Horrifying it may be, but your child’s secondary education is going to depend on the decisions that you make when he or she is only nine years old. At the start of Year 5, secondary school and GCSEs probably feel a long way off but they really are not. By half term of Year 6 you will need to have registered your application for any school that you would like them to attend. Miss the deadline and that may be the end of your choice in the matter so you cannot put off the decision.
Let’s look at the options.
The local secondary comprehensive
If your local comprehensive is brilliant, close by and your first choice, then you probably feel that you can just complete the paperwork when the time comes, return the form on time and then should be able to relax. A quick visit to https://www.gov.uk/apply-for-secondary-school-place will enable you to enter your postcode and check out the situation in relation to your favourite school via your local authority’s website. Be warned - you may be in for a nasty shock! Last year, the most popular secondary school near to me allocated NO places on the basis that it was the nearest to the child’s home address. Most of their (380) places were allocated to siblings and children from designated feeder schools. You need to research all the possibilities carefully and be sure to use all your choices wisely. Your top school is probably everybody else’s too so you may not get a place there. Try to make sure that your child would be happy at any school on your shortlist. Select carefully!
Should you apply to a grammar school?
Do you have grammar schools locally? If so, might these be a way to avoid the uncertainty? A good result in the 11+ may guarantee a place. Did you know that the 11+ exams are usually in September of Year 6? How might you help your child prepare so they are confident and competent by then? Do you really want to put them through hoops and under pressure for the next year, to help them secure that coveted place? Only you know your child and home well enough to answer that but, beware, tests are designed to be 'tutor-proof', so don't rely on cramming to get them through. They need thorough support over a sustained period. Hot housing and drilling is not the way!
Can I afford private schooling?
If the answer to this questions is "probably" then an independent school may be a possibility, although the fees commitment is not one to be taken on lightly! If you are even considering this route then careful research is again the name of the game. Entry to these schools too is often highly competitive. Most also require you to register no later than the start of Year 6, generally for entrance exams in January. These usually include maths (calculator free), English and reasoning papers in addition to an interview and a school report. Some may even ask for a pre-test in November before the main selection papers after Christmas. Papers are either set by the school itself, or a company working for it, or by the same organisation as those used by the grammar schools. Any way around, most children will need some specialist 11+ support if they are to achieve all that they can.
So, what can you do in Year 5? Plan, plan, plan!
Look at the schools that might be possible – of whatever type. Try to visit them, taking your child with you so they get a feel for the place. They, after all, will be the ones who will be there for a key five to seven years of their lives. Frankly, my feeling is that their preference is more important than yours – but I doubt that statement will win me many friends!
If your chosen path involves any sort of testing, in addition to the beefed up SATs tests that round off Year 6 these days, then perhaps you should seriously consider what type of extra help your child might enjoy before facing the challenges to come. I use the term “enjoy” intentionally! To be worthwhile, and avoid unacceptable pressure, you should be looking to start an appropriate boost a year ahead of the tests. That is a long time if your child feels they are being pushed and hot housed when there are so many things that they would rather be doing. Child friendly but effective, including different ways of learning, has to be your preference. Methods used until recently, like endless working of past papers “because the tests always look like this”, simply will not cut it. Like the old papers, they belong in the past!
To borrow an expression, “Don’t panic” but do take the time now, before the deadlines loom, to figure out what will work best for your family and circumstances. Above all, try to have fun as you and your child work together to plan their future.
By Jan Lomas, Curriculum Director, MagiKats HQ