In London (or at least where I happen to live!), going to a secondary school is a selective process and only the best get their first choice of school. If your child is bright, you will inevitably try to get him (or her) into a grammar school or a selective school. This is called the 11+. Beware: the selection is ruthless and my older daughter had to deal with a lot of pressure. All of this is already well documented, and all of it is true ( the reality is in fact much, much worse). Having being educated in the French system, I am kind of used to this. That said, I wasn’t anticipating such a selective process at such a young age (more than 1200 girls applied, and app. 100 got in). And this year, I have to do it all over again, with my younger one this time. It just never stops. But fear not: here are my top 10 tips to make this tricky phase that little bit easier.
1. First of all, forget about any kind of social life from September of Year 6. Just write it off. Cancel any work engagement. Now you are warned. If you were expecting relaxing holidays this Christmas, well, forget it too. My advice: cancel it now. Have a look at courses during half term instead.
2. Preparation is key. Don’t dream. You will have to get your hands dirty. Whether you do it yourself or hire a tutor is of course your decision. But don’t expect a smooth ride. There is only so much the primary school will do, and most children are tutored to death. Your new best friends are the Bond papers, and don’t expect your friends to give you the name of their tutor. They won’t. They will even deny they have one. It’s their dirty little secret. In London, some parents even ask their kid’s tutor to sign a confidentiality agreement. That’s how hypocritical the whole thing has become. But fear not: there are a few tutoring agencies in London. Kings Tutors has a good reputation and will update you on the progress of your child every month on their site. Oh, and do not count on your husband, he will be on business trips at all the crucial times and there is no point in complaining, they all do it and you don’t want to start divorce proceedings during this stressful process anyway.
3. If you feel that you are taken for a ride, then you are probably taken for a ride. One well-known headteacher used to tell parents that tutoring your kids would damage his/her chance of succeeding, only to have a flourishing tutoring business on the side. The worst part of this is that some parents were stupid enough to believe him. Their children missed out. And all teachers tutor their own kids of course. Don’t be naive. It’s an urban jungle out there.
4. If your children are bilingual, it won’t help them. Quite the opposite, in fact. British schools expect a more-than-perfect English. You should have seen my daughter’s essays. Suffice to say, I wouldn’t have had a good grade.
5. Trust your instincts. The school will try to manage your expectations. You know your children best. If you feel that he/she will get into a specific school, and the primary school tells you that he/she is borderline for this very school, and that maybe you should reconsider, go for it anyway. Ignore them. That’s what happened to us, and I am glad I stuck to my guns. My older daughter got in with flying colours in the end. Stuff the school. Excuse my French.
6. The process is probably even more stressful for mums. For my older daughter, I survived on 5k runs and chocolate brownies. I am pleased to say that today I just ran 10k in 52 minutes and went home to finish the ice-cream. I wonder how fast I will run after the exams. If I had other kids, I am pretty sure that I would have to start training for marathons. Seriously, I am not sure I could go through this a third time.
7. If you make it to the interviews, be prepared for anything. At the time, my daughter was asked about what was happening in Tunisia during the Arab spring . She acted as if it was perfectly normal for a 10-year old to analyse Tunisia’s political situation and explained that Ben Ali’s wife stole a ton and a half of gold. I have to admit that, at the end of the whole process, she was ready to tutor me.
8. Manage the calendar clashes. Some exam dates and interview dates will clash. Be prepared to make quick decisions. The secondary schools want you to make up your mind even before the exams take place. Sad but true.
9. Make up your mind fast. Once you have the results, you just have a few days to decide if you accept the offer. And of course some results arrive a couple of weeks later. This means that, for private schools, you might have to pay the fees for the first trimestre to secure a place when you are still waiting for the results of the grammar school. Whatever happens, the 11+ will cost you. As in, a lot. Emotionally, and financially.
10. Keep things into perspective. You can always change school later if the worst comes to the worse. (13 + anyone?)
So, is it worth it? Well, frankly, I am not so sure. That said, I can’t wait for it to be over. What about you, how do you survive the whole thing?
Disclosure: I have teamed up with Kings Tutors to write this post. All opinions remain mine.