Is A Grammar School The Best School For My Child?
How Do I Get My Child Into Grammar School?
In an uncertain world with intense competition for well paid jobs parents are striving harder than ever to give their children the best educational opportunities in life. This has translated into a growing demand for Grammar School places, a highly understandable aspiration as Grammar Schools have a proven track record when it comes to their A’ Level students being offered places in higher education. A greater percentage of students from Grammar Schools are accepted for both universities in general and the selective universities, which include Oxford and Cambridge, than other sixth form education providers. Figures we uncovered for 2007/09 which would affect the life chances of students living in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire help to highlight the differences. There are now two schools in the town, Queen Elizabeth High School (QEHS), which along with other local Grammar Schools is among the top 100 UK state schools for sending students to selective universtities, and Trent Valley Academy (TVA). TVA does not provide sixth-form education and students wishing to do A’ Levels will attend either Lincoln College of Further Education or John Leggott Sixth Form College in Scunthorpe.
As we can see from the chart above there is a great disparity between the numbers of students entering the top universities from the different establishments with QEHS’ entry rate being 13 times that of students from Lincoln College. As parents and students are beginning to recognise this trend we have experienced a year on year increase in demand for 11 Plus preparation. Some parents realise that the Comprehensive and Secondary Schools are unable to successfully cater for higher ability students because expectations are focussed on gaining ‘C’ grades at GCSE and students who are capable of more are not always encouraged to aim higher or even given the opportunity to do so.
For many of our 11 Plus students the Grammar School is a way to ensure they have access to the higher grades, the traditional subjects and an opportunity to network with children of a similar ability and temperament.
We are seeing 11 Plus preparation requests from parents of children who are in the high average band even though they are not naturally academic. These students have to work harder to pass the exam and study harder to maintain their grades. In many cases they achieve success and this is highly commendable. Parents are now looking at both the academic and social advantages of the Grammar Schools. They also recognise that in some Comprehensive Schools or Academies behaviour management is an issue and this hinders learning. In addition, the current financial climate has resulted in families who may have previously considered private schooling looking for Grammar School entry instead. This enables their children to access a similar quality of education at the cost of the tax payer, thereby further increasing competition for already limited places.
Is The Grammar School System Fair?
I believe that access to education should be fair to all students. 11 is a very early age to make such an assessment of a child’s academic potential as some students develop later than others. My own personal experience, through attending the local Secondary Modern School, was that some subjects were unavailable at GCSE Level. And, of the subjects that I did take, I was unable to gain higher than a C grade in some due to the syllabus not being covered. This then restricted my A-Level choices. We have tutored a student through our Centre who needed an A grade in Maths but their school did not have time to teach the syllabus because he was only in Set 2. He did gain his A grade but only because he came to us for extra tuition. In areas where the Grammar School system exists the self esteem of students can be affected detrimentally because those who do not ‘pass’ their 11 Plus exam see themselves as having already failed.
For those students with a high ability and a high level of motivation the Grammar School can provide an environment for them to succeed. We have seen many students who have benefitted from this system. However, I do not believe that if a child is unable to secure a Grammar School place they should have less choices in subjects and limited access to higher education because they attend a Comprehensive School, Secondary School or an Academy. They should be able to achieve the same high grades in the same subjects no matter what educational institution they attend.
I say this because we have seen students who have scored highly on an 11 Plus exam but been unable to secure a Grammar School place. This is due to each Grammar School having its own priority of criteria for admissions and they are not always based on the marks achieved. For example;
Queen Elizabeth High School:
- Candidates with siblings already attending
- A moveable catchment area. Places are offered on the basis of the distance of the candidates’ homes from the school with places being offered to those living closest to the school first until all the places have been allocated
Caistor Grammar School:
- Candidates who live within a set catchment area
- Candidates who live outside the catchment area, prioritising those who scored the highest marks until all the places have been allocated
We are aware of at least one school where students need to achieve 97% or higher to secure a place. We also know of families who have moved home in order to secure Grammar School places. All these factors mean that even high achieving students are not always successful in attaining a Grammar School place.
What Is The Result Of This?
There is more pressure today on children to score highly on 11 Plus papers to secure a Grammar School place and parents are investing in tuition to give their child the best possible chance. We have also seen an increase in students retaking Grammar School entrance exams for entry into Years 8 or 10.
How Do I Know If My Child Should Sit The 11 Plus Exam?
1) Talk to your child’s teacher to see if they feel a Grammar School would be the right environment for them.
2) Check that your child is on track to achieve Level 5s in English, Maths and Science by the end of Year 6
3) Ensure your child has access to 11 plus exercises and practice papers. These can be purchased online or from High Street bookstores
4) If you feel that you need to access some professional tuition don’t leave it too late. We recommend a minimum of two terms to ensure that skills are mastered in as natural a way as possible.
5) Check with your local school/online to find out what tests are required (Verbal Reasoning, Non Verbal Reasoning, Maths and English) as these vary from school to school
6) Check with the school to ascertain what their catchment area is and how places are allocated to students out of catchment
7) You know your child. Is a Grammar School with a high work load and a high focus on exams an environment that your child will flourish in?
Grammar Schools are suitable for some high achieving students but not all. I personally know some students who have flourished and thrived in the Grammar School system and have gone on to be doctors. I also know students who found that the Grammar School wasn’t suitable for their needs and despite gaining a place ended up transferring to the local Comprehensive or Secondary school. Some of these students still completed a university education, where others did not. Whilst environment and expectations play a role in educational achievements motivation and hard work are also keys which are necessary to succeed. Students who are highly motivated can achieve outside of a Grammar school education, while conversely, students in a Grammar school can fail to achieve their potential due to a lack of motivation and hard work.
Filed under: 11 Plus, Education Advice | Tagged: 11 Plus, Grammar Schools, John Leggott Sixth Form College, Lincoln College, Oxbridge, QEHS, Queen Elizabeth High School Gainsborough, Selective Schools, Selective Universities, Trent Valley Academy, TVA | 4 Comments »