continuing GS students will have almost certainly started some AS standard work during the last part of year 11.

Also your DS will have studied a different syllabus perhaps with a more teach to the test attitude.

My DD moved from a down at heel comp to a highly successful sixth form in a different school. She has had to work extremely hard just to catch up. However she is now starting to reap the rewards and all that highly motivated work ethic is starting to show returns as her results are matching and surpassing her continuing colleagues.

Do keep up a dialogue with the staff and also make sure that individual teachers are aware of any specific help your DS needs - schools are not always good at communicating amongst themselves.

Also, do encourage your DS to ask for help as soon as needs it. This will set him in good stead for university study.

oldpeculiar Wed 19-Dec-12 15:08:10

Can I just say my DS who is now in upper 6th is doing the same subjects at GS.He and many of his friends found things suddenly clicked when they started doing past papers.Yes they whizz through the syllabus for sure, but that means there is plenty of time for exam practice
Be warned though the jump from AS to A2 in physics and chemistry is a big one too!

NewFerry Wed 19-Dec-12 17:41:50

Hi, both my sons studied theses 4 subjects (plus geog/RM at AS)
I would be extremely concerned if either had been working till 10pm each night. sad
You say your DS missed the first 3 weeks of term, perhaps the Xmas break will give him the opportunity to catch up?
But honestly, it's going to be a very long 2 years for him if he's having to work that hard. Do please consider the effects on his emotional health here, there has to be a sensible work/life balance. Sorry if that sounds very negative, but I see from my eldest who is now in his second year at Uni, just how much harder the work is at university level.

VitAL Fri 21-Dec-12 00:30:17


Thanks all for your advice and support. Looks like DS will have to drop FM at school to continue it privately. It turned out yesterday the school wanted him to drop both FM and chem leaving him with just two A-levels which is unacceptable, obviously. They say doing maths in one year is too fast for him even though he just got gold at senior maths challenge. Well, I managed to persuade them to keep chemistry on his timetable, though we initially planned to do it just at AS and now DS will have to continue it to A-level... Not good, as he finds it hardest and doesn't need it for a pure maths at uni. We'll definitely continue maths and FM with the tutor and DS will probably sit the maths exam this summer, together with the FM class. Not sure if dropping one subject will solve the problem of his adaptation but we'll see how it goes.

The school is extremely helpful in regard to his ASD, they did their own investigation re. special provisions I even didn't know about, and I cannot thank them enough for that so there is no feeling "us and them", it's more like feeling trapped in formal requirements of a GS and uni and not being able to fit perfectly into the standard scheme due to the diagnosis. Surprisingly, they didn't rule out a possibility of writing him a recommendation to Oxbridge despite his poor grades at the moment. They say he's a very able maths student and would probably perform well at an interview but as they see it now he'll need more time to show results at formal tests. The thing is Oxbridge is not DS's first choice, he was fascinated by Imperial, goes to its summer schools every year and absolutely loves it. But Imperial doesn't do interviews and considers formal grades only.

DS is exhausting himself studying that much, he's losing weight and sleep and I'm really concerned about him, but I cannot make him stop studying as ASD people tend to be too focused and rigid in what they do, and DS is almost obsessed with maths. It's really sad he has to drop FM and I just need to find some other way for him to do maths at uni. At the moment it looks like he might fail his own aspirations due to inability to cope with the pressure of formal requirements.

NewFerry Fri 21-Dec-12 08:35:06

Just a thought, but if your DS is taking the whole maths syllabus in Y12, at school, could he do FM in Y13 at school? That way he could forget about FM this year, and focus on the other 3.

Or, drop chemistry in Y12, and look at picking it up in Y 13 but just to AS?

Or, drop both Chem and FM in Y12, do the EPQ after the exams this summer, (to give him his AS), then take up FM in Y13?

Actually, that's a lot of "thoughts" blush hopefully one of them might be helpful!

creamteas Fri 21-Dec-12 08:54:49

Not sure if your DS is like my ASD DC, but if he is changing schools alone would be enough to put back his grades. Mine took a long time to settle into each new schools, and with the pressure full on in sixth form it is not surprising that he is struggling.

I lecture at a uni, and have also witnessed several ASD DC struggle with the jump from school, not because of their grades or potential, but because the culture shift is enormous.

We have a really proactive disability unit, and offer the opportunity for lots of transition work. This works really well especially if they take a gap year. When looking for unis, I would strongly suggest you investigate what support can be offered.

If the AS's are not brilliant, write on his UCAS form that the change of school impacted on his grades. A 'good uni' will take this into consideration because of his disability, and still make an offer as long as his predictions are in line with their entry grades. If they don't, it might not be the place for him!

oldpeculiar Fri 21-Dec-12 10:05:38

I think he should consider dropping chemistry.That would give him more free periods at school which he is really going to do if he is doing FM in his own time.

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