So as our little ones are preparing to go to school for the first time, let's not forget that our Year 6's are about to embark on their final year at Primary school. This final year, for them, is a preparation for their secondary education. A year of revision, more homework and tests.
For those of us living in the beautiful 'Garden of England' this means that within days of returning to school, they will be sitting the Kent Test (or 11+) which will determine what type of secondary education is going to be most suitable for them. In other words, Grammar or Non-Grammar school education.
When I was at primary school, back in the late 70's, early 80's we were all very aware of the 11+ test, but it wasn't such a big deal. There was no real preparation, we just went in to school one day, were told we were sitting a test and well, that's pretty much it. The results, of course, were a different matter, we were all desperate to see how we'd done with some people jubilant, and others a little disappointed. However, all those feelings died down remarkably quickly as we returned to doing what kids did in those days, riding our bikes, playing football and just generally being out of the house with our friends in the fresh air (no computers or phones for us).
Not so today. Today, we have to register our children in Year 5 to take the test in Year 6. They are already aware of the test, but this whole registration, together with the CAT test (Cognitive Ability Test) gets them thinking about the upcoming 11+ and, yes it does add pressure. Now, add to that the children who are tutored to take the test and you've got a melting pot of emotions that never existed when I sat the test all those decades ago (I could even say last century, eek).
Miss L, is a bright little button, she did well on her CAT test (no, I will not divulge her score, whilst proud of her, I personally find bragging about my children's achievements rather vulgar, but that's just me) and she is expected to do well in her 11+. But or even BUT (because this is a big thing), she had a total melt down the other day about random, silly things that were all unrelated. Everything and anything was upsetting her. We finally got to the bottom of it and guess what the root cause was? The 11+ Test! Now, this is a child who has not been tutored, is naturally bright and has always been told that as long as she's done her best, that's good enough for us. I must add here, that just because she's not been tutored doesn't mean we've not prepared her at all, she has had access to the Bond 11+ practise online and has used it, when she wants to. So, no pressure from me or her Dad at all, and yet still she is worried about it.
This made me really sad. She is 10 years old and already getting stressed and upset about a test. The crazy thing is, neither she, nor I want her to go to the grammar school. It's an all girls school and Miss L is not really a girly girl, she's a tomboy and enjoys being around other tomboys and 'real' boys. We talked about this as I thought it may help to relieve the pressure, but she still wants to pass so that she can go straight in to the grammar stream at her sister's school. I've decided to avoid any further upset by not talking about it now until the day, then it will be, 'Good luck, Do your best and I'll be proud of you whatever.'
And yes, they do have grammar streams in non-grammar schools (well we do at least, in our County)! You see, all is not lost if your child doesn't quite manage to get that much coveted grammar school place. Yes, you can go through the appeal process, should you wish to and I may have done so with my eldest, if I were confident that she would cope with the pressure of grammar school combined with the pressure she places on herself to do well; or you could send them to a non-grammar and encourage them to work hard to get a grammar stream place. What I personally like about this option is that it is not a guaranteed place, so they have to consistently work hard to maintain it.
It's not really about us though, it's about our children and what's best for them. Some children who are bright will suit a grammar school education, others may flourish better in a non grammar where they have the option to explore some less academic subjects (for instance, my eldest has been able to study Child Development at her school, not a choice she would have had at grammar). What grammar schools give us as parents, is a wider choice of schools and for those of us that have this option, we are very lucky.
So, remember that Year 6 is a tough year, and please, don't make the 11+ something more than it is - a test to determine the type of education that best suits the child. All our children need from us is to know they are loved, and that we will support them whatever. There will be much bigger and more important hurdles to get over later in their school careers.