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.

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.

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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.

Qualifying scores for 11-plus

Pupils sit GCSE maths examThe qualifying scores for entry to Rugby grammar schools in September 2019 were as follows:

Lawrence Sheriff 210 (206 for waiting list)
Ashlawn 214 (208 for waiting list)
Rugby High 208 (206 for waiting list).

For September 2018 entry, they were:

Lawrence Sheriff 210 (206 for waiting list)
Ashlawn 213 (207 for waiting list)
Rugby High 207 (205 for waiting list).

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.

This is how the standardised score is calculated. This is calculated by adding
the average (mean) of the combined Numeracy (Num) and Non-Verbal Reasoning (NVR)
scores to the Verbal Reasoning (VR) score.
Example: VR score = 130, Num score = 120, NVR score = 80.
Mean average of Num and NVR = 100.
Add this to the VR score (130) = total score of 230. (Source: Warwickshire County Council).

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 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/

Changes to Key Stage 1 SATs

In Key Stage 1 SATS English, there will be a Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling Test from 2016. The spelling test will take about 15 minutes, and the grammar, punctuation and vocabulary test will take about 20 minutes.

The Government booklet states: “The tests are designed to enable pupils to demonstrate their attainment and as a result are not strictly timed since the ability to work at pace is not part of the assessment. Guidance will be provided to schools to ensure that pupils are given sufficient time to demonstrate what they understand, know and can do without prolonging the test inappropriately. Table 1 opposite provides an indication of suggested timings for each component. The total testing time is approximately 35 minutes. If teachers or administrators change the test time significantly, the test outcomes will be less reliable.”

There will also be two English Reading papers – the first of 30 minutes and the second of 40 minutes. The first reading paper comprises a selection of text(s) with questions interspersed. This component contains 20 marks. The second reading paper comprises a selection of texts and an associated reading answer booklet . This component contains 20 marks.

In Mathematics, there will be two papers – one of 20 minutes (arithmetic), and one of 35 minutes (mathematical reasoning). The tests are designed to enable pupils to demonstrate their attainment and as a result are not strictly timed since the ability to work at pace is not part of the assessment. However, elements within the curriculum state that pupils should be able to use quick recall of mathematical facts and the arithmetic paper is designed to assess some of these elements.

Summary

Mathematics
Paper 1 – 20 minutes
Paper 2 – 35 minutes
English Reading
Paper 1 – 30 minutes
Paper 2 – 40 minutes
Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling
Paper 1 – Spelling Test
Paper 2 – Grammar, punctuation and vocabulary 20 minutes.

Interesting blogs about reading

gift-booksI recently read an article in The Guardian called the Top 10 best books bloggers. You can read it by following the link. The article is a guide to some of the best bloggers around who obsessively read and review children’s fiction.

I’m not just talking about Roald Dahl here – though his work is certainly an inspiration for many of the children I have taught. At primary level, I found the most popular authors (amongst authors) were:

Roald Dahl, Michael Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, Jeremy Strong, Enid Blyton, J K Rowling and Rick Riordan.

These are all excellent authors to get children started, particularly with books which are part of series. However, enthusiastic readers will soon by asking: What else can I read? I liked that author, which other authors can I read like that?

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The list of bloggers found by The Guardian provides plenty of inspiration. For instance, Kirsty, who writes The Overflowing Library, has read and reviewed over 200 books in 2014 (and she works as a history teacher as well!)

Another one of interest is The Book Zone for Boys, written by Darren who says it is his mission to find boy-friendly books since Harry Potter burst onto the scene.

Have a look at some of them, and tell me your favourite! Or why not start your own blog about books and share it with others.

GCSE English: How I can help

Improving in English is a gradual thing. That’s why it is best to begin private tuition as soon as cropped-hat-image.jpgpossible. If your child is encountering any difficulties in Year 7 and 8, I would recommend that you intervene as early as you can and consider private tuition.

A great deal can be achieved in a one-to-one weekly session. My approach would be to work through the appropriate level of exam-style questions to diagnose any areas of weakness your child may be experiencing. I would then design sessions to work on these weaknesses. Some work would be necessary from your child between sessions but I would aim to keep this to a minimum, because of the volume of homework which schools set.

Whatever your areas of concern, it is absolutely vital that your child reads regularly. This is the single most important key to unlocking development in writing both in English Language and English Literature. I strongly recommend that your child reads at least twice a day. There are many helpful websites which can guide your child’s choice of their next book.

If you think I can help, please fill in the contact form on the front of this website.

By the way, I have an A-level in English and specialised in English during my Education degree at the University of Northampton. I gained a First Class (Honours) degree.

11-plus: You really need to start practising now

Pupils sit GCSE maths examSeptember 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.

11-plus: the timetable in Warwickshire

11+ Essentials Comprehensive Book 1 frontApplication 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.

The types of questions your child will encounter.

11-plus: How I can help

11+ Essentials Comprehensive Book 1 frontWarwickshire is unusual in retaining the 11-plus examination to determine entry to its grammar schools. In the Rugby area, many parents and children will choose the 11-plus as a means to gaining entry to either Lawrence Sheriff Grammar School, Rugby High School or the grammar stream of Ashlawn School.

Most children who choose to sit the exam will do so in the September of each year. It is not an easy set of tests and I would strongly recommend even the most able pupils to practise carefully beforehand.

The reason for this is that, even though a child may be very able and working at Level 5 in maths and English (or beyond), the types of questions in the 11-plus will be very unfamiliar to them. The child needs to be exposed to these questions on a regular basis, and have an adult or elder brother or sister on hand to discuss strategies and compare answers.

I would suggest that preparation should begin about a year before the 11-plus is actually taken. It doesn’t have to be anything heavy, but a handful of questions tackled each night would be a good habit to get into. Children should be encouraged to become familiar with the style of the question, and, after a while, they will come to recognise them and be able to apply strategies used before.

As a Personal Tutor, I am available to provide support to children who wish to take the 11-plus. It is a question of maximising their skills, and ensuring they do justice to their own abilities. I cannot promise miracles, but I can promise that they will be well prepared for the tests, and will recognise the type of questions they are likely to face.

If your child is thinking of taking the 11-plus in September, then this would be a good time now to begin sessions to help them through what is a very challenging time in their lives. Please contact me if I can help you.

Read more about the 11-plus in Warwickshire.

Can you do these 11-plus English questions?

Here are some examples of questions you might come across in the 11-plus examination? See if you can answer them.

Underline two words, one from each group, that go together to form a new word. The word in the first group always comes first.

a) face, over, hand                                            cream, some, left

b) out, off, in                                                     mark, all, ice

c) tall, ship, slip                                                gang, stock, way

Find the letter which will end the first word and start the second word.

a) win (…) ind11+ Essentials Comprehensive Book 1 front

b) shove (…) eaver

c) rea (…) rime

Find a word that can be put in front of each of the following words to make new compound words.

a) LET   DROP   SIGHT   BATH

b) HOLE   HOOD   POWER   KIND

c) CUP   FLY   MILK   SCOTCH

As a personal tutor, I can help your child work through questions such as this, discuss any problems that arise, and suggest different approaches which may be helpful. Please contact me if you would like further information. My email address is northside777@btinternet.com