It’s that time of the year when anxious parents open envelopes containing letters which tell them how their child performed in the 11 plus exams. Tears will be shed; some of joy, some in sadness, some in frustration and yes, some in anger at the system.
I’ve been through this three times and let me tell you it doesn’t get easier! Quite the opposite in fact, but more of that later.
My eldest had wanted to sit the test for various reasons. She did not want to go to the school which was the other choice so we stepped onto the 11 plus treadmill. She did three of these tests and got through all of them. This was quite few years ago and online registration hadn’t started. So I had to wait for the postman. Longest few hours of my life (and why does the post come late the one day you want it on time, I’ll never know!). When my second daughter’s results came out my internet went down! I drove to our local library and logged on there. When my third daughter sat the test everything worked and I received the email.
The eldest had wanted to go there but why did I put the other two through this? Well, because they wanted to follow their big sister. This is why once I got on the treadmill, I couldn’t get off. And this is why it was hardest the third time around, because if she hadn’t got in she would have been the only one to go to a different school. This time the treadmill seemed to be moving much faster than it had done the last two times.
How did I deal with all of this? Well, firstly I told them that the test was just one day in their lives. The result did not determine who they were or what they would do later on in life. I also made sure I rewarded the effort and not the result. So, once all the tests were done I bought them a gift and we had dinner out at a place of their choosing. I had also decided that I wouldn’t tell them their score. I saw no need for this. If they got in they got in and I didn’t want them comparing scores with their friends.
I’ll probably have parenting experts telling me off for what I’m about to say next. I had told all three of them that mummy was going to decide which secondary school they went too. The way the system works where I am, the out of borough schools tell you if your child has got in. For the school in my borough (which was our first preference) you would only know for definite come the National Offer Day. All three of my daughters had managed to get places in the out of borough schools. I had decided that if things didn’t work out and we didn’t get our first preference then I wouldn’t tell them that they hadn’t got through. I would just say that mummy had decided that the other school was better for them. Now, I know some people will say that’s wrong, that is lying, that is shielding them, that’s not teaching them that life has disappointments, that won’t teach them how to deal with setbacks. The way I see it, ten is too young for this life lesson. Ten is too young to understand that if you didn’t get in you didn’t fail. Ten is too young to try and understand why others, including your sisters, got in but you didn’t. 10 is too young to understand that a test is no indication of what your potential is. Ten is too young to understand that your score in these tests is just an indicator of how you performed on that particular day. Ten is too young to have to listen to comments which some girls who did get in will make (and some parents too for that matter!). I had always rewarded effort and not the result. So, if the result was immaterial as far as I was concerned, then why tell them they hadn’t got through. Come March when I found out that they had secured a place at the first preference school, I told them mummy had decided that that was the school for them after all. Marks were still not divulged! My eldest is in first year of university, second will be sitting her GCSE’s and the youngest is in Year 8 and none of them know what they scored!
Selection is the reality (and is here to stay); either through tests or by being able to move into the preferred catchment area or going private. We as parents make the best choice we can for our children. If I had a fourth child would I get back on the treadmill? Yes, I would. Do I think this is a fair system? No, I don’t. I don’t think the selective system is going anywhere fast. What we can do is keep pressuring the government (irrespective of the colour of the tie the PM wears!) so that no child is disadvantaged if he/she has to attend the local comp. Every teacher, like every parent, wants the best for the children under his/her care. We need to empower them so that they can deliver. Can we make it fairer? Till the system changes we could and should try!