A Grammar School Boy…….

Should you pay a tutor to get your child through that crucial scholarship or entrance exam? Before you commit your hard-earned cash read how we got our son through his exam without spending a penny on a tutor.

We are terribly lucky here in Calderdale to have access to 2 fantastic FREE Grammar schools which are among the best in the country.  Most education authorities they were abolished a generation ago.

The first is the Crossley Heath Grammar School and the second is the North Halifax Grammar School.  Apart from the locations there is little to choose between them as both are excellent.

We live less than 1 mile from one of these rare treasures, Crossley Heath Grammar School and not being flush enough to even consider paid places at an independent school we set out on a mission to make sure our son was able to earn a place through academic ability.

Competition for places is stiff – over 900 10 & 11 year olds compete for 310 places each year and it’s not only local children. With fees for private schools nudging £10,000 pa, free Grammar schools are increasingly attractive and parents are prepared to have their children travel up to 50 miles each way to get a free place. Crossleys gets applicants and pupils from as far afield as Manchester, Burnley & Skipton.  Entrance is based on academic ability alone with the brightest candidates at the annual entrance exam being offered places for the following September’s year 7 intake.

It was frightening to find out a year before the admissions entrance exam that many parents had been employing out of school tutors for several years. Our son had been plodding along quite happily at school with a little homework help from me and his Dad but nothing to really write home about.

Heck he was going to have to run to simply catch up!

Web searches of local tutors left us shocked at the cost. £25 on hour seemed to be the average cost with 2 hours per week being recommended. No way did we have a spare £50 a week even as an investment in our sons future. Also, it didn’t seem to us that 2 hours per week would actually make that much difference.

So, we joined an 11+ website  ElevenPlus Exams and started to research which practice papers were the best to use prepare Nathan for the biggest hurdle he has faced in his young life.  We then duly sent off for what were to become the first of many practice papers

His early attempts were pretty average and it was clear he was going to need lots of practice to get up to the high standard needed.

The real encouraging factor for us though was that he WANTED to study and to do well and pass the exam because he desperately wanted to go to one of the Grammar schools.

So, heartened by his enthusiasm and willingness to work we set out on the road of tutoring him ourselves. I say we but actually hubby did 99% of everything. He researched the questions, sat with Nathan while he did the practice papers then painstakingly went through every question te reinforce the learning experience.

They started in the summer – even studying while we were on holiday in Spain! Gradually Nathan built up to doing practice papers every evening after finishing his homework – he drove the pace himself but it was still 6 months of intense concentrated effort and not every 10-year-old is capable of that kind of dedication. We are proud that Nathan was prepared and able to back his strong desire to succeed with the hard work that was needed.

The 2 schools run a pretest or practice exam just 8 weeks before the formal entrance exam and this was a good benchmark. Nathan has never sat an exam before so after lots of pep talks on technique and staying calm and in the zone I left him at the exam room door and collected him 3 hours later. As predicted kids had been crying and even being sick with the stress so I was relieved that he came through it relatively calm. Didn’t finish the questions though which is a cardinal sin and better learned the hard way in the pretest than the exam itself!

Despite not finishing he got a good mark and finished in the top 25% which gave us a strong indicator that he could succeed in the actual exam. It also gave him and us the impetus to get on with the final push with only 8 weeks to go. With the exception of Friday evenings when he goes to Scouts he studied every single day – sometimes for 2 hours at a time.

The week of the exam we knew he was ready with marks in excess of 95% in both the verbal reasoning and the maths practice papers every time. Of course, it can all go terribly wrong on the day but he was as ready as he could possibly be. We had given plenty of positive reinforcement and I had also done some visualisation techniques with him – had him picturing himself on the first day of the new term walking into Crossleys dressed in his new uniform and taking his place at his desk – the place he had earned for himself!  We went through all the useful exam techniques and even down to the detail about getting some fresh air and a toilet break in between papers!  All those little things make a difference

Again, it was my job to deliver him calm and as relaxed as possible to the exam room. Calm we succeeded in, relaxed, well that was the impossible dream as he was nervous, but then who wouldn’t be faced with such competition.

It was obviously a tough exam as everyone was subdued on leaving. To our horror Nathan had lost track of the time and not finished the verbal reasoning though he had made quick guesses at the answers which is always worthwhile with multiple choice questions! Had he blown it?

310 places, 1000 kids competing? Thats tough odds but not out of the ballpark.  Whatever happened we were proud that he had done his level best and thrown all his energy into the whole effort.

So we waited from December 10th until late January for the results, hoping and praying that his best had been good enough! Christmas brought us his best ever school report with 12 exceptional results out of 20 so all the work had obviously paid off in his classroom work.

We expected the results to be landing on our doormat Saturday 21st January – that is tomorrow. However, I got a phone call from hubby a whole week ahead of the expected day while I was at work last Saturday. I sat at my desk with my head in my hands weeping at the result – out of pure joy!!!! Nathan had come 174th out of all the candidates and earned his place at the grammar school.

I am guessing there were a lot of tears shed that day – happy ones from those who had succeeded and devastated ones from those who hadn’t.

I am utterly convinced that home tuition for our son for the exam was absolutely the best way for us to go. If we’d taken him to a tutor twice a week you can bet he would have been too tired or not motivated enough to get the best from it. Instead he studied whenever he was ready each evening – and every evening!

I know that many parents are glad that they used a tutor but I am glad that we didn’t. We learned more about our son through teaching him ourselves than we could ever have done through a tutor’s feedback. He is hardworking and remarkably driven for one so young – oh and of course clever!  But then we knew that already!

Way back in the summer hubby promised Nathan an xBox 360 Kinnect if he got a place at one of the Grammar schools……we jumped the gun a little by buying it in October after we had his pretest results though it was hidden away.

Our confidence was not misplaced – he was in the top 19% of candidates in the actual exam despite not finishing the paper in verbal reasoning – that effectively means those questions he did answer must all have been correct.  He improved his position by 6percentage points in between the pretest and the entrance exam which is extraordinary when every child will have raised their game in the last 8 weeks.

So although I missed out on seeing his face when his Dad told him the results I did get to witness his reaction when he got the Xbox!  And the biggest hug too!!  The rest of his reward?  The best education available – paying or not, and the lifetime of benefits that it will deliver to him.

We won’t know until 1st March which school he will go to – each has 155 places and these are allocated in strict rank order – Nathan was 174th.  His first choice is Crossleys as it is so close which would be brilliant for out of school activities and a shorter day with little travel time.  However, at least 20 of the kids above him will have North Halifax as their first preference on the selection form that we all have to fill in so we are confident that he will be realising that visualisation in September 2012 and walking into Crossleys.  I’ll let you know when his place is confirmed!

I can’t finish this post without thanking all my friends for their prayers, positive vibes and good wishes for Nathan, my hubby who undoubtedly got him through with his tuition and Nathan himself for all his hard work.  We are so so proud of you Son!   All our love Mum & Dad xxx


5 thoughts on “A Grammar School Boy…….

  1. Congrats to Nathan for all of his hard work and determination…. A huge congrats to you and your hubby….. You are some wonderful parents and it shows…. He is going to be the BEST!!!!!
    Kuddos for his extra gift….. I know my kids love their XBOX….
    Can’t wait to hear what school he does get into…..
    Huggggs to you alll…..

    • Straight back at you girlie! When we were kids everyone did the 11+ exam and there was no extra tuition as places were plentiful. I have a small incling now of how proud my parents must have been when all 3 of us got places at Grammar schools. If Nathan has half the education I had it will set him up for making the best of the opportunities that come his way

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