Are schools in Rugby wrong to ‘select’ pupils?

Pupils sit GCSE maths exam
Is the idea of ‘selection’ wrong?

The idea of ‘selecting’ pupils in Rugby has been a hot topic for decades. Every time there are proposals to change the system, impassioned voices are raised on both sides of the argument – and little seems to happen.

Opponents of the current arrangement – in which some children are accepted by the town’s three grammar schools at the age of 11 – say it is unfair and brands a majority of young people as ‘failures’ at a time when their confidence could do with a boost.

I have sympathy with this view but I would argue it is rather out-dated. The 11-plus test is, effectively, an entrance exam for grammar schools. It is also voluntary. Parents will hopefully discuss with their children whether they would like to sit the test, which takes place each September. Many students actually enjoy preparing for and sitting the test, which is a series of problem-solving puzzles.

A few weeks after the test, each child receives a score. There is no pass or fail. There is no label. Parents express a preference for which school their child would like to attend. Schools and the local education authority will then set a minimum score for entry into their school. On that basis, they will offer places to those with the appropriate score.

But is the whole idea of ‘selection’ wrong? Well, if that is the case, then our complete education system is wrong and would crumble into a heap.

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Children are selected from their first day at school.

Children are selected almost from the day they begin school. Wander into a Year 1 classroom and you will see children sitting in groups for Maths or English. And do you know how they came to be in those groups? Well, they have been selected on ability. The groups may be called Blues, Greens, Reds and Yellows or Hexagons, Circles, Squares and Octagons: but they will have been selected so that those of roughly the same ability sit and work together.

This happens throughout a child’s school experience. Some primary schools even have different Maths and English classes across a school year, again selected by ability. In comprehensive schools, students are selected by ability to be in different groups across the school year. There could be as many as ten different Maths groups, all selected on ability.

And why is there so much selection? It’s because students, indeed everybody, makes the best progress by learning with those on a similar level. Teachers will know that if they set work just a little bit harder than their students’ current ability, then the opportunity to learn will be the greatest. If you have a disparate group of children, all of different abilities, in one group, then the chance of learning for all of them will be reduced.

It is unfair on those of low, medium and high ability to be working in mixed ability groups for most subjects. So, the idea of selection is not only prevalent in our schools and colleges, but it is the very bedrock of our theory of learning.

On that basis, you could view grammar schools are just another aspect of selection by ability. If you like, this is the ‘Hexagons’ or ‘Yellow’ group learning along with their peers of similar ability, but at a senior age.

Perhaps this is a controversial view (no doubt!). The other important part of this argument is that the schools that are not grammars should offer something different. For instance, children with a passion for the creative arts or physical education or practical learning should have a school to choose which supports their passion. If I were running such a school, I would make at least two-thirds of the curriculum arts-based or practical-based. Not enough of that is happening.

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11-plus: Frequently asked questions

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When does the 11-plus take place in Warwickshire?
The test is usually the second weekend of September for children who are in Year 6.

When do I get the results?
The results should be issued about the second week in October.

What does the 11-plus actually test?
The 11-plus tests your child’s problem-solving skills. There are questions about words, codes, numbers and shapes. They are divided into verbal reasoning (including comprehension), numerical reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.

When should I start preparing my child?
I offer lessons from the beginning of Year 5 usually. That gives a whole year for your child to learn the very different way of answering some unusual questions. It’s also fun to solve interesting puzzles!

What if my child cannot begin lessons at the start of Year 5? Is it too late then?
No, I have had children start in January or even at Easter, although this does not give as much time to work through all the question categories.

Do you offer any lessons in the summer holidays?
Yes, I usually set aside two or three weeks before the exams for revision sessions during the day. I tend to do either one hour or 90-minute sessions, reviewing as many question types as possible.

When do I need to book in with you?
I can add you to my waiting list at any time. I would certainly recommend getting in touch during the summer term of Year 4, so we can agree on a lesson time for the September.

How do I get in touch?
Have a look at the Contact Us page on my website or email me.

Back to the 11-plus home page.

Is tutoring too cheap?

The national recommended rate for one-to-one tuition is £30 per hour. This is what I charge to everybody. But is this too cheap?

cropped-hat-image.jpgA few quick searches on the internet reveal the following average figures for what other professionals charge for their services per hour. Here are a few of them:

Solicitor £100
Car mechanic £74
Chiropractor £65
Counsellor £50
Plumber £45
Personal trainer £35
One-to-one tutor £30
Driving instructor £25
Gardener £20
Cleaner £10

I will leave it to you to put a value on education from an experienced, qualified professional. Is tuition for your children more or less valuable than the other services on this list?

As a general point, I would argue that education professionals are greatly undervalued in our society (not in some other countries though, I may note). Teachers work long hours and are generally poorly rewarded. Most have been to university for three, four or five years and have then started in the profession at the bottom and had to work their way up.

I respect everyone on this list and can hardly blame them for trying to make as much money as possible. But what price education?

Qualifying scores for 11-plus

Pupils sit GCSE maths examThese were the qualifying scores for grammar schools in Warwickshire to gain entry in September 2016.

The three figures show the admission number, Automatic Qualifying Score (QS) and Minimum Score for the Waiting List.

King Edward VI School 81 232 226+
Stratford Girls’ Grammar School 120 222 216+
Alcester Grammar School 150 217 212+
Lawrence Sheriff School 120 207 202+
Rugby High School 120 205 200+
Ashlawn Selective 36* 203 198

*The Admission number for Ashlawn Selective is based on the Pupil Admission Number of the current Year 7 cohort within the school. The school have agreed to offer 36 selective places for 2016 entry.

Here are more of my articles about the 11-plus:
What is my success rate at the 11-plus?
11-plus: When should I start practising?
11-plus: Three types of questions

There is more information here on the places available and types of questions to expect.

Source: Warwickshire County Council

 

What is my success rate at 11-plus?

People often ask me: What is your percentage success rate at 11-plus tuition?

My reply is somewhat complicated. I usually say that all of the students who come to me, who are of the right ability to succeed at grammar school level, have passed the 11-plus. So, to that extent, the ‘success rate’ is 100 percent.

Pupils sit GCSE maths exam
The 11-plus is a difficult challenge.

However, things are a little more complicated than that. Not every student I have taught has managed to get to the grammar schools in Rugby (Rugby High School, Lawrence Sheriff Grammar School and part of Ashlawn School). That is because not every student is suited to study at those schools. They offer high-level, fast-paced education and it would be wrong for a student to be ‘tutored’ through the 11-plus, only to find they struggle and are unhappy at a grammar school. That is not fair on anyone.

So my policy is to be honest with parents. I am happy to tutor any child in preparation for the 11-plus: but early on, usually after six sessions, I will give an assessment to the parents. I will say one of the following:

  • Yes, your child has a good chance of passing the 11-plus and going on to do well at grammar school
  • If your child works hard and practises for the 11-plus, they have a borderline chance of passing and could cope with grammar school level education; or
  • I feel your child does not have the ability to do well at grammar school and would be better suited and more comfortable in a different school.

I then leave it up to the parents to decide if they wish to continue with tuition. I will keep them updated with how their child is doing. If I have any concerns, I will voice them. Honesty is best and honesty is also the kindest thing to do in the long-run.

If you think this is the right approach, and would like to find about more, please get in touch. See the Contact page.

Never too late to learn!

writingIt is never too late to learn! I am launching a new service aimed at adults who might be available for tuition during the daytime.

Have you always wanted to complete a GCSE in English Language or Literature? Have you experienced problems in basic Mathematics and would like to re-visit the subject now you are a bit more mature? Or were you disappointed with your first grade, and would like to try to improve it?

Do you lack confidence in basic Mathematics, or have always struggled with basic English?

I am offering daytime tuition to adults in English or Mathematics. You might want to work towards a qualification. You might want to do it just for fun. I already teach children at primary and secondary level in the evenings – now I am looking to offer the same service to grown-ups during the day. There is no age limit! Anyone who is keen to learn is welcome to come along.

I can design a course specific to your needs. For instance, if you wanted to improve your written English, I could plan a series of sessions looking at spelling, punctuation and grammar. We could work on descriptive or persuasive writing.

mathsIf you were interested in analysing poetry, we could look at part of the GCSE English Literature programme and work through some fantastic poems, and how to answer exam-level questions. You might want to do this just for your own interest, or to work towards a qualification. Here are a few possible ideas:

Working towards GCSE Mathematics
Working towards GCSE English Language and/or Literature
Basic Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar for adults
Basic Mathematics for adults
Relationships poetry (part of the GCSE course)
Conflict poetry (part of the GCSE course)
Music theory (up to Grade Five)

The above would be taught on a one-to-one basis, but could also be taught if you had a small group (please enquire about details).

What does it cost?

My basic fee for one-to-one tuition is £30 per hour. If you would prefer a 45-minute intensive lesson, that would be £22.50. Usually, I offer lessons once a week, though some people prefer fortnightly. (These are the standard national charges for tuition by graduates). Group lessons would be open to negotiation.

Please contact me on 07753 357251 or email me for further information.

What should children read?

Bookshelves-007As far as reading is concerned, many primary schools focus on a similar group of writers – mainly because they are good, and they are accessible! These include JK Rowling, Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson and David Walliams.

I think the most important thing for primary school pupils is that they read with parents, and they read independently. It is crucial to discuss a book with someone and check on understanding. So, children reading anything is better than children reading nothing.

 I used to encourage my pupils to read at least one classic novel, and there are so many to enjoy:

The Railway Children

The Diary of Anne Frank

The Secret Garden

Black Beauty

The Little Princess

Treasure Island

 There are many ideas and different lists here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/9114392/Ask-Lorna-top-100-books-for-children.html

 Among my other favourite novelists for children are Joan Aiken, Michelle Magorian, Theresa Breslin and Eva Ibbotson.

 This is an excellent site, which provides suggestions and reviews:

 http://www.lovereading4kids.co.uk/

 On this site, you can type in the book you are reading, and it will suggest another author:

 http://www.whatshouldireadnext.com/index.php

 You could also join Good Reads which is a massive resource of reviews and has a good phone app.

 https://www.goodreads.com/