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.

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 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


Try this GCSE Mathematics question

Pupils sit GCSE maths examCan you answer this GCSE Mathematics question?

Send me your answer on the form below and I will tell you if you got it right!

In August 2008, Eddie hired a car in Italy. The cost of hiring the car was £620. The exchange rate was £1 = 1.25 Euros.

(a) Work out the cost of hiring the car in Euros.

(b) Eddie bought perfume in Italy. The cost of the perfume in Italy was 50 Euros. The cost of the perfume in London was £42. The exchange rate was still £1 = 1.25 Euros. Work out the difference between the cost of the perfume in Italy and the cost of the perfume in London. Give your answer in pounds (£).

(Question taken from June 2010 paper. A calculator is allowed)

By the way, this was one of the easier questions, being number 3 on the paper.


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.


GCSE Mathematics: How I can help

Pupils sit GCSE maths examIf you are looking to improve your Mathematics grade, or lacking confidence facing your GCSE course or exam, then I might be able to help.

Currently, I am tutoring several GCSE students at various stages of their courses, from Year 9 to Year 11. My initial approach is to work through past papers and find areas in which they are struggling or need extra help. I would then design sessions which focus on these needs, hopefully leaving them better placed to do well when they next face such questions.

Tutoring is likely to be of most effect by tackling problems as early as possible. So, even in Year 7 or 8, support can be helpful in addressing misunderstandings and addressing areas where a student might be confused. However, some students are just looking for an extra boost in Year 11, often before, or shortly after, their mock examinations. Often there are particular topics – such as algebra – for which they need extra one-to-one tuition and I am happy to help.

When I was at Lawrence Sheriff Grammar School, (many years ago now!) and studying Mathematics A-level, I know that some extra one-to-one sessions made a huge difference to my confidence. It is amazing how much can be achieved in a one-to-one tuition lesson.

If you would like to discuss how I can help, please use the contact form on the front of this website.


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.


Press coverage for

Here is a link to an article which appeared on the Rugby Advertiser website.

This article appeared in the Rugby Advertiser shortly before Christmas 2014.IMG_2729.JPG