Education & Family

My 11-plus hell: One parent's angst over aptitude test

11-plus exam
Image caption 11-plus exams - practice makes perfect

After a report calls for the 11-plus to be made "tutor-proof", working mother Rachel (not her real name) shares her tortuous experience of tutoring her daughter for grammar and other selective school exams.

The names have been changed to protect parent-child relations!

After leaving the nest to live on my own, getting married, giving birth, buying a house, moving to a bigger house and facing the death of my loved ones, I thought I had experienced all the most stressful and defining moments of my life. I was so wrong.

Who would have thought the whole 11-plus experience would be such a shocking revelation and such a test of my parenting skills.

I certainly did not expect to have to manage the whole process so carefully.

Let me explain. We live in Watford, an area where there are very few secondary schools that can be accessed without your child sitting an aptitude test.

The comprehensive schools are too far away for us to be eligible on distance grounds and they are not, in my view, good schools, so we were stuck with the aptitude tests.

What sort of aptitude is it testing though? An aptitude for hard work, and that is all.

And my child was thrown into this competitive vortex at the tender age of eight.

All my fellow Year 4 mums said to me: 'What, are you mad? You haven't put her on the waiting list for a tutor?'

'No I haven't,' I answered.

So, guilty was I at being such an irresponsible parent, I did not feel I had any choice but to engage a tutor in Year 5, when my daughter (an August baby) was a young nine.

Then hell opened up. The tutor would set homework which my daughter diligently refused to do.

Door slamming

I tried to explain calmly about the reasons why we were asking her to do this - but my daughter's young brain did not register the meaning of secondary school or the value of education.

Instead, of putting her first, I was a horrible slaving mother who should be reported to the police for child labour.

And this was not communicated to me through the simplicity of words, but with stomping, slamming doors and plenty of shouting: 'You are working me too much!! I hate you!!'

In the meantime, according to all the other mums, their children would do their homework (despite battles) and practising hours on end.

All of a sudden, the children were not children anymore but tele-transported into the future - into the world of graduates and university, good A-levels, good secondary education, good 11-plus results.

The message I was giving was that passing the 11-plus with the highest grades is the only way to a happy and successful life.

My fellow mums were saying to me that my daughter needed to do verbal reasoning and maths tests once, even twice daily. Play dates were cancelled as everyone was too busy working.

All of a sudden, play was no longer a life learning skill, it was a waste of time, a luxury that would have no effect on the 11-plus and was therefore of no benefit to my child.

The decision was mine. Do I push my child to the limit, with something she does not understand, something that she hates with all her heart?

Should I engage in daily battles where for hours on end we had stressful arguments until my child gives in?

Academic mind

No was my answer. So goodbye homework, welcome play.

The tutoring was still needed, but for me it was just a once-a-week pain.

I was either the most irresponsible mother or the most sensible.

And so to the end. Has this strategy been effective for the 11-plus process?

Yes, up to a point. We are fortunate that my daughter has an academic mind, so scores were above average - she came in the top 10% for South Hertfordshire.

But even that good result did not guarantee her a place at one of the top most selective schools - as these schools top-slice the number of highest scoring pupils for whom they have places.

She will, however, most likely get a place at one of the other good partially selective schools.

But tellingly, all the children who practised the tests more frequently did better, irrespective of their skills. This just shows that the 11-plus can be taught.

I am not sure the whole thing is to the benefit of the children, as it seems only to push them into a competitive framework very early on, irrespective of their skills.

Funny. The 11-plus is supposed to test the academic intelligence of children and yet the whole exercise is one of the least intelligent experiences I have ever endured.

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