An article in the Daily Telegraph in November 2012 entitled ‘Grammar school tests to be made ‘tutor-proof’ discusses the concern that many parents and tutors in counties where Grammar school selection operates, cram or hot-house children in Year 5, subject them to ‘excessive coaching’, or drill them to memorize 11+ answers that they don’t understand.
An argument is put forward that over-coached children gain artificial passes to grammar school, and so usurp the places of worthier, uncoached children of less affluent background, who would do better in the Grammar school classroom in the long run.
In the run-up to Kent Test 2013 this may be a good time to think through tuition of Upper Primary school children in general, and for the Kent Test in particular.
First of all, if I look back at my experience of tutoring for the Kent Test in Canterbury, can I accuse myself of collaborating in the over-coaching of a child who initially beats the system, but fails later on?
I am not sure, because the only way of possibly knowing would be to follow the progress of all children who have passed (and that I have taught) over three or more subsequent years of Grammar school.
I have, I admit, had children for whom the difference between being a strong, and not so strong, candidate has probably been due to their private schooling, where classes from the earliest years have been small, and the focus on 11+ achievement has been considerable.
I can remember one boy a few years ago – let us call him Mark – who was from the private school background and was not a natural mathematician, coming to the Centre at eight o’clock in the morning for Arithmetic practice on two days during the week of the Kent Test. Was this an instance of coaching excessively? Perhaps – it was definitely exceptional – but I believe Mark volunteered for the extra sessions himself: it was not on family compulsion. Certainly there was no reluctance about his manner or conduct on these occasions, and never had been. He was consistently determined, confident and cheerful, and did indeed gain a Grammar school place.
One thing I think most parents recognize about 11+ work is this – that most of the skills it involves are of key importance and permanent value for the child’s general educational progress. In Verbal Reasoning, for example, one can cite the requirement to understand a wide vocabulary and appreciate relationships of meaning; or in Maths, the ability to multiply and divide numbers up to 12 quickly and accurately, and understand equivalences between fractions, decimals and percentages.
Some parents and teachers may question the value of Non-verbal Reasoning skills, which have no counterpart in the National Curriculum, but even the demands of this paper, it could be argued, promote observational skills – looking for patterns, exceptions, subtle variations, and so forth – which have a role in investigation work across the board.
So this should mean that, whether or not a child eventually scores sufficient marks for a grammar school place, most skills laid down in Year 5 with the 11+ specifically in view, will advance and benefit the child educationally in any case.
Exactly how much time and effort should be devoted to the cause prior to the Test in September, however, must be a matter for each family, and crucially in accordance with the drive and motivation of the child concerned.