Parents’ Guide to the 11 plus

In London there seems to a consensus that your local secondary school is just not good enough. (Unless, of course, you live within a certain .2 miles in Muswell Hill.)

I’m not sure if this is entirely true but I’ve gone native and have subjected my child to the 11 plus exams. She takes her last test tomorrow. And then it’s over: a year’s treadmill of non-verbal and verbal reasoning, rhombuses, obtuse angles, proper nouns, semi-colons and semi-comprehension.

I’m pooped.

For those parents whose children are about to embark on 11 plus exams next year I offer 11 tips.

Tip 1. Do pretend to discuss with your child which schools she’d like to apply for. Then go ahead and apply to the ones you have your heart set on. Rest assured you can justify anything. But remember those justifications because you’ll need them for yourself once the deadline for her top choice has passed.

Tip 2. Do not bring your child to private school coffee mornings. She will make her school choice based on the quality of biscuit offered. In fact, avoid them completely because you will make your choice based on the quality of coffee served on real china and the view over looking the emerald playing fields.

Tip 3. Do not attend open days for state selective schools. You will find yourself stuck outside in a long snaking line, smiling apologetically (how silly of me to actually think my child can get in here) and inching away from some children so stuffed with knowledge stray bits fall from their ears. Do not, under any circumstances, ask if they know what an index is. They will.

Tip 4. Do prepare for epic battles with your child over studying. Your monetary concerns (scholarship or free school) and prestige far outweigh your relationship. Threaten, cajole, plead, cry, whatever it takes. Then on the morning of the test, when she looks like death: tired, wan and fed up, realize it all comes down to just three hours on one morning. Do not commit hari-kari–it will look bad on her transcripts.

Tip 5. Tutor? Yes. Face it, you don’t know a probability from a proboscis. And if, as in my case, you were brought up on New Maths, you’re not entirely convinced 2 plus 2 equals 4.

Tip 6. Ply the tutor with hot tea and plenty of chocolate biscuits. Allow only fresh fruit and distilled water for your child. Retire to another room with a large glass of wine. (Try not to listen at the shut door, you won’t understand a thing anyway.)

Tip 7. The night before the test, treat your child to pasta with protein and a tall glass of milk. Hope that your child will remember what a vulgar fraction is. You’ve already forgotten.

Tip 8. Exam morning breakfast of champions: Fish oil and dark chocolate for child; Cappuccino and Prozac for you.

Tip 9. Have location on speed dial on your sat nav. Now is not the time to figure out how to get there. (Trust me…)

Tip 10. When the final moment arrives, put down the mock quiz, unhook your grip from your child’s arm, smile bravely, kiss, kiss, and return to car to wait. Do not drink the antifreeze, it tastes terrible.

Tip 11. And then forget about it. Celebrate the finish line with an Australian bubbly or a  gutsy Spanish Rioja. You, after all, have been working very, very hard. You deserve it.

photo by mattalworth (flickr)



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5 responses to “Parents’ Guide to the 11 plus

  1. lisa knaggs

    ok, I don’t have a kid, but I think I’m tracking enough to snicker, and be grateful… 🙂

  2. Nanna

    You deserve a break after all that hard work!

  3. ninakillham

    Poor Lara, she’s finally done with all the testing and her teacher just plunked down a pile of exam books on all the students desks and said it’s SAT’s time! (SATs are end of year state-wide exams in English and Maths.) She’s not happy…

  4. Suman

    Thanks for the parental insight. If I could ask a novice question which is how do you find out which schools do the 11 plus and how do we apply?



  5. ninakillham

    Hi, thanks for your questions. All the grammar schools and the private schools ask that the prospective students sit some sort of exam. And most, I imagine, require that you apply to them directly, rather than through the council which is what you do for your local comprehensive. There is a book called The Good Schools Guide which covers the schools in England. They also have a great website. I used that and found it very helpful. Though I must say most of my info I gathered just talking to the mums and dads at the school gate!

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