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Grammar school - pros/cons, letting DD try(73 Posts)
We live in a relatively deprived area of a very diverse city. I have 5DDs. My 4 oldest DDs all went to a classic inner city comprehensive - over 60% FSM, 91% English not first language. This is standard in the comprehensives across the city.
About a half an hour train journey out of the city is a grammar school. A totally different demographic - ridiculously white, overwhelmingly middle class, and all girls (an all boys is down the road, there is some crossover I believe). None of my older DDs ever expressed any interest, however it just so happens that’s DD5’s best friend’s big sister is at the grammar. This means that DD5’s three best friends are all planning on taking the test - one of them is starting tutoring for it in January, the other two have already begun past paper/question books.
I disagree with segregated education on principle, however DD has approached me asking if she too could look at the grammar and sit the 11+ as she doesn’t want to be left out - she’s worried her friends will all go to one school and she’ll be on her own at another. It would be massively inconvenient (long journey, longer school day) and the school is apparently awful for sports and arts (DD is very sporty and musical), and I’m not sure DD’s reasons for wanting to look (friends) are sensible. But should I give her free choice and let her sit the test anyway? What are people’s general experiences of grammar schools that almost exclusively focus on education?
I disagree with segregated education on principle,
I am with you on that but remember your DD will be part of a segregated education system. The grammar school test just decides which part of the segregated system she's part of.
Whether you should let her would depend massively. Is she likely to have a good shot? Would she have any other outlets for her sport/art/music?Would she cope with the long day/long journey? Would she struggle if she was nearer the bottom of a bright bunch? Also would she be able to concentrate in a big loud comprehensive or be likely to get involved with disruptive behaviour? Or would she flourish being the brightest of a mixed crowd?
My experience is that grammar schools can be pressured environments that suit some and not others. My local girls grammar I think doesn't do enough to protect the mental health of their students and doesn't react well to issues (it's their way or the highway) I couldn't tell you if that is standard though. But then my local "comprehensives" (really secondary moderns) are just awful (crowded, unsafe, no provision for more academic children, terrible bullying) so I'd probably be willing to put up with a lot to avoid them.
I have one son at comprehensive and One at grammar. I think you and DD need to try and get a feel for the school before committing. When would she be taking the test? Next autumn? Is there an open day before then? Wanting to be with her friends and included in what they do is understandable and a good reason, but might not be enough to carry her through the process. It will depend to an extent on how selective the school is, and how academic she is. Try and elicit other reasons and ask yourself honestly whether she is up to the exam process and has a reasonable chance of passing. If so, the 11 plus exams forum has excellent forums with loads of useful info. But be warned some of the parent son there seem to make it their life’s work to get their kid into grammar school!
I’m fairly confident she’d get in - she’s one of just 4 year 5s in top set maths, and from that she’s the only one on the ‘top table’ and in other subjects she and her best friend (the one who has a sister at the grammar) are always the two given the hardest topics/work in her class (the teacher has to give out 7 or 8 different tasks usually to cater for all abilities). I think even at grammar school she’d be mid range ability at least - she’s certainly almost scarily bright.
However, she’s also very sociable, very sporty, very musical. The grammar school has a good art department (she’s not artistic in the slightest) fantastic STEM (never shown any interest in tech/engineering stuff) but horrendous PE facilities and barely any music ensembles - frustratingly the two extra curriculars that would interest her!
The test would be next autumn, yes, so we have a while to thrash it out.
The comprehensive my DDs attend is wonderful and has served them all amazingly. Fabulous, rounded education and a brilliant and diverse student body. Pulled itself up from an ofsted “inadequate” to “good” against all the odds. Part of me was just excited to get an extra three years with a DD at the school
If this is a super selective (and I’m guessing from the 30min train journey it probably is) then before you embark check what scores your DD would need to get in. My nearest girls super selective has a very high entry requirement, minimum around 95% on each paper, as opposed to just selective which is around 80-85% on each paper.
I'ld let her try if she wants to.
My DD went to one in y7 and hated it but at least been there done that. Academically teaching at much higher level than comp she's moved to but it was all about the academics there, poor on after school, socialising, pastoral care. Every school is different though. The ones by us are incredibly difficult to get into as some people pay for a tutor for 3 years or so to get their kids in so some very bright not tutored kids don't get in. It's around the top girl and top boy in each primary by us.
FWIW my DS1s comprehensive is ofsted outstanding. It is in my view a good school, that tries very hard to meet the needs of a very broad base of students. The grammar however probably meets DS2 s needs best. There’s no disruption, the facilities are good, the other kids are all motivated and the teaching is excellent. He is academic and I have no doubt it’s the best school for him.
He was top table throughout primary, but still had to work to get in to the GS and actually only got in via the waiting list. He had English prep from me and maths tutoring once a week from a teacher friend. I found out recently nearly all his classmates were professionally tutored, and many were at prep schools which give help with the 11 plus. Don’t underestimate how determined some parents are, nor the lengths they’ll go to to prep their kids. The GSs play it down but the competition is fierce.
I’m fairly confident she’d get in
The test would be next autumn, yes, so we have a while to thrash it out.
It is worth bearing in mind the 'arms race' that takes place in selectiove and partially selective areas. In particular, in a partially selective area with a few superselective grammar school, being on the top table in primary is absolutely not sufficient on its own to enable a child to pass.
- Some children will have been at private primaries whose 'selling point' is that they prepare for / lead up to the 11+ from the age of 4.
- The vast majority of successful applicants will have had either paid-for or home tutoring - 1 year is very common (basically a bnew batch start with tutors as soon as the previous year's exam is done), 2 years not unknown - specifically on what the test requires.
- This is on top of virtually all successful applicants being 'top table' pupils in whatever primary that they attend.
You have a number of options:
- Dssuade her.
- Visit, do a little familiarisation and put her in for the test 'in case'. The most likely outcome will not be success (if it is a superselective) but it will satisfy your DD's wish to 'have a go'.
- Visit, decide it is a really good fit for your DD and you want her to go - in which case you will then have to commit to intensive home or paid-for tutoring from as soon as possible, if you can find a tutor with a vacancy.
Let her look and try. I think she would hold it against you if you put your principles ahead of her free choice. I wouldn't want to suppress her goals, which though they may be ideologically misplaced (to you), they are positive.
I would also buy practice papers and help her prepare from an exam technique perspective. Eleven plus exams forum will help you get the right materials - they vary hugely across grammars. I am in Essex and our exam is mostly focussed on the same maths and English they learn in school so is quite accessible to all. Many, many girls travel 30mins on the train to school.
Absolutely go and look with DD. FInd out if you can go to an open working morning in the next couple of months and visit - it's very hard to decide anything without doing this. Go and try and do this with an open mind.
Grammars are usually heavily populated by the middle class from affluent areas. I don't know if you consider yourself middle class and it doesn't really matter, but Grammars are really keen for those from the less usual areas to apply and get places. I don't know if your DD is pupil premium or has been in the last 5 years, but if so, some schools have places for pupil premium children to try and increase diversity and access.
And what a PP says about how competitive some grammars can be and the preparation some families carry out is true........but don't let this out you off if you think it's a good option your DC. Too many people from areas where few children enter for 11+ decide the process is not for 'people like us'. Instead, gather lots of knowledge about it all - what is involved in the exam, what do the school think about her ability and chances, what sort of familiarisation could you provide for her and how much are you willing rondo with all this. Don't be put off by stories of people spending 10 hours a week preparing their kids, but do appreciate some familiarisation will be needed to give her a chance and just being 'top table' doesn't make it a sure thing.....so manage expectations too - being hopeful and positive, but not invested to a ridiculous extent.
It may be that after visiting you decide the Comp the siblings went to is the best option. You've been very positive about it and it could be a good fit for your DD too. But the Grammar might be better and you will have to decide if the issues of travel and preparing for the exam are worth it for the possible gains the school might offer.
Go and see....only then can you make an informed decision.
And it's refreshing to see a parent who doesn't automatically think Grammar=best. But stay open minded and don't decide just yet that Grammar isn't best either.
The school isn’t crazily competitive - DD1’s year 5 took the test, 2 passed, DD2’s year 9 took the test and 5 passed, DD3’s year 4 took the test and 1 passed. Everyone who passes seems to get in, sometimes on a waiting list I believe they set a pass mark based on the in area childrens’ performances.
If I put her in and she fails that’s okay too - but she’s literally in the top 6 for maths and top 4 for English out of 120 kids, which is as big as the grammar school’s whole yeargroup, so I’d be somewhat surprised. It’s just English, maths, and verbal reasoning.
I’m mostly worried about her getting in and wanting to go because of her friends. I know it’s not as good as a school (good for art and STEM - neither interest her, poor for music and sport - both are hobbies) - the progress 8 is worse, the facilities are worse, the student body is far less diverse and interesting. It feels like it wouldn’t be a very accurate representation of the real world. If she really does want to go then I suppose the verdict here is that I’ll just have to let her, it just feels weird giving a 10 year old so much power over her future when I know she’s going to be swayed by friendships!
Either way I won’t be tutoring her - I’ll buy her practise papers if she asks for them but I’d like her to get in fairly, and as we’re out of area she’s not directly competing anyway. She’d just need a pass.
I’m a teacher and went to grammar school so we are quite middle class, but my eldest 3 DDs are adopted (2 are mixed race so the lack of racial diversity in the grammar frustrates me) and because I’m from Northern Ireland I saw first hand how ridiculously unjust the grammar system is - I was one of 7, the 3 of us who passed the 11+ went onto university, the 4 who failed had dropped out by 16. Our lives were unfairly mapped out by that one test. Thus as a family we’ve always been very socially conscious and aware of advantage.
I will take her to look with an open mind, and will of course support her if she says it’s what she wants. I’ll just have to hope it’s for the right reasons... in our last discussion about it the only pro she could think of was that she likes trains and she’d want to be in the same classes as her best friend.
Before you do anything else, I'd check the admissions criteria if the school to be sure that you'd get a place if DD were successful. I live in Bucks and so many people from out of county qualify and then don't get places because they simply live too far away.
Hmm... don't know. DS got into our local grammar school and isn't happy as its poor on drama and DT (his two favourites non-academic subjects) and PE IMO opinion is lacking too, he loved playing in the team at his prep school and now doesn't. Teaching in some subjects isn't great either.
But we have the opportunity to transfer him to one of the top independent secondary schools in the UK.
How have your other children got on in the comp? Can you replicate the stuff that she likes outside school? If she didn't enjoy it, would it be easy to get into the comprehensive?
At least let her try I would say. You don’t have to decide until she is offered a place.
With regards to sport, if she is really keen on a particular sport there should be an opportunity to participate outside of school. This also has the added benefit of extending her friendship network and depending on the sport get to handout with some boys. My DD is at an all girls school but participates in a sport at a club with boys too which has been really good for her.
People do regularly get in from here - it’s not a crazily competitive grammar. As I said, in older DDs’ years there’s always a couple at least. Prep schools aren’t really a thing around here - I only know of two private primary schools that aren’t connected to secondaries and neither are very well regarded.
Currently she only does athletics and choir at school. But after school she currently does swimming twice a week starting at 6, running once at 6.30 and climbing once at 6.30. She’d only be getting home from school at 5 after a train journey and uphill walk. Local school she’d be home by 4, and that’s walking at a leisurely pace and time-wasting like older DDs... I’ve just got a lot of concerns about it. Older DDs have all enjoyed being part of school orchestras/netball/cross country/triathlon/dance teams and it seems to really help inter year friendships develop too. School productions as well - this school just doesn’t do that! All 4 DDs have loved being heavily involved with school productions (writing, directing, in the band, acting, dancing, choreographing) and DD5 is into break dance and music so could definitely get involved. Such a fun experience to miss out on.
She’s very very bright but she’s not especially academically motivated - she works hard and likes doing well but it’s not like she wants to go to the school because she’s keen about getting top grades and wants to be surrounded by conscientious students. Most of her friends are a) boys and b) actually a bit naughty... it’s just the best friend she’s following.
Hang on- are you saying the progress 8 at the grammar is worse than the comp? In that case what is the point? And how do the other stats look: attainment 8, average A level score, destinations after a level? Not all grammar schools give great added value. It sounds like it's a case of letting her decide, but of course you can guide that decision and if in your heart of hearts you think the GS isn't right for her, put forward the points which you've mentioned here. Make her feel it's her decision ;).
Attainment is much higher but obviously they have a much higher start point - all the stats I can find are below.
Grammar - 99%
Comp - 54%
Including English and Maths
Grammar - 95%
Comp - 35%
Grammar - 72.6
Comp - 40.1
Grammar - +0.78
Comp - +0.91
A level average point score
Grammar - 39.6
Comp - 29.7
Grammar - 16.1:1
Comp - 14:1
Grammar - 3.1%
Comp - 65.1%
English as a Second Language
Grammar - 2.1%
Comp - 91%
Grammar - 7.3%
Comp - 11.1%
So I think (with my biased viewpoint) from stats it’s clear the comp is the superior option really... but stats and reason don’t mean much when you’re 10!! Apparently being with your best friend is the most important thing about secondary school...
The stats seem to suggest that the comp does a very good job of raising the kids’ standards from a not so good baseline. For ESL, is that correct or is the figure at the comp 9.1% not 91%? It’s also a very high pupil premium. I think the main thing is you don’t want your DD’s potential wasted. Do you know what provision the comp school makes for very able kids? Worth asking them, and also maybe asking some parents with academically gifted kids.
Agreed about the best friend thing. But with 4 secondary school kids “ under your belt” you’ll know how quickly friendships can be lost, and made when you’re an 11 year old...
Have you asked these questions on the eleven plus exams forum? If you say where you are people might be able to advise more easily.
Also, most children find new friends pretty quickly at secondary school, so going because your friends are is not a valid choice! Hard for her to see that too.
It is 91%! Most of the pupils are of an ethnic minority. Very small white British population in our part of the city and a big programme (linked with the university) bringing refugee children into the school.
The comp has been great for my elder 3 - oldest 2 are very academically gifted and achieved straight A*s/9s + 8s at GCSE. Perhaps somewhat lacking in students with high university aspirations but the school is definitely doing what they can to counter that.
In DD’s year there were 4 A*s awarded at A level - 3 were hers. The fourth was a boy doing maths A level plus IT Level 3. Less than half of them did 3 A levels - most do a combo or just vocational. Two girls got AAB I believe and were the other high achievers for the year, and a boy got 2As and a BTEC D*. The results are undisputedly less classically academic than the grammar’s, but they’re definitely strides more impressive given the demographic.
I think I would try and keep an open mind as far as your DD is concerned. Look at both schools get some practice papers but no need for private tutoring.
It’s great you have an alternative to the GS that you are happy with and great you think DD is bright enough to pass the entrance test and has friends also up for it. After your visits make a list for and against and come early year 6 your child should be mature enough to explain where they most want to go and why.
I have one DC at a GS and have found it to be a very positive experience thus far he has had fab experiences and opportunities, has made a lot of friends (due to smaller intake and only four classes in his year) and he is very confident, articulate and well rounded (drama and PE are also fab but he isn’t particularly interested in either). I have another DC at a large local outstanding comp she is less bright than her older sibling and refused to sit the rest or consider it. She had a really hard time with bullying in the first two years and some of the people she has in classes sound dreadful she has had far less opportunities in terms of travel and trips and she hasn’t really made any friends she sees outside school.
So overall the GS has been a much more positive experience. DS has a similar train journey longer school day which was extremely hard the first term but after that he got used to it. He is year 10 now and I asked if he might consider local comp for 6th form and he wouldn’t entertain that idea.
It’s a difficult one because we looked around the grammar school for DDs 1 and 4 and both turned up their noses (and again at sixth form - DD1 actually went to the school for almost three weeks at the beginning of year 12 before deciding it wasn’t for her!). DDs 2 and 3 didn’t even want to look - they loved DD1’s school from the off. It feels like I already know this school isn’t the right fit for DD, and from everything I know about it (ie the totally lack of music and drama, the poor sports facilities/provision) I just know it can’t offer what the comp can.
The comp has also just been so wonderful and supportive with my older DDs, even when they’ve had tough times/been a bit difficult to accommodate. I just really love the school. And I remember looking around the grammar school last year (with DD4) and we both said it felt like a weird grade factory - totally academia focused.
They have their information/open evening in July so if she’s still talking about it then I’ll take her along. She can do past papers over summer if she decides she wants to give it a go (and if she’s not willing to work for it then I’d say it’s not for her and she doesn’t want it that much...).
I just really worry that her reasons for considering it aren’t sensible. As PP said - I’ve seen first hand how friendships change at secondary school. Following one friend is never going to end well, realistically...
It sounds like visiting the GS might be enough to put your DD off, if she sees all the facilities it doesn't have that she'd enjoy. It sounds like you've got your heart set on the comp, and it sounds like a fantastic school. If I were you I think I would be trying very hard to dissuade your daughter, and I might even consider just saying no. But then I don't really think that 10 year olds are qualified to choose schools - it's hard enough for parents, with all the additional knowledge and experience they've got. I don't like the GS system much, but I'm not completely anti it, as my DS will be going to one! But if I had a state option that's as good a fit for him as the comp sounds for your daughter, then I don't think we'd have done 11+.
Her older siblings might be the best for her to discuss with then, but do take her to see the grammar so she has all the info. And reassure her that she and friends can continue to see each other even if they do end up in different schools.
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