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PostPosted: Mon Jul 13, 2015 9:29 pm 

Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2015 8:35 pm
Posts: 92
Hi everyone,

my wife and I are currently a bit confused by how the English system works and what would be the best course of action for our 2 boys (and if we should even be thinking about it at this stage!). They are only aged 7 and 5, but for some reasons it feels like action needs to be taken from now (I always believed all you need is 3 months to prepare for any exam, but the press and the web can scare the **** out of one's sanity and are starting to make me believe I needed to take action at birth! :shock: ).

We currently live in RG9. When we moved here, we were thinking that:
1- kids could attempt Reading School (GS). If they could make it, great.
2- if not, well, no need to push, they could go to the local comp (Offsted 2) which should be largely sufficient to lead a happy successful life.

Thing is, as we started to learn a bit more about the unspoken mechanics of the system, we started to be a bit scared... how some professions are locked by independent schools.... how fantastic students with lots of As (or is it A*s?) can't make it to Oxbridge because they do not know the unspoken rules to admission only taught in independent and top GS schools... how politicians or even rock bands often come from independent schools, etc....
Then we learned about how some GS and independent school offer so much more in terms of personal development, whether a variety of exciting sports, or with fantastic drama, music or debate classes. How, even if they do not always over-perform the public sector, they at least give kids a very wide breadth of culture, which is what a school should do.
And then how some still teach latin or greek, or classical history (both of us learned these in our respective state schools when it was still the norm that most schools offered them).
Also, a big thing to take into account, my youngest turned out to have a need for SEN.

I always considered that talent should prevail and that options 1 and 2 should be the only ones I offer my kids, because that is the fair choice. But my courage is failing me, and I feel bad that I may not help them achieve as much as they could. If they are "natural" B, shouldn't I help them be B+ or A? If they are A, shouldn't I help them be A+? Shouldn't I give them access to a world of opportunities and culture? Hence I am now wondering whether I should teach them at home to get ready for 11+ (even though I considered that cheating), whether I need to sell both my kidneys and put them in a independent school at 11, whether I should move houses to get near an Offsted 1 school, etc...

My options, as I see them are:

1- follow the initial plan and either Reading School or local comp
2- move to some villages that have a Outstanding comp. That would also save me commute time (assuming I spend the next 12 years in the same company)
3- try for some GS that do not have RG9 in their catchments. There are good ones in Marlow and High Wycomb. But if I understand correctly, they only recruit people from Bucks? And they need to have lived there for a year before the exam? Which means that if I want to take that option, I need to move houses in the next 2 years?
4- go for some of the incredibly expensive independent schools. Quite difficult to compare them as they don't seem to follow Offsted reports and their GCSE / A level results can be odd for some reason. If so much money is going to be spent, how to know that it is "well" spent and that they'll get the confidence, the network, the fun (apart from going to Eton which, as I understand it, would imply selling my lungs too)? If I decide independent schools are a real option that I need to consider, I need to start saving drastically now to be able to have a chance to afford it in 4 years.
5- ruin my kids' childhood by massively training them on some sport or music instrument to get a random level of support at an independent school (is there somewhere where they publish the level of support? All I see are statements "from 10% to 90%" without further explanations)

Whatever above is selected, ideally, the younger brother would be able to join him in order to have some much needed emotional support. He is still too young for us to tell how his needs and skills will evolve, but the plans need to be made on the assumption he may still require his SEN and possibly some teaching assistant. Academically I hope he would have the level for some level of sleection (he is quit gifted for maths). Thing is, I have absolutely no idea whether anything but a comp would offer support? If someone pass the test, are GS obliged by the LEA to a TA (or whatever SEN requirement)? What about independent school? Is it paid on top? Paid by the state? Or simply not an option? Is a comp the only way to keep them in the same school?

Also, should I start training them now for the 11+? The issue is that both of us were academic achievers, and we tend to see the 11+ as ridiculously easy (especially with our adult eyes), but we realise statistics imply it's actually quite tough for the kids. Should I wait till they are 9? Or start helping them now? Really don't want to go the road of a tutor, when we can provide all the needed assistance (unless there are unsaid tricks for the 11+ that are not documented and only passed on from tutor to tutor :lol: )

Are Offsted Outstanding schools worth it? I read somewhere that 20% of all secondary schools are outstanding, which means that they are actually just decent?

Even though this post may look somehow structured, I realise (and apologise) that upon re-reading it, it's no more than an unstructured construct of fears and uncertainties due to my complete lack of knowledge of the formal and informal rules of English education. Hence why it's titled "confused". I genuinely do not know whether I need to take action now, in 1 year or in 3 years, and what that action(s) should be? I feel I don't even know what my own question is!

Thank you in advance for your feedback and clarifications.

PostPosted: Mon Jul 13, 2015 10:16 pm 

Joined: Thu Jan 17, 2013 9:27 pm
Posts: 110
With the age of your children there is no need to panic!
Look at this section here: http://www.elevenplusexams.co.uk/prepar ... -campaign/

Indie schools don't have obligations to deal with SEN so if it affects their headline results you might be in danger of losing a place. State schools are obliged to deal with SEN but do so with differing degrees of success. You will need to be wait to see how his SEN needs pan out and also to see how academic your children are. Most bright children will do well wherever they go to school if you support them. The issue for me is the social side as I found my own comp education less than ideal - then again I know grammar school ex-pupils who reject that system too so I suppose it is horses for courses. Time will tell.

In relation to panic, I think different areas and systems create greater or lesser cause for concern. If you are in Reading presumably you are in an "opt in" super selective area? I think that grammars of this kind have less effect on the comp as the top end of pupils has not been completely removed like in an "opt out" system such as Kent.

I don't have any answers but I found that visiting the local secondary school gave me some comfort that my kids could do ok there. Not as many as the super selective local grammars get offered Oxbridge but it is not out of the question - and those working at that level are completely cherished. So investigate all options before you start selling body parts. You may be pleasantly surprised :). Good luck

PostPosted: Mon Jul 13, 2015 10:22 pm 

Joined: Thu Jan 17, 2013 9:27 pm
Posts: 110
PS you can pay for tutoring on Oxbridge applications so it is no longer the exclusive domain of elite schools

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 6:16 am 

Joined: Mon Feb 12, 2007 1:21 pm
Posts: 14003
Oxbridge is not the best option for many people anyway ....

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 6:44 am 

Joined: Wed Jan 18, 2012 11:41 am
Posts: 6856
Location: Essex
Two comments regarding your desire to have both children attend the same secondary school. One is that schools which select solely on rank order in a test of academic ability are not allowed to give priority to siblings (i.e. each candidate has to get in on his/her own merit). Secondly, however much you may feel that your currently infant school age children need to be together for moral support, by the time the first one has been at secondary school for a year or two, things will have altered. By this, I don't mean that they won't find support in each other, just that you cannot assume that something you think essential now will even be an issue once they have a few more years' life / school experience under their belts.

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.Groucho Marx

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 7:23 am 

Joined: Tue Dec 18, 2012 10:59 am
Posts: 3579
Option 2 looks like a no brainer to me, less commute time, village life, good comps, so no stressful 11+ to worry about, probably smaller primary schools and you can always visit the city still. However so much can change and you just have babies still really, enjoy them and don't worry. One may be an A+ student, one may be a C student but can lay his hands to any physical task, only time will tell.

One thing I have noticed, pushing kids above their natural ability is not sustainable, you can pay for tutors from now until the end of uni but when they turn up at work they are on their own. I have witnessed graduates spending less than two weeks in the square mile before returning home to far less demanding jobs, one who caused almost comical havoc within three days of beginning his graduate post before being unceremoniously dumped by his new employers, he now works happily in a village pub. Encouraging them to have a go is of course entirely different.

As for considering the huge commute to wycombe grammars, please dont. The child who is at my son's wycombe grammar,actually in his form, that commutes back and forth to Reading every day, I know very little about. Unlike the majority of the form he is never at after school clubs, never attends the socials and doesn't go to the local youth club. I'm sure he is lovely, but must feel very isolated amongst the rest of the class.

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 7:28 am 

Joined: Thu May 16, 2013 4:02 pm
Posts: 2194
When ours were 7 and 5 we had no idea of what secondary school might suit them best. If you are happy and settled living where you are I'd stick with plan A (Reading School or local comp) at least for the time being. You don't want the upheaval of moving to another area and completely changing your infrastructure purely for schools that your children might not qualify for anyway. It's too easy to panic reading this forum! Wait and see how your children's abilities pan out; a lot can change in a couple of years as they all mature at different rates. Meanwhile as I've said in another thread make sure they are living a rich and fulfilling life with lots of physical and mental stimulation, having fun learning and playing - as all children should be. Best of luck with it all.

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 7:30 am 

Joined: Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:59 pm
Posts: 4059
Crossed with south bucks and Peridot!!

Schools and the application systems have changed a bit since you or I were at school! Certainly the 11+ has got harder - not necessarily the test itself but purely because it has become a numbers game - much higher numbers apply now and, therefore, the chances of getting in are lower. Independent schools can be a bit of a lottery - as you have realised, some have results that really aren't that good, considering the fees that have been paid - but - and it's a big BUT, a school is so much more than academic results and some of the independent schools are much stronger on sport, or music, or drama, or dyslexia support or.....etc, etc,

Have a look round some of the schools locally to you - independent, comprehensive and Grammar. Compare facilities and the feel of the school - look at their strengths and see how they compare with the strengths of your children - obviously they are still young so these may change! Most independent schools offer two levels of financial support - scholarships (usually around 10-20% of fees - but just fees) and bursaries, depending on family finances, which can be 100%. Both come with clauses, usually related to keeping your head down and nose clean and getting involved with school life. Often indies are smaller and can be useful for children with particular needs - for example specialist dyslexia units - but these do sometimes come at additional cost and that is not to say that state schools can't be brilliant with the support they offer. But, equally, it can be patchy!

Once you have identified a feel for the schools in your immediate area, look at some in neighbouring areas, where you would consider moving. Take into account commute times, community feel etc as you could be committing to a new area for a good few years and you need to be happy there as a family. Happy parents make happy children. Bear in mind that most GS are getting very tight with catchment areas and some require you to have lived in the area at least 12 months before you attend the school - and some require you to stay for a certain period after you get a place. Also schools with an outstanding rating tend to affect the house prices in the area and those with a lower rating give you more bang for your buck in terms of housing. Whatever you do, do NOT consider ridiculous travel times for your children. Schools now run an inordinate amount of after school clubs and for a child to properly partake in all the activities that may have attracted you to the school in the first place, they need to be there and be awake enough to enjoy them and still perform academically! They will have to travel that route twice a day for the next 7 years - a less salubrious school that is closer may well be a far better bet than a good school that is too far away.

Don't be fooled into thinking that indies and GS are the Holy Grail and anything else is sub-standard. They aren't. They are all "just" schools, following the same curriculum but with differing strengths, facilities etc. Some state schools are not so good, admittedly, and your explorations will lead you to identify ones where your children would not settle as well. Don't be put off by scruffy buildings - it's what goes on inside that really counts - equally, don't get swayed by amazing facilities - it's all very well having, for example, the latest equestrian ring, but if your child has a severe allergy to horses, they aren't ever going to use that!!

There is no substitute for visiting schools - yes, it is early, as your kids are still young and schools do change with changes of staff etc. but it will give you a clearer view of what you should be looking for and questions you should be asking when you have narrowed it down to a few favourites.

Although for parents it seems easier to have them both in the same school, as Toadmum has pointed out, this may not be the case as they get older. Treat them as individuals who have individual needs. This may end up with them in the same place, but may not. Fully selective schools will not give preference to a sibling - indies might, but often require all kids to pass an entrance exam so again no guarantees - comprehensive schools currently do give preference to siblings but, if you are out of their natural catchment area, it may be after other criteria have been met.

Fundamentally you have to stick to your guns. It is all too easy to know that a school is right for your child and then listen to other parents telling you they shouldn't go there for a variety of reasons, some which come down to pure snobbery! You know your child - which jigsaw puzzle does their piece fit best?

If you do decide to go the GS route, then certainly consider preparing them for the 11+, if not tutoring them. To me tutoring implies teaching them the stuff they didn't know already, in order to pass whereas preparing them is helping them identify test skills (e.g. for CEM you have to work super fast - moving on if you can't answer the question and using the last minute to guess the multiple choice answers as you might get them right) or showing them example NVR papers (which are rarely seen by children in a state primary school). This is not cheating. It's like practising driving before you take your test. I do agree that if a parent feels that they have to teach their child before they sit the test, they have to ask themselves if the child is actually suited to the GS? The rate of work at GS is super fast - how will they feel if they are bottom of the heap al the time?

And when you have narrowed down a list of possibles, revisit them in Y4 and Y5 to check they are still pushing your buttons, and more importantly, that your child feels inspired to want to be there.

Last edited by kenyancowgirl on Tue Jul 14, 2015 10:24 am, edited 1 time in total.

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 7:36 am 

Joined: Wed Jan 11, 2006 7:10 pm
Posts: 8764
Location: Buckinghamshire
ConfusedFather wrote:
3- try for some GS that do not have RG9 in their catchments. There are good ones in Marlow and High Wycombe. But if I understand correctly, they only recruit people from Bucks?

Parts of the RG9 postcode area are in catchment for the Marlow and Wycombe Schools, even though they are not in Bucks. Catchment area checker here: http://cms.esriuk.com/BucksCC/Sites/sch ... cker_2014/

Even from out of catchment, there could be a possibility of gaining admission to one of the Marlow/Wycvombe schools. You can assess the likelihood of that through the past data here: viewtopic.php?f=12&t=41421 and by using the distance checker here: http://www.freemaptools.com/distance-be ... tcodes.htm

And they need to have lived there for a year before the exam? Which means that if I want to take that option, I need to move houses in the next 2 years?

No, for these schools you need to provide proof of the address from which you are making your application on October 1st of Year 6, the year in which they would be taking the test.

Obviously that could all change in the intervening years, so you need to recheck nearer the time.

Edited to add: Please note that some RG9 postcodes are not in catchment for Reading Grammar - only RG9 1 - RG9 5: http://www.reading-school.co.uk/uploads ... n-2016.pdf

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 7:39 am 

Joined: Thu Nov 06, 2014 1:23 pm
Posts: 85
Hi ConfusedFather and welcome to the forum. Many good points already made (whilst I've been laboriously typing my post!)

Firstly in your position, if only to alleviate some of the panic (!), I would go visit the state secondary schools in your area. Open days generally happen around September, and although much might change in the next 4 years before your oldest son starts secondary, the visits might instil more confidence and allow you to feel some element of control or choice - assuming there is a choice in your area.

We are in Reading and realistically there was only 1 comprehensive that we would have got a place for, the other local one is highly over subscribed and we are not close enough to be guaranteed a place. What's it like in RG9? Again, much might change in the next few years, but it will give you a clearer idea of your options: visiting a school is better than just reading the Ofsted report. If like us, there is no actual choice and you are not comfortable with that school, then you can focus on the grammar or private school options, or move. You may be impressed with your local secondary schools and then feel like they will be good back-ups should you not get a grammar place.

Don't just consider catchment areas, please consider the actual journey and time involved. You don't want to make life harder for you children than necessary - they should have time and energy to socialise and do extra curricular activities, which may be curtailed if they have an arduous commute.

My (limited) experience of SEN is that some state schools are better than others at addressing the issues - but I have rarely heard that private schools offer much SEN provision. Someone with more information may correct me on this... But I echo what's already been said, that the right school for one child may not be the same for another. By the time both your sons are at / ready for secondary their needs may be quite different from each other and you will look for schools to fulfil those specific needs.

I am sure that you are already doing all that you can for your boys - encourage them and help them to develop a love of learning, read lots to and with them, encourage them to read, play games, do puzzles, visit museums etc. At this age, no formal 11+ practice would cross my mind at all.

By all means encourage them to take up musical instruments or sports - but continue only if they enjoy it or are prodigiously talented! Not because you think it might give them an edge in school applications. Scholarships along those lines do exist, but can't be guaranteed upon.

Personalities will develop, catchments may change, incomes dip or rise, there're simply too many factors to take into account at this age to know what is the "right" thing to do.

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