OMG! Year 5 saw everything step up a gear at school and now my oldest baby has just started year 6 with the 11+ exam due to be taken next week! For those of you not resident in the UK or indeed living in parts of the country where there are no grammar schools, this is the exam that determines whether a child is suitable for grammar school education or not. It is basically the entrance exam for the grammar schools in your area and any primary schools located within catchment for a grammar school will offer this exam to all year 6 pupils. We’ve just had the longest holiday in the school calendar and they come straight back to take an exam to determine where they are going to spend the majority of the rest of their childhood!
The frantic first morning of school after the summer break:
- I wake first –phenomenon unheard of during the last six weeks, The Boy is a regular pre-seven waker, always, but not today!
- A brief shake of the shoulder combined with curtain opening is ineffective.
- Removal of covers, firmer shoulder shake and a tuneful rendition of ‘Good Moring to You’ seems to do the trick and they begin to move- mainly so I stop singing!
- We are now already 10 minutes behind schedule!
- Once up, things improve and my military control of mornings kicks back into place after weeks of calm, nowhere-we-really-have-to-be, lazy starts.
- I proceed to bark one word instruction pointers like ‘Teeth!” and “Hair” followed by “Water-bottle?” and “PE kit?” as I’m desperately struggling to get the Boy’s socks on for him that he can’t do himself because they are clearly too small and that was the one thing I forgot to check!!
- It’s too late to walk so we bundle into the car and actually pass through a time-warp to arrive at school five minutes early.
- The children give me that ‘why did you make us run (you lunatic)’ look when we get there, refuse to kiss me (because that’s not cool- even at 5 apparently) but do whisper ‘love you’ as I get a quick hug goodbye and they’re off!
I tell you all of this to set the scene of our home life, mostly consisting of me running around, worrying about their health, education and well-being. While they amble along in my wake probably confused as to why I seem so stressed all of the time! Well, my stressed and sometimes whirl-wind nature, certainly hasn’t rubbed of on K! With the 11+ exam looming over her, if she were any more laid-back, she’d fall over! I kid you not.
But, have I done enough to support her and help her do well? How much of the preparation is down to us, as parents, when the children taking this exam (and other entrance exams around the county/ world) are so young? Should I have pushed her more?
The format and content for this particular exam has changed in recent years and we were all led to believe that the change was to eliminate the ability to be able to tutor for it. In my opinion, it didn’t work! If you hadn’t organised your tutor fairly promptly (while your child was in year 4 or before!!) it was virtually impossible to find one for less that £50/hour in our area, if at all! I found this out from other mummies rather than personal experience because I was already of the opinion that:
‘If they need intensive tutoring to get into a school, then that school is not right for them.’
Plus for us, with K’s recent dyslexia diagnosis, we were already seeing a specialist tutor for that, once per week and therefore already spending a small fortune, for things that her school could not provide. Back in March, I posted To Tutor or Not To Tutor and spoke about my previous and current opinions on tutoring. My opinions remain the same since then, but I am now feeling the ‘dreaded guilt’s’ about how little I have pushed K to practice for this exam, which will determine the location of some of the most important years of her early life. Rather than a private tutor, we went for a group session with Explore Learning that familiarises pupils with the content of the exam, offers practice exams and teaches the concepts children need to be aware of in order to succeed. The weekly 75 minute sessions, run throughout the year leading up to the exam and they recommend regular parent meetings to discuss progress, which I have found invaluable! They are open and honest, meaning that I have some idea as to how K will fair in the exam and which type of school would suit her- information that her school haven’t offered, as yet. We were lucky enough to travel abroad twice during the summer break, taking up three weeks of the holiday rather than the usual two. Some families didn’t take a holiday this year because of the 11+ exam! During our time at home, I encouraged K to do some ‘10 minute tests’ and use the on-line Explore program, that she can access at home, but it really just kept her ticking over- should I have been working with her to help extend her knowledge?
I want K to be happy at school. I want her to attend a school that suits her personality, ability and way of learning. I don’t want her struggling, to keep up with an educational program that is beyond her. I’m told by her past teachers, Explore and her dyslexia tutor that she has a good attitude to learning and that she will do well wherever she goes.
I need to stop stressing and chill-out (as K would say). I think we’ve made the right decisions so far and what will be will be. So who’s more stressed? Definitely me!