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.
Here is what actor and writer Stephen Fry says about the 11-plus in his book “Moab is my washpot”:
“A stupider and more divisive nonsense has rarely been imposed upon a democratic nation. Many lives were trashed, many hopes blighted, many prides permanently dented on account of this foolish, fanatical and irrational attempt at social engineering.” (p122)
Well, that said it! I must admit I have some 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.
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.
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.
These 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.
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.
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.
September may seem a long time away, but your child could have as few as 20 weeks to get ready for the 11-plus exam.
If you are using a personal tutor to support your child, you should be making sure there is plenty of time left to look at the wide variety of questions contained in the test.
I would recommend at least 20 sessions with a tutor to ensure your child has experienced every type of question which the test will throw at them. Of course, I would say that as I am a tutor myself!
But I really think that even high ability children, who are consistently hitting Level 5 in mathematics and English, need time to rehearse strategies for the 11-plus.
The test is a very specific way of assessing your child, and students are unlikely to have come across its type of question before.
I know – way back – when I took my 11-plus (or 12-plus as it was in those days), I did plenty of practice beforehand, using what were known as General Progress Papers! When it came to the 11-plus itself, I felt confident and nothing in the test surprised me. I felt I was in a position to do justice to myself.
That is all we can ask young people to do – to feel confident and perform to the best of their abilities. So if you think that weekly or twice-weekly lessons with a private tutor can help, then please contact me and I will be pleased to advise you.
Application packs for the 11-plus are normally sent out to Year 5 children in June, with the on-line application process beginning at the end of June and closing in July. In late August, your child will be allocated a centre at which they will be sitting the 11-plus.
Your child will sit the 11-plus at the beginning of September, usually on a Saturday morning. There is a reserve date in case of illness or other special reason.
Provisional results will be sent out in mid-October. Applications for admissions must be made by the end of October. Offers from schools are normally sent out towards the end of February.
The exam itself
The test is made up of two 45-minute papers. Each test has between 100 and 125 questions. Sample questions are sent out two weeks before the exam. There are a limited number of sample questions on this website.