Testing times

Tomorrow afternoon, the Grey household will breathe a sigh of relief.  Since a chance comment by Marty on a blogpost some twelve weeks ago, David has suddenly found himself getting coached professionally (by Kip McGrath Morley) and by enthusiastic amateur Karen (with the odd contribution from me).

Once we visited the Grammar school and realised that David stood a fair chance of getting a place, we looked into how we could up the ante’. We bought the example test papers and found that David was OK at Maths but had some knowledge gaps and no concept of rote learning multiplication tables. As a consequence, he mostly understood the principles but made silly mistakes. In Verbal Reasoning he was a star, consistently getting upper quartile results. The Grammar school use Maths to assess the pupil achievement and the Verbal Reasoning to identify future potential so this is a very positive.

We looked around for tutors concentrating on coaching and after a couple of blind alleys we found that the local Kip McGrath centre was doing a course. (It didn’t help that their website phone and email details were out of date!) Consequently David has spent eight weeks visiting their centre on Sunday mornings and looked forward to it as they made learning fun.

We bought a number of 11+ structured workbooks from WH Smith (including a Parents survival guide) and Karen developed a informal coaching programme around this. We were careful, however, to make sure he still had plenty of normal time for the stuff he loves doing, including making a snowman yesterday! (In case you are wondering why I wasn’t heavily involved, I have a more lassez faire approach to life  and also I tend to shout at him more than Karen when he gives silly answers because he isn’t paying attention!)

Now, at last, the day is on us. He will sit the two tests tomorrow morning, then he wants a slap up meal- at McDonalds and the weekend is his (weather permitting). He then has a very easy time of it and he will probably find his year 6 SATS a breeze in the Spring.

Meanwhile, the waiting starts. By the end of January, the school will advise us if David has met the attainment level required for entrance into the school (i.e. he has reached 11+ standards). The results are normalised for age which will actually cost him a couple of points as he has an early birthday during the academic year. 

Now if we lived in the catchment area of the school, this would almost certainly mean that he would be offered a place. However, what actually happens is that places are allocated for out of area children purely on results, so the better he does, the higher the chance of an offer. We find that out on March 1st, when we receive the school allocation details from our LEA.

It is interesting to observe the reactions of others to us putting David through all this. His own school wasn’t particularly helpful officially as Leeds is not a selective school area but informally a couple of the staff were extremely  positive indeed. The reaction of the Chair of Governors was to inform us that Morley had three excellent high schools but we beg to differ, as does the school inspectorate Ofsted (they use words like good and satisfactory but not outstanding). A relative in education suggested that David might not like it as Grammar schools push the children to get good results which is of course exactly what comprehensives do with the more able anyway, albeit less so in academia sometimes.

David may not get in at the Grammar School (or even attain the standard) but whether he does or not, he has had the opportunity to do so and it is up to him to make the most of it, whatever the outcome.

There is still a lot of class hatred about selective education, particularly by champagne socialist MPs who put their own children through private schools. Karen took (and failed) the 11+ and indeed left school at sixteen, but went on to shine academically, being sponsored through her Degree. I only found out a couple of months ago that my Parents wanted me to apply for a scholarship (or bursary) for  a private school in Newcastle but that my Year 5 teacher (with the shiny jacket complete with elbow patches) scuppered that in favour of another child who “who was more deserving because he would work hard for it whilst Ian would breeze it” 

I never took the 11+ and didn’t know I’d been passed over, but Karen did. Her views on the mantra mouthed by our Minister for kiddywinkies that Grammar schools condemn many children to failure in these all shall have prizes times are that it is a load of Ed Balls.

There is only one fair form of discrimination and that is by merit.