11 + How to Best Prepare your Child!
It’s that time of year where thousands of Year 5s are preparing for this set of defining exams. But what’s the right amount of study and how do you beat the stress gremlins? We asked a Kent head teacher for her ultimate top tips...
The sun is out, the long school holiday is looming large… which means it’s that time of year when, across those remaining grammar school counties, thousands of Year 5s will spend much of their summer break preparing for this set of defining exams.
So how best to navigate this tricky time? Mrs Louise Lawrance, headteacher at The Granville School, Sevenoaks, has years of experience in this field. Here, she shares her advice for all:
PREPARATION IS KEY
Preparation looks different for each child. They have not only their own end goals – our girls go to a wide range of senior schools for example – but they all have their own starting points.
Giving pupils as bespoke an experience as possible is key to success. Preparation for 11+ begins at the very start of their education at The Granville, but in a manner that the girls are completely unaware of. There are of course the customary foundation skills like English and Maths, but we also embed other key skills too.
Learning to speak confidently during Show and Tell in Reception builds the skills for interviewing well. Spending time in our woodlands during Forest School develops resilience and problem-solving skills, both vital attributes for success. The more active, targeted preparation begins much later, quietly in Year 4 and more obviously in Year 5.
As a preparatory school, readying our girls for 11+ is in our DNA. However, by maintaining a fully rounded curriculum right up to Year 6, continuing to offer trips, visits, extra-curricular activities and comprehensive and empathic pastoral care, we can offer that preparation without the ‘hot-house’ effect.
Our girls are well prepared because we have steadily embedded both the soft skills and academic attributes that will allow them not only to cope with any pressure, but to thrive with it and to recognise when they need help with it.
GET THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Our children look to adults, parents and teachers, as their examples. Parents’ anxiety and worry about 11+ will inevitably transfer to their children. Of course, it is a process which can lead to stress.
It’s a huge decision to choose the right school and the examination process can be fraught with worry while you wait for the results. Parents, please don’t share these worries with your children! Your children naturally want to please and if they know you are desperate for a particular school, it will worry them too. If they realise you are anxious about whether they gain entry to the best grammar school, it will make them anxious too.
If they know you are fretting about which is the right school to choose, they will fret too. Have those conversations away from your children. Talk to each other, your friends, the experts at your school, but show a relaxed and positive attitude around your children.
Praise their efforts, support them, build their self-esteem, help them when they find things hard, show them you believe in them and that you are proud of them, regardless of the outcome. You are not excluding them; you are merely protecting them from a worry which they do not need to have. Relaxed, calm pupils perform better. This is scientifically proven.
TOP REVISION TIPS
Little and often over a longer period of time is very effective, especially when the activities are carefully targeted for each pupil’s need. We create a personalised ‘training plan’ that accounts for the varying requirements of different exams in terms of knowledge, skills, exam technique and timing.
When revising at home, we advise against giving pupils reams of practice papers from an early stage. Without the skills needed to complete them, it can be demotivating and relentless. Save those until the exam is closer when pupils know how to tackle the questions and can practise under timed conditions.
Find out from your child’s teacher exactly what they need to work on in the different areas. Teachers can always suggest helpful activities, websites, apps and books to support them.
Although it is more time consuming, sitting and reading a challenging and language-rich book together with your child will have far more impact than leaving them to complete a series of past paper comprehensions alone. If you notice something your child is struggling with, tell their teachers and ask for advice.
THE MAGIC TRILOGY
Three is the magic number. Thats’s school, parent and child. This relationship is key and how they work together.
Senior School Transition is a real partnership between home and school and so we offer our first formal transition meeting towards the end of Year 4 so that parents can start to think about visiting potential schools and forming some broad thoughts about their options.
Preparations can be tailored to each child when the conversation about schools remains open between home and school. Open and honest communication is key. School needs to know where the pupils are aiming for, parents need to know their child’s realistic goals both academically and socially, and children also need to know what is expected of them.
When communication channels break down, outcomes suffer. We invite our parents in to discuss senior school choice with staff. The decision is ultimately for parents to make, but we guide and inform as best we can. There is a huge amount of 11+ expertise within our teaching staff and we want to share as much of it as we can.
DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT
When the letters from senior schools begin dropping through letterboxes, it can be a very emotional time. Balancing the celebrations for some, whilst sensitively managing those who were not successful, is important.
Our school values and our pastoral curriculum teach many of the skills the girls need during this time. We don’t want a quick fix – we want our girls to be equipped to deal with whatever those letters may say.
Kindness, team spirit, perseverance, respect and resilience all come into play and our girls are taught these throughout their school career. They are skills for life, not just for 11+. They form part of the curriculum because they are fundamental to our ethos, and when 11+ results come around, they can be relied on.
For pupils, or parents, who struggle with the news, we are here to talk; to advise them of alternatives and to praise the pupils’ efforts and the successes they have had.
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