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:


 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:


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


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



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.


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?


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.

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: 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 2015, 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.

SATs: How I can help

When children come to take their SATs in Years Two and Six, it can be a stressats 1sful time. Schools are, understandably, very keen for pupils to perform at their very best as the results are presented in league table format and reflect on the reputation of the school.

At present, children will sit SATs papers in mathematics, English reading and writing, and spelling. In mathematics, there will be two papers plus a mental paper. There will be a ‘reading’ paper, in which children are presented with texts and then have to answer questions on it. There will be two writing papers – a short writing task (usually 20 minutes) and a longer writing task. There might also be a spelling test. There are some variations between the Year Two and Year Six tests.

It is important for schools to create a relaxed atmosphere around the tests, particularly in Year Two where children are not necessarily used to the structure of tests. Many schools try to put their Year Six children at ease by providing them with breakfast on test days, to ensure they are well fed and in good condition for performing at their very best.

Children should be encouraged to do their best in their SATs, but should not be put under too much pressure. They are useful for teachers to uncover gaps in the learning of their pupil, and analysis of the papers can be very helpful.

So how can a personal tutor help? Well, often children feel better about tests if they have encountered the particular style of test before. A tutor can help work through previous papers, talk about the style of answers, and can discuss how to present responses so the maximum number of marks can be awarded. Many teachers will do this on a class basis and will be very efficient at doing so.

However, much can also be achieved on a one-to-one basis. I would look in detail at responses children have given in tests and how these could be improved. I would look at mark schemes and examiners’ reports. What is the very best way of securing three marks out of three on this question? How should you present the workings on this mathematics question to get the most marks? How should I plan this long piece of writing, faced with a blank sheet of paper?

I would be happy to discuss with parents how I can help their children face up to SATs with confidence, and calm, so they can do their best.