Advanced search

When to begin preparing for 11+ grammar? Should I hire a tutor? What are the alternatives?

(37 Posts)
helidad Thu 19-Nov-20 15:37:28

We're based in London and our DS is currently at an independent prep school. The teachers seem able but despite the fees, I'm getting concerned the focus in year 5 is really on entry to independent senior schools (understandably) and that doesn't always mean following the national curriculum.

We may apply to some independent seniors but I'm increasingly thinking grammar might be the best way forward if we can get a place! DS is able and while I'm convinced 90%+ of his year are being privately tutored, we haven't felt it necessary...until now!

I know next to nothing about grammar school entry. We're looking at QE Barnet and a few others. All of the London grammars appear to be hyper competitive. So for any parents who have been through the process (even if you're outside of London), I'd love to hear:

1) when you really started preparing for 11+
2) if you hired a tutor, how did you know they had the relevant skills!
3) has ANYONE had success without hiring a tutor?
4) are there (preferably) cheaper alternatives that you'd recommend.

I'm concerned about reasoning in particular but tbh, English could do with some work too based on recent reports!

Thank you in advance!

OP’s posts: |
Carpetflowers Thu 19-Nov-20 15:45:51

I live in Herts and many parents seem to get a tutor when their child is in year 4.
Some tutors are know locally as the go to person for certain schools , it’s worth asking locally for recommendations and then asking them their success rates.

Fleabagster Thu 19-Nov-20 19:46:05

I’m not in London but we found out my son passed the 11+ this week and we didn’t tutor. However, we did buy some books and practice papers and he did about an hour a week over the summer holidays.
Find out what type of exam it is (e.g. CEM), order some books and see how much your child can do independently. That will give you a good starting point.

whataboutbob Thu 19-Nov-20 20:59:10

Every kid is different but my son got in to a Sutton super selective without tutoring. Mostly because I wasn’t on the inside track with the tutoring parents, and couldn’t find anyone. BUT I started prepping him in year 4. That involved weekly sessions doing English related stuff with me- exercises in CGP books, reading Agatha Christie at bedtime, reading the newspapers. A wonderful friend was prepping her daughter and she took him for maths sessions ( she’s a teacher). As date got closer I did past papers. Manchester grammar school publishes its past papers online for free and apparently they are similar to Sutton grammars, esp in maths. The Sutton grammars never release past papers and there’s a lot of secrecy and frankly bullshit from the schools which pretend you don’t need tutoring, just to be an able student.
A good place to start is the 11 plus forum which will have info on the exam structure and content ( English and maths vs verbal and non verbal) for your target schools. Good luck.

Wigeon Thu 19-Nov-20 21:30:35

SW Herts consortium entry.

1) hired a tutor in Y5, £25 for an hour once a week until the summer hols. Exam was right at the start of Y6.

2) Word of mouth! Tutor was a primary school teacher near retirement. I’m not sure she was a massive 11+ expert but she was very kind and gentle and not pushy, and just gave DD loads of practice, and taught her quick ways of doing maths, so DD didn’t have to use the laborious methods taught at school, when doing the 11+.

3) people definitely get in without tutoring and it’s impossible to know if DD would have. I think she might have, but we didn’t want to risk it.

4) cheaper is to DIY using the widely available test books available. The 11+ forum has tonnes of info, altho also has people who have been tutoring since their DC were in nappies etc...

We just thought that trying to do it ourselves would inevitably lead to arguments and tears from both DD and us! You might have more patience/a more compliant DC!

nospampls Thu 19-Nov-20 23:42:49

QE Barnet is one of the most competitive grammars - getting in is more about speed plus accuracy (i.e. exam technique and familiarity) rather than simply being "bright" or "top sets in maths & eng".

As to whether your DC needs tutoring and in what manner is something you will know better. I took the attitude it's much better to be overprepared than regret not doing enough hence started my DS doing weekly Bond/CGP/AE/FPTP books during start of year 5 and daily during the summer lockdown.

Sue2rescue Fri 20-Nov-20 12:38:22

@helidad I feel your pain. We were in a similar position and without a scholarship (albeit financially not great) I think we would have gone with the grammar option. I think QE Barnet and some of the other London grammars are actually a lot tougher to get into than even the top independent schools - Westminster / St Paul's etc. At least my DS ended up not quite getting a place with our grammar top choice but did get offered a scholarship to one of the top London independent schools.

I'm sure this is also the case potentially even more so outside of London where independent schools are less competitive but the grammars (mostly) still attract a lot of children every year for not many places.

My advice having been there and done that - basically agree with @Wigeon

1 & 2) start thinking about hiring a (really) good tutor in Year 5 if you can. Don't be afraid to tell the tutor it's not working out if you don't see improvements after a few weeks. £25 seems like a very reasonable price. We started by going through an agency and being charged an absolute fortune only for the tutor to quit after 2 sessions because they 'got another job'. We ended up speaking to one of the teachers at our DS's school who we knew was fantastic and while he was still more than £25 per hour, without the agency fee, he was still a lot less than we were paying before.

My advice - don't just accept someone 'charming' but do some brief research yourself and don't be afraid to quiz the tutor a little bit before they start. Keep it very polite so the tutor doesn't feel uneasy but when you're being charged X per hour, I think it's okay to check they actually have some understanding!

3) I do know other families who have been successful without private tutoring but to be honest, those parents seem to have the time and expertise to spend some productive time with their children preparing for these tests. Ask yourself if you can spare the time and do you actually know how to approach a question in non verbal reasoning!

4) Resources: in this order a) great tutor b) if it's an online test we found Atom Learning the most helpful for reasoning especially (expensive per month but obviously nothing compared to tutor cost). You shouldn't need to folk out hundreds of pounds to teach VR and NVR. Start early, and a really good online resource will do the job. Atoms videos for NVR proved esp helpful. 3) Bond online - good question bank. 4) Galore Park if you are looking at the independent sector esp for ISEB - they have a partnership with ISEB which is obviously important. 5) your child's teachers will probably know some good ones, so go with what the teachers recommend. There are so many out there but teacher endorsement means a lot!

user145964508 Fri 20-Nov-20 12:56:51

In a similar situation, DS is in Yr 5 and we're aiming for one of the very selective London grammar schools (he's at a local state where there was no teaching/learning during the lockdown).

@whataboutbob For the Sutton grammar schools, since they don't have past papers, which papers did you use? Thanks

nospampls Fri 20-Nov-20 13:40:31

You need to decide which grammar is your first choice and prep accordingly. For example, QE is a one stage Eng & Maths multiple choice - focus on speed with maths and eng comprehension. If the primary target is Tiffin plus independents, then you will also need to focus on the written / creative writing.

Some parents define "tutoring" as hiring an external tutor - technically my DS wasn't "tutored" but I spent more time than a tutor "teaching" / "preparing" him for his 11+.

whataboutbob Fri 20-Nov-20 16:34:30

For Sutton we used Manchester grammar school past papers esp for maths, and also the sample questions in the CGP books.

Stokey Fri 20-Nov-20 18:20:31

My dd1 just did an exam for a competitive London grammar. We didn't do that much prep, started doing practice papers in June, and then got her a tutor in July for an hour a week. We did find the papers had stuff she hadn't covered in school (but state primary with 4 months out over lockdown). Actually I think the English was where the tutor added most value, particularly the creative writing. But if your son is already at an independent prep I would have thought they have already covered the necessary curriculum and been doing practice papers. The grammars tests aren't that different in content to the independent schools from what I can tell.

wouldlikeapuppy Fri 20-Nov-20 19:44:24

I'm thinking that if you're in a prep school, there shouldn't be much need for extra work. The tutoring/non-tutoring debate is a bit misleading. It is about extra work or not. Someone that has a tutor an hour a week is doing less than someone doing an hour a day themselves with their DC.

Coming from a state primary, we did an hour a week with a local tutor. Nothing over school holidays. 2 revision sessions over the summer holidays. But I would expect a prep school to be ahead of the state curriculum and also prepare the students with exam technique. We found a local tutor at a decent price (much less than any agency tutor) that was recommended but untested. We went with our gut feeling and it seemed to have paid off (the tutor is now very sought after smile)

My DC is in a co-ed grammar with boys who also passed the QE exam (we never tried for QE because DC only wanted co-ed). DC also did some indie exams (successfully) and didn't find them very different.

HighRopes Fri 20-Nov-20 22:17:02

My dd got into a super selective London grammar with an hour or so home preparation per week in Y5 (and a bit more in the summer holiday before Y6) focusing on exam technique, the Y6 maths curriculum she hadn’t yet covered, and NVR. That focus was because she was stronger in English than in Maths. We also paid for a mock test in exam conditions (somewhere in Sutton - it may have been the official Sutton grammar mocks) to give her the experience of how it would be as she’d never done an exam before. She was at a good state primary, not a prep. So it is doable.

wouldlikeapuppy Fri 20-Nov-20 22:46:06

Sorry forgot too that the tutoring was in Yr5. As the primary had no homework, it wasn't too much for DC with that one hour of tutoring.

EasternDailyStress Fri 20-Nov-20 22:49:52

I find all of this really sad. When I took my 11+ exam many years ago, we were just handed a test one day and took it.

There was no planning, or practising or tutoring. I think, if we still need to have grammar schools in this day and age, that it should be based on assessment over the child's school career, not just base it on who can afford extra tuition.

karmi2010 Fri 20-Nov-20 23:42:08

A probably very silly question but still smile I keep reading about «tutor for 1 hour a week “ - does it mean just that, 1 hour with a tutor and that’s it? Or does it actually mean 1 hour with a tutor plus another 5 hours a week Doing the homework/test/past papers given by that tutor?

wouldlikeapuppy Sat 21-Nov-20 01:23:38

@karmi2010 I'd say DC spent about another 60-90 minutes a week at home max. And since DC went to a primary with no homework, I didn't feel that was too much.

@EasternDailyStress Yes, the past was always better. I come from a country where this malarkey doesn't exist at all and IMHO that is even better. But you accept what's available or you move. Simple as.

Anyway, I think the work needed (or not) varies between areas. If you're in a proper grammar school area, the competition for each place is less unlike the super-selective London ones.

Also, as the children are being tested on the Yr6 curriculum at the start of Yr6, what options do you have unless you come from an indie that is ahead? Should the grammar schools only be for children coming from indies? I don't know if all grammar schools have it, but I know schools where they have different scores required if a child is on FSM to try to even out opportunities to prepare due to finances.

Zodlebud Sat 21-Nov-20 09:30:39

If your child is at a good prep and top sets then you will find they have probably covered all the topics they need for the grammar 11+.

It then is just a case of familiarity with the exam format, types of questions, exam technique, speed and accuracy. All of this really can be done at home if you have the time and patience if you just buy some books e.g. CGP ones

My daughter was the only one at her prep who wasn’t formally tutored and the head told us we were being very brave as EVERYONE else was. He was very supportive of us as he felt very strongly that she was Grammar material and wished more parents would listen to the school with regards suitability. So many children are put through these tests who are heavily tutored and have, quite frankly, miserable lives in the run up to the exams and then don’t make the grade. It’s heartbreaking.

Anyway, she passed with flying colours and it didn’t feel at all stressful. She went through the “how to” CGP books for VR and NVR and then we mainly used the 10 minute tests books. She did no more than an hour a week. In the summer holidays she did some full length tests twice a week and that was it.

I can understand time short parents or those who don’t feel they have the skills turning to tutors to help prepare though. For us we just didn’t need one.

Oh, and don’t dismiss all the prep your child is doing at school for independent school admissions. There is a lot of overlap.

NobleElephantheThird Sat 21-Nov-20 09:41:22

I know tons of educated people who didn’t hire a tutor. But you do need to make your child do the relevant past papers and go through mistakes and get them up to scratch on speed/accuracy. The best thing to do first is get hold of past papers for the school you are targeting and work out from there which books to practise with (especially understanding which exam board eg CEM vs GL). Exam technique is also very important. I have also witnessed people spend a fortune on tutors etc for upper average kids who then struggle. With a clever child and exam focus it really doesn’t have to be that much work. We also found sitting a mock exam in the summer term very helpful. They grade you relative to others so if in May you are ranking 50/1000 you know your child will be fine. Again mock exam providers tailor mock exams to the applicable schools. You should get tons of information on the 11 plus forum.

wouldlikeapuppy Sat 21-Nov-20 10:32:23

It's the prep that is important, not if there's a tutor or not involved. I also saw the tutor as an opportunity to see if DC was responsible enough to manage it all without my involvement (I personally don't believe in "bribing" with money or game time). I reckon that is much more important for future "success".

Wigeon Sat 21-Nov-20 12:59:24


A probably very silly question but still smile I keep reading about «tutor for 1 hour a week “ - does it mean just that, 1 hour with a tutor and that’s it? Or does it actually mean 1 hour with a tutor plus another 5 hours a week Doing the homework/test/past papers given by that tutor?

DD did the one hour a week with the tutor, plus a small amount of homework/practice papers. Maybe half an hour a week on that? And no other practice with us, because that would have just resulted in arguments, knowing DD...! And because we didn’t think extra was necessary.

Wigeon Sat 21-Nov-20 13:03:28


I find all of this really sad. When I took my 11+ exam many years ago, we were just handed a test one day and took it.

There was no planning, or practising or tutoring. I think, if we still need to have grammar schools in this day and age, that it should be based on assessment over the child's school career, not just base it on who can afford extra tuition.

You are completely right. I think it’s ethically difficult that people who can afford tutors probably have more chances of their DC getting into selective state schools. But the problem is that by taking a moral stand, you change nothing about the system, and your individual DC might not get into a school where they’d thrive, because everyone else is playing the game.

And there is also the house price issue - that houses likely to get your DC in on distance are more expensive. So another unfair advantage to parents with enough money. sad

chutneypig Sat 21-Nov-20 13:05:33

We’re not in London, we didn’t tutor our twins. They both passed, some tense moments opening the results letters! We’re out of county for their schools, so there was no prep done at their primary. DS was sent a practice test, DD wasn’t. We bought some practice books and helped them where they were struggling but only started Easter on year 5 and weren’t militant about it.

Sittinbythesea Sat 21-Nov-20 13:10:26

Many people have a tutor for all of year 5. Mocks are the most useful thing. We found a tutor useful because dcs had a structure and reason to to do their work, it depends on how your dcs react to you ‘teaching me them (mine react badly 🤣) but they are hard workers! Ask your dcs’ teacher if, in their experience, children similar to your dc have passed the 11+.

whataboutbob Sat 21-Nov-20 13:14:41

@ Wigeon @EasternDailyStress I agree the system is totally unfair. In my area of SWLondon from what I’ve seen it’s not the particularly wealthy who get in to the super sélectives. It is very much the kids of middle class parents who couldnt afford private, and second generation immigrants esp from Indian sub continent. Personally I live in a not party attractive area of zone 3, both husband and I work in public sector. Squeezed middle , that’s us. I spotted my second son had potential and set out to do what it took to enable him to get into the best school for him. The unfairness probably resides in the uneven distribution of parental motivation , support and understanding of the admission process.

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in