In my experience, there are a variety of reasons why parents decide to explore the selective school option. Those new to the process find they often have a lot to learn within a short period, as well as having to deal with the pressure of making some critical decisions. Many agree that hindsight is indeed wonderful, but to avoid any regret, my strong recommendation is that you ask as many questions as early as you can, the more questions you ask, the more you will learn and the better your decisions will be.
It is important to remember that private tuition is an unregulated industry, so please exercise caution.
The tuition industry, especially over the last decade has experienced significant growth. One can see the financial incentive, large class sizes of children crammed into classrooms, some of which can increase to 20 or 30 and above. This is fuelled by anxious parents who entrust the provider to help prepare their child for the 11 plus and there are many providers to choose from. After 2 years the 11+ results are published, many centres close quietly and are replaced by eager new hopefuls ready to take their place. Unfortunately it is the children who pay the ultimate price as they have wasted their most valuable resource - time. The 11+does not present itself twice. The ultimate responsibility therefore lies with the parent to their research.
The person that has your child’s best interest at heart is you. A common theme that unites all parents is providing the best for their children, this wish whilst been well intentioned is not enough. Parents also need to know what to look for and ask the right questions. You will need to carry out some initial research to ensure you make the right decision.
The 11 plus is a competition, hence the reason personal recommendations are tightly guarded. It can be very isolating when you begin your 11+ journey and advice can be biased or even worse - false. That is one of the motivations behind this website. You can help protect yourself by looking for warnings. Typical signs to look for are newly formed websites, those holding a lot of parent open days. Catering for a wide age-group from 6-18 and specialising in every subject at every level helps cast a wide net to catch any interest, supported with pages and pages of testimonials. If you are aiming for the 11 plus then seek an 11 plus specialist. If there is more than one class that is run at any one-time then who will actually be teaching. Be wary of those accepting late entrants in Y4 or Y5, new children part-way are a disadvantage to the existing cohort, which maybe your child. Be extra vigilant if you are asked to pay in advance - do not be forced into signing any commitment and make sure you are clear on the exit penalties if things do not go to plan, I come across far too many in this position.
Teaching is a skill-set so it is vital to ensure you are clear on who will be teaching your child, the common business plan you will find is providers employing additional people to cover x number of students, the increase in students results in hiring more staff. Whilst this can generate excellent financial returns and a very sound business plan, as a parent looking for a provider you will have very different objectives.
When deciding on 11 plus preparation please research every provider thoroughly. The 11 plus is an opportunity that presents itself once, so it is critical you make the right decision. The more questions you ask, the more you learn, the better prepared you will be to differentiate between the quality of tuition. When listing potential providers do not just focus on one, always have a few on a shortlist, to help with your comparison. Visit a few to help with your decision making, by far the most powerful help is personal recommendation, if you are fortunate to have this and backed up by glowing reviews then I would recommend you use that teacher.
Once tuition commences, do not let your guard down. You must remain vigilant in what is being taught, question your child’s progress and demand feedback. If your child is spending their tuition time filling out books, can this not be done at home? If they spend their time marking work, is this really an effective use of time? If there is no improvement in their school work, is there any value in what they are doing? With or without assistants, how much time is actually given to the each child? If you want to pay to have your child sit in a class of 10+ students, they are already doing this at school.
The one person that I can guarantee that has your child’s best interest at heart is actually YOU. To help prepare your child you must prepare a little yourself.
How to choose
The number one method of selection is using personal recommendation from people you can trust, however this is very hard to come by but by far the best way to identify a trustworthy and competent provider. The 11+ is a competition and as such information is closely guarded even after all siblings have secured their space. A reminder that the 11 plus is not like other tests, GCSE & A level students, for example, all have the opportunity to achieve A* grade, regardless of the child sitting next to them. However, the 11 plus is a competition, success is dependent on peer comparison and a handful will be selected from the cohort taking the exam. How well you do is to an extent determined by others taking the test.
You will come across many adverts that bombard you with incentives to call in, discounts for early bulk bookings, free assessments, limited offers, ‘hurry only 1 space left’ etc. Do not be pressured to make any decision and be wary of what you commit to. If you are at an assessment do not be pressured to sign any agreement, just request some time to think and review. An increasing concern I have found is parents tied to their existing providers by lengthy notice periods and locked in with pre-paid commitments. If you are asked to prepay, ask for a trial period first to test out the centre. If you do prepay, do not be afraid to ask about the refund process and negotiate a break clause that gives you the option of leaving without incurring any financial penalty. If at a later date you are not happy and wish to leave then you should be able to, without any penalties - question the motives of someone who restricts your choice to leave.
It goes without saying that all pass rates and testimonials should be treated with extreme caution, even if genuine, there is no easy way to validate. The best method to gauge quality is to speak to existing parents who have used the provider in previous years, this will give you the best insight. If this is not possible, trial a few weeks to judge for yourself, as you are the best critic for your child’s interests.
Many research before buying an item - tuition is no different. It is up to you to carry out the research to make sure your child is receiving appropriate and relevant tuition. It is with regret that I regularly encounter the same pattern in conversations with new parents, namely the time that their children have wasted in undertaking pointless work that is of no value for the final test, despite everything, the burden rests on the parent. Invest time to research the areas relating to the 11 plus and do not be pressured to make any hasty decisions.
At the earliest opportunity I would recommend that you register with the school for a prospectus or visit, many hold open days and open to all at all ages. Use the website to familiarise yourself with the many options available. An area often overlooked in research is travelling arrangements in particular the cost, convenience and time.
I strongly advocate that you take full advantage of the open days, these provide an excellent opportunity to experience the nuances of each school's environment and a rare chance to meet and question staff, parents and pupils. A good idea may be to prepare a question list before the visit, that way you can ensure no question is missed.
The open days also provide a visual reference for the child, which in my experience, only serves to increase enthusiasm. I would also urge open day visits take place during year 4. The two-fold advantage being that it will not only free up valuable weekend time at the end of year 5, but early viewing will provide you with time to digest and think before any decision on school preferences needs to be made.
At this stage it is best to gain an early awareness of the options of qualifications that are on offer. The introduction of the International Baccalaureate (IB), especially by the independent sector as well as iGCSE's is also worth noting. The review of league tables should be supplemented with additional information.
Key questions at this stage may be what is best for my child and what do I want for my child. It is very important that you undertake the necessary research before you make any decision about your child's future. The more thorough your research; the better informed your decision. Only after undertaking appropriate research will you be better placed to judge whether your child is receiving suitable and relevant tuition, or not. Please ensure you ask the right questions - ask any tutor if their tuition is the best and the reply will be a uniform and resounding “Yes”, this is not the type of question that will add any value to your research, as only you can judge the suitability.
The best placed person that can impartially guide and ensure you make the right decision, is not ANY tutor but in fact - YOU.
The importance of pre-arming yourself with the knowledge of what constitutes quality and appropriate tuition cannot be underestimated. The more tuition providers you review, the greater the number of questions asked, the better your understanding will become - only after this can you determine whether the level of service is suitable or not.
If you decide to pursue tuition, regardless of which provider, always remember that YOU are paying for a service which will help shape your child’s future. The 11+ is an opportunity that only presents itself once, so NEVER be afraid to ask questions and demand answers to satisfy yourself that you are receiving the best service possible.