When our oldest son took the 11+ we were naive enough to believe that it did not matter which school he went to, and that sitting the test would determine which school would be right for him. Maybe tutoring would have been on our radar if we had thought any differently, but truth is that we thought that if he needed tutoring then he wasn’t right for the school. He did a couple of those practice tests you can buy in the shops months before the test and I made sure he did not do anything in at least the coming weeks up to the test. It wasn’t for learning it was just for familiarisation. I did not want him to feel any pressure and believed that he had always been so bright he was bound to get in.
Results day came and looking back I guess it was quite inevitable that he did not get into his first choice. The thing is I have since learnt that children as young as possibly even 5 are being tutored to pass the test. I am not even talking enhancing their learning, but actually the code breaking way to do the test. Correct me if I am wrong here as my children have never been tutored. I could have appealed for him to get in but I decided that the school was not right for his needs. Due to his Asperger’s syndrome they were meant to help him be familiar with the school etc before the test, but they did nothing and it was rather a chaotic test day. I thought that if they could not help him for the test they would have not been interested whilst he was there. The school was also mixed sex, the only one in the county (grammar that is), and I decided that single sex would be easier for him. Happy that he had got into a grammar school we drove him there (13 miles away) and back every day for the first couple of years until there was a bus. So it would make sense that his younger brother would go there too.
Since that first test day our family had grown. Our 3rd son was born around the time of school allocations, so any prep at all meant there was only one other child around. I toyed with the idea of tutoring just because I didn’t feel there was a level playing field. But son number 2 didn’t want to go to grammar school he wanted to go to the local comp with his friends. Seeing the amazing GCSE results of our oldest we tried to persuade him, but nothing.
This change came about after changing schools and making new friends. To give you a time perspective, he moved schools the Easter before the test. A lot of the boys he was hanging about with were in the year above. It was only when they moved to the comp that he changed his mind! Leaving it a little late to say the least. Again we just bought a couple of familiarisation books. We took him to the open days and of course he fell in love with our oldest son’s first school choice. It is fiercely competitive to get in and children who have previously been taught at private schools go there (as it is a lot cheaper but still the high standard of education and equipment). Knowing that our oldest had not got in I did not want to get his hopes up. He was already putting pressure on himself to be as good as his brother. We talked about his other non-academic strengths, and how all children are different. I knew if he did not get in then it would be fate as the local comp would mean he would be more able to take part in after school clubs, afford the trips etc.
When the results came he was so disappointed to not get into his brother’s school. Relieved that he had got into grammar school (which we focused on) but really upset not to be going to the same (familiar) secondary school as our oldest. It was him that wanted us to appeal. It became apparent that there was to be no transport to the school he had got into either. Further away from our house and not at all practical now I had other children to collect (especially when you put after school clubs into the mix). Not to mention the small matter of handed down uniform saving me money. I have two friends who had previously successfully appealed. They both said if you never try then you will never know. It felt like we had to give it a go because that is what he wanted. My husband thought that a lot of people will have just given up after the test so we still had a good chance at appeal.I am very grateful for those two friends, for all their help and support. I also had got rid of the attitude that if he did not get in then it meant he was not bright enough. No what it means is more people got higher scores on the test – and this *may* be the result of a lot of test practice.
During the exam he felt unwell. He told us when he came out but we put it down to nerves. By the time he got home he kept being sick. We rang the doctors and they told us not to come in but they’d make a note of it. I rang and let the school (where he took the test) know straight away. When it came down to it though the doctors said they couldn’t help because they hadn’t seen him! The actual procedure was straight forward – we were told what to do and when to do it by. We had had plenty of time as we knew on the first round of results that he had a non-qualifying score that he had not done enough to get in. We still had to wait until school allocations (March 1st) to appeal – when all places are gone and then there’s people also appealing on grounds of over-subscription. I think this is annoying as it means they will not consider that your child should have scored higher until all the places have gone, but then they use the over-subscription as the reason they cannot let them in. You have to state the reason why you think that your child did not score high enough on the day.
Our appeal date wasn’t until the 20th May. It was at 4pm so my husband managed to change his work hours as we thought that it was important to show a united front and both explain why we thought he should go to that particular school. They had appeals over 3 days I think it was – but we were told within a week I believe of the overall result. Prior to going we received all the case papers which included our son’s answer sheet. It was really late starting – in fact we went away and had a coffee before coming back. Everyone on the panel explained who they were, and one had something to do with special needs (our youngest son was just starting school at the time of the exam and we were not sure what would happen regards his statementing etc, so there was pressure on us as a family). The representative of the school was already known to us. I felt like she did her best to make us feel supported, she even helped by bringing up the fact that we had informed them of the sickness immediately – before any results had been revealed. It followed a set format and was done very professionally. Poor representative for the school must have been repeating the same thing all day. We got to tell the panel our reasons – and we ended up answering any questions before they had chance to ask them. This included why we wanted that school, why we thought he didn’t do as well as he should. They asked about tutoring and we told them that he only looked at a few familiarisation papers at the end. Who knows what they are thinking but I can’t help but think that if we had been prepared to do whatever it had taken (tutoring) to get him in then we may be the kind of parents to do the same to help our child (and the school) get top results. They also asked how our son would feel if he did not get in. Due to the change in schools (and his old school not sending the file) we did not have a lot of “proof” of his academic attainment. I am a little bit gutted that his SATs test results came out after the appeal as I was told that there would not be many children obtaining 100% in level 6 maths. The test was Non-verbal reasoning at the time and I am pleased to see it is now encapsulating more areas. At no point did we feel rushed. We learnt that there were disturbances in his room during the examination, but unfortunately he was also on the sheet and told to stop swinging his legs.
My advice is make sure you know what you are going to say (we had a printed copy), possibly with bullet points. Make sure you have as much academic proof as possible as to why they should accept your child. The argument at our school as about the school’s inability to cope with going over pan – especially in terms of the school size, and the adverse impact on other children. We thought that the appeal had gone well but they stuck to their decision not to let him in. I think our main problem was the fact that I think the school our son was allocated perfectly suits him, it’s just more of a pain location wise. There was never a doubt though that we wouldn’t make it work. He’s made some lovely friends and there’s a fantastic parents support group.
If your son or daughter has not got the score needed for their first choice then I am sorry to hear that. If you wish to appeal and want to talk further about my experience then either comment below or contact me on my e-mail address. I wish you, and them, the best of luck for the future.