Entrance exams and secondary transition seem to be the daunting words floating around school this Autumn term. Parents are desperate for confirmation that their children will have a place in a good secondary school, come this time next year.
By now all Year 6 children have sat their grammar entrance papers and would’ve been deemed, selective, or non– selective. Competition is rife as each year the number of children applying for a grammar place increases. In 2017, 5931 children sat the Bexley selection test, and from this only 1835 were deemed to be selective. Parents whose children didn’t make the cut are now panicked, thinking their children won’t make it anywhere! This is wrong. There is still time to register one’s interest in private schools or good state comprehensives.
In the private sector, entrance exams are sat between November and January, depending on the school. It is important for parents to understand the differences between grammar and private schooling exams to put to rest rumours of impossible entrance standards.
The most obvious difference between grammar and private entrance tests is how the tests are marked. Grammar schools assess children rigorously through the 11+ test which is optically marked by a computer. Your child will not only need the know how to crack through English and Maths papers but verbal and non-verbal reasoning too! Moreover, children will need to have the stamina to answer many questions in a short allotment of time. This is so the grammars can pick the cream of the crop, the best and brightest. Sadly, however, with children being tutored and well prepped for these tough exams, many bright children are simply not making it through as roughly 20 children compete for 1 place. If your child doesn’t get through, it doesn’t mean they are not gifted, nor does sending your child to a tutor guarantee that they will make it. Each year the bar gets stretched further and standards are higher so one cannot take the results to mean any more than they do, they are there to be selective of the top for that year. If you are not at the top you don’t get in.
Independent school exams, however, are marked by people. This means there is more focus on how children answer the questions. The examiners are keen to see how children think and arrive at their answers showing reasoning through their workings.
While many people think private schools are not an option due to high fee’s there are many scholarship and bursary options open to gifted students which are worth considering.
Most notably the key difference between grammar and private school entrance is the inclusion of a creative writing section. As writing can only be marked by a person, grammars only use the written element of the tests in their appeal process. Private schools on the other hand use writing as an indicator of the creativity of the child. Can they plot their stories rationally? Do they use advanced vocabulary? Are the children original thinkers? These are the attributes private schools are renowned for developing, children who are confident, well-spoken and out of the box thinkers. Therefore teaching your child creative writing skills early is key to cracking this part of the exam!
So how do you get your child to be a good writer?
The first step is to start early. As soon as they are born read to them. Read to your child every night. Build it into your routine; make it a priority because a child that is read to is scientifically proven to do better at school.
When they are older read with them, not simply to them, get them to engage in the text by asking questions and explaining new words. Reading books aloud to children stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world, helping them to develop language and listening skills preparing them to understand the written word.
If you don’t have time to read to your children invest in audio books. A child needs to be taught new words, so giving them difficult books will only make them hate reading as they won’t understand the text. Audiobooks and Kindle readers, however, are a great way for children to hear and look up new words, expanding their vocabulary and their understanding.
Parents must make time for writing and reading. If it becomes a habit and seen as a fun activity children will naturally respond to it. A nightly journal is a great way for your child to write freely and expressively about their day. (This process also helps them deal with their emotions as by writing them down on paper the rationalising part of the brain is triggered, in that way, ‘big issues’ seem much more manageable when set out on paper.)
It is important that parents focus on the creativity of their children’s work and not the grammar. Spelling and punctuation count for a small part of the test, where having a good plot or original idea that captivates the reader is key! In the car, practice telling tall stories to get children to think on their feet. Invent fantasy worlds together. This will give children a familiar setting in which they can base their story.
Show an interest in your child’s ideas and don’t berate silliness, rather question them on what they have said, get them to think how that would work logically. This develops well thought out plots. Get your children to tell you their stories, if they are too young to write, get them to dictate their stories into an audio recorder app, or use a voice to text transcriber. Writing for an audience is key as children have to think of the reader. Give them opportunities to present their work at the dinner table once a week where the whole family can engage in the story and ask questions.
Finally, the key thing parents need to do is not to panic. Children need to be secure in who they are. Not all children are grammar candidates, not all of us can afford private schools, but one must ensure that we let our children be who they are and try and find a school that would be the best fit for them!