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.


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?

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.


Changes to Key Stage 2 SATs 2016

Pupils sit GCSE maths examFrom the summer of 2016, there will be major changes to SATs tests for those in Year 2 and Year 6. For those in Year 6, there will be three Mathematics papers, plus papers in English Reading, Spelling and Punctuation and Grammar.
If I am tutoring your child to take these tests in summer 2016, I will be using sample papers published by the Government. I will also make use of existing SATs papers (which go back about 10 years) as the style of some of the questions will be similar.
Hopefully, more sample papers will be published as the tests get nearer, allowing children to have the opportunity to get used to the new way of testing.
Many details have still to be announced, but you can read about the changes by following this link.
This article gives you an idea how marks will be allotted in the new tests.
This article from the Daily Telegraph suggests the new tests will be tougher than before.

Key Stage Two

The Reading Test

One test of one hour

The test will last for one hour, to include reading time, and will consist of a selection of fiction, non-fiction and poetry texts, with an accompanying answer booklet. Questions will be roughly in order of difficulty. The paper will be scored out of 50. There is no Level 6 paper.

Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling

One test of 45 minutes
One test of spelling

One paper of 45-minute duration will assess punctuation and grammar (50 marks) through short answer questions. A second test will assess spelling (20 marks). The spelling test will be read to pupils, with each spelling contained in a contextualised sentence as has been the case since 2013. As with reading, overall marks out of 70 will be converted to a scaled score, with 100 representing the expected standard. Most questions on the punctuation and grammar paper will be short answers, with some sentence answers towards the end of the paper. There will be no extension paper.


Arithmetic paper of 30 minutes
Two further papers of 40 minutes

The former mental mathematics paper is to be replaced by a 30-minute arithmetic paper, which assesses content from the number domain only. This new paper will consist largely of one-mark questions using context-free calculations. There will be some 2-mark questions for long multiplication and long division calculations. In two-mark questions, it will only be possible to obtain a single mark for a wrong answer derived from a correct method when using the intended standard method. There are 30 marks for this paper, representing 27% of the total test score.

There will be a further two test papers, each lasting 40 minutes and containing 40 marks. These will assess fluency, reasoning and problem solving, in a manner similar to the current tests. Up to half of the questions will be provided within a context. There will be no calculator paper (and calculators cannot be used in the tests), and no extension paper. Formulae will be provided where required (apart from the area and volume of a shape).


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.


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.