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 Post subject: Grammars, no thanks!
PostPosted: Thu Mar 30, 2006 12:20 pm 
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Joined: Sun Aug 15, 2004 3:31 pm
Posts: 1170
The following e-mail has been reproduced with the kind permission of the author whose son attempted the eleven plus exams in 1998/9:


Six years ago on a bitterly cold morning I stood with other parents like sheep grazing outside the gates of a sought after grammar school in London.

There was not one of us who had not been up half the night cramming in last minute coaching to try and secure one of the 160 places for our sons. Thousands now stood at the gate engaging in small talk, denying intensive preparation and being all matter of fact about the whole thing whereas inside our hearts were pounding away as failure was not an option. Every passing second was filled with mixed emotions, “what-if this … what-if that”, an emotional roller coaster. With so many parents herded outside the gate it was clear that the pass mark would be even higher than we all imagined. Failure to attain this and you are off the cliff edge, falling straight into the dreaded state comprehensive!

11+ had become an obsession for all of us over the last year (in some cases last 3 years – poor child!). Culminating on that make or break day, knowing full well that one in ten boys will be offered a place two months from now, nine out of ten boys will be mentally scarred for life, eighteen out of twenty parents will hold an unforgiving post-mortem.

It is at that point you have to step back from it all and take stock. For me it took six years to have the courage to re-visit 11+ in my mind as my son now prepares his final push for Oxford with his A-levels this summer. We were one set of parents that failed the grammar school hurdle.

We had opened the envelope in full expectation that our son naturally would have passed, after all his parents boasted five degrees between them. The phone was ringing off the hook with other successful parents calling us to share news of their success, but the letter read “We are pleased to confirm an offer of a place for your son at the XX Comprehensive School”. My wife was distraught and my son dejected as his three best friends had got in.

That September the boys went to their different respective schools but kept in touch, after all, all four lived on the same road. The grammar school piled the boys with stacks of homework whereas our son often went homework free and in fact went from one after school club to another to have something to pass the time. Whenever meeting the parents of other boys at the supermarket we held our heads in shame, my wife could not bear to face them.

Fast forwarding six years, two of his friends at the grammar school were ‘told to leave’ by the league tables centric grammar school headmaster who basically chose not to offer an A-level in a subject to any boy who was not going to score a grade A. They ended up in sixth form colleges. The third boy was ‘directed’ to do A-levels in less engaging subjects such as Social Studies if he wanted to remain, which he has.

My son completed all nine of his GCSE’s at A* and is doing the five A-levels of his choice. The extra work and piles of homework that the grammars did actually did not amount to much. The mistake that the egotistical grammars made was to get through the prescribed syllabus for the year in the first term and a half and engaged in ‘mind extending courses’ to stretch the minds of their gifted boys doing projects in the subject who presumably would otherwise be bored. What they failed to see was that many of the boys had been over coached for the 11+exams and failed to keep up or were finding the pace too brisk and soon resigned to being a failure in many subjects. They were further dejected by finding themselves in the bottom sets, since even in grammar schools they have setting, all the more upsetting having been at the top of their primary schools. My son in contrast was a star pupil in the local comprehensive, achieving set one in everything and the teacher’s favourite in all subjects. His school also paced the syllabus evenly throughout the year so the boys completed the syllabus at a cantor with minimum homework.

I would like to share this experience with your website as I expect the majority of the parents will feel like failures as we had. The message is that there is life after 11+ and in many cases the outcome will be a lot better.



 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 30, 2006 6:20 pm 
What a wonderful and uplifting e mail!
I am so glad your son has done so well. I firmly believe myself that many comprehensives are just as good as grammar schools and that if a child is fairly bright and has the right attitude they will do well whatever school they go to.
Our daughter did her 11 plus exam at her own school, but the grammar school she wanted did have it's own entrance exam, and although there were probably only double the amount of pupils taking the exam to places, I did feel a tad apprehensive, esp as it was a catholic grammar school. We are prodestants, and I knew that to get in she would have to get almost full marks. We also did not have her tutored, just did some papers with her.

Thankfully she did get in, with 97% and got 98% in her 11 plus also, but I have in the past few weeks met people who,s children have failed the exam.

I would certainly hope they would not be afraid to look me in the eye; indeed we have chatted and I have said exactly what you have just said.
Our reasons for choosing a grammar for my daughter were social as she was bullied at a past school, and the kids from that school would be going to the 2 local comps, and I knew none of them would be going to a grammar school.

But I hope people take heart from this e mail, and I agree also that copious amounts of homework makes little difference. I also take my kids on holiday in term time for 2 weeks a year and they have seen places around the world they would never have got to see otherwise. (We are off to Prague next week also.) I think that is educational for them and probably does them as much good, if not more than sitting in the classroom for a week. ( It certainly has done my two no harm! :wink: )

Let us remember that life does not end if a grammar school place is not won, and that a clever child will do well wherever :D

Good luck to the author's child. I am sure he will do superbly at Oxford.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 30, 2006 8:48 pm 
Thanks for a wonderful post. If only parents were able to read this before setting off into the coaching process. I think it shows us all, by all means let your child have some experience at the type of paper he/ she will have to contend with on the day. There are probably few of us that would expect a child to enter the 11+ with no knowledge of it, at all. But, coaching them to extremes is another thing. I believe I have posted before that I too know someone who had coached their son to pass the exam and thought that would bethe end of it, as long as he got his grammer place, only to find that into his second year, he just did not have the natural ability to keep up.

Thanks again, for sharing your experience.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2006 2:49 am 
Thanks for this account. Although, what does it tell us? Not much.

Does a child need a PERFECT school or is a GOOD school sufficient.?

After all one can only attend ONE school at a time. How do you measure whether your child would have been happier or achieved more elsewhere? Exactly, you can't.

As the saying goes (but for want of a better expression) "one man's meat is another man's poison".

I work with some extremely 'bright' minds however I would not call on any of them to cook for me, clean my house when I don't have the time to or babysit for me? How many of them could do my hair or my nails, decorate my house or service my car...

I guess what I am trying to say is that we all have our place in life and being academic is not the 'be all and end all'.

I agree it is difficult when our children are young because we don't know what their futures hold.

From my 39 years of life, what I cherish most is TIME! Money is great but five weeks holiday a year is pants especially when you are expected to work long hours and have your Blackberry on at all times.

So... time, family and money. Being highly academic may be overrated.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2006 1:48 pm 
An interesting post and well done to AD whose child has done well. However, although I know that people have recently been upset by their children not getting into the schools that they wanted, I also feel that we should be reassuring those people whose children have been able to gain at place at grammar.

I know that when my child first got into grammar I worried a lot about how much homework she would get and whether she could cope. No one tried to reassure me, in fact, the reverse, I think people quite enjoyed my anxiety and I have had numerous terrible comments made to me about how awful grammars are - usually from people who have little or second hand knowledge of them. I felt very anxious at this time and wondered if I was putting my daughter on a treadmill of exams and stress.

I would like to reassure all those nervous parents out there that (of course I only speak for one school), the children don't get piles and piles of homework, they don't have to give up all their after school activities and they are not stressed out and bullied by the teachers who always have one eye on the league tables. My experience has been an excellent one. She is happy, works independently, is self motivating, has many friends and still swims, dances and plays music. I have been extremely happy with the school and I don't believe that they will throw her out at 16, although most schools will have a minimum entry requirement for A level study - and for good reason.

We need to be careful of anecdotal stories as they can cause a lot of worry to parents who have been feeling a lot of stress in the recent weeks anyway.

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon May 01, 2006 9:22 pm 
I agree - don't scaremonger - my son is at a grammar school and I don't think he gets much homework at all, maybe that will change in time - hes certainly is noit stressed about it and enjoys the subjects he is taught.

I think one of the important things we can offer him is how to study rather than teaching him about the subject - being an efficient learner makes all the difference.

:wink: Had to chuckle about the story above with the parents having five degrees between them - we are up to eight plus 3 postgraduate diplomas! - still can't keep the house tidy though......

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Jul 10, 2006 10:54 am 
I too chuckle at the comments about the number of degrees etc. people have.
Both my partner and I left school without an A Level between us but I have been a (fairly) successful IT consultant for 19 years and he too has a successful business.
My sons starts grammar in September and it brings a tear to my eye to think of all the opportunities a good education will bring him... It's not easy when you don't have one!
I always thought that I would prefer my children to go to a mixed comp where they would mix with a wide variety of kids, of both sexes. Unfortunately all 3 of the nearest comps to us are way down the league tables and not very desirable in other aspects either.
My son always has his head in a book, watches BBC news and has an opinion on all things politics. I had no choice but to choose grammar for him (because of the lack of alternatives) which meant months preparing him for the tests. It doesn't matter how bright your child is, if you don't prepare for the tests, you put your child at a distinct disadvantage.
My daughter is also very bright, but more creative, prefering art to study. I was saying to a friend the other day, when you start out looking at secondary schools you think you are looking for 'the best school' and soon realise that what you are actually looking for is 'the best school for your child'. And, to steal from an earlier post, whatever school your child ends up, remember cream always rises to the top. :wink:

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Oct 24, 2006 10:54 am 
What a re-assuring post, I am a parent of a year 3 'average' child and I am learning a lot from this site about what, and what not, to do. Thank you!

 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Oct 24, 2006 7:37 pm 

Joined: Fri Sep 15, 2006 8:51 am
Posts: 8598
yes degree number alone is not the answer - remember quality not quantity!!! -
oh I hear more chuntering about proper universities from the othe side of the room......

 Post subject: stress
PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2006 9:44 am 
I have a child who didn't lift a finger at school for 5 years (to the end of y4) and was very uninterested in nearly everything taught at school (a Catholic school) but passionate about learning "things" at home - the kind who reads the labels at a museum without being told to. He always achieved well but not outstandingly. Since tutoring for eleven plus his maths has improved immensly although he shows no more sign of reading fiction for pleasure than he did when he was 6. He has recently announced that he wants to be either a sculptor or some kind of engineer. I am now not sure whether a fairly traditional academic grammar school will suit him at all; the one thing I gleaned from the open day was that very few people did art, liked art and every art project was identical with little evidence of diversity in project or outcome. From agonising about whether he has the ability to pass his eleven plus I am now worrying that it will be the wrong school. I know this is misplaced anxiety and I should probably be happy either way but I just want to run away or win the lottery to send him to a school which invests money in the "non academic" subjects.

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