Kent Test - Let’s Change the Script Around the 11 Plus Preparation and Tuition

By Anna, 1st May 2022

The Kent Test registration for this September is open and, this year, I have the opportunity to experience the assessment from the perspective of both a tutor and a parent.  Grammar schools have their pros and cons.  In all honesty, I was on the fence until one of my own children wanted to attend the school right around the corner from our home; it’s close by and will give him the opportunity to challenge himself academically, particularly as it is a ‘Science School’ – a subject that he is passionate about.

I grew up in Berkshire and we didn’t have a local grammar school, so the 11 plus was new to me when I moved to Kent as a teacher.  To this day, it amazes me that we expect our children to sit an exam that many adults couldn’t pass.  I battle with the ethics knowing that my colleagues in independent schools include the 11 plus content in their curriculum, whereas the state primary schools are not ‘allowed’ to prepare the children – although I do know of many that are now sneaking in opportunities to boost their more able students for the test and fly under the radar as ‘mastery’ or ‘gifted and talented’ interventions.

The socio-economic divide widens even further with a high proportion of children benefiting from tuition that their parents/guardians have paid for; a service that my company itself provides. I have been silently horrified to hear parents talk of drilling the 11 plus into their children intensely for months on end…   Where does this leave the children who cannot access the funds for tuition?  And the parents who take notice of the local authority advice that children should not – and apparently cannot – be tutored to pass the test?  Advice that simply is not true…  It is my professional opinion that a child who has not spent time exploring the verbal and non-verbal reasoning aspects of the test has very little chance to pass compared to their tutored peers.  Although the exact content cannot be guaranteed, the question types are set out in the familiarisation booklets and echoed across the many mock tests and practice books available.  This then means that, instead of grammar schools being for the most able students, it has become an opportunity for only the ‘most-able-to-access-resources’ students.  In turn, this often means that those children who relied heavily on intensive training to reach the standard to pass the test then go on to struggle and spend their whole secondary school years playing catch up.

So, what is the answer?  As a parent, and a professional, my belief is that every child should have the chance to have a go at the test if they want to.  That every child should have the encouragement, support and opportunity to familiarise themselves with the content and boost their learning.  That the 11 plus needs to be turned on its head and be about the achievement and sense of pride that comes from sitting an exam at the age of just 10 years old.  Simply completing the test and pushing themselves to take on such a challenge should be the goal and cause for celebration.  I believe in this so strongly that each year we hold a graduation party once the children have taken the test and before the results are given.  It is important that your child does not see a pass or fail mark as a value of their worth.  Every student should feel a great sense of pride for taking the opportunity to supercharge their development and take on the challenge.  The 11 plus could mean so much more to so many more children.  It is time to change the script.

Tuition must be made available to all students and should be delivered by qualified teachers in a child-friendly learning environment.  There are too many unqualified tutors with no security checks making a lot of money teaching children by following the textbooks.  There are too many tutors buying into parent pressure to teach children to simply pass an exam rather than develop the logical reasoning skills that the assessment initially set out to identify. There are too many parents who think that the answer is to get their child into grammar school – when actually this is only the very beginning of an intense experience of study and challenges for these students to become the best they can be.  There are too many children losing confidence and feeling inferior in a test that many are set up to fail…

Nurture Learning Tuition is my passion and purpose.  I have been lucky enough to be able to use it as a vessel to level the playing field.  We offer fun and interactive tuition individually and in groups, online and face to face.  In 2020 we offered sponsored spaces for young carers and children with disabilities.  In 2021 we worked with Reconnect Kent to offer free summer tuition to children from low-income families.  This year we launched our ‘11+ pay what you can’ class to make our group sessions available to all! 

Our students learn exam strategies and personal development skills alongside the academic content of the test.  All children are boosted and can shine, including the gifted and talented.  They benefit from exploring mindfulness techniques such as breathing strategies, a positive growth mindset with affirmations and how to tackle new challenges with confidence and resilience.  Most importantly, we aim for every single child to realise how absolutely incredible they are.  This means that every child can reach their fullest potential and have the best possible chance to succeed in what ever they choose to do in their future. 

It is time to change the script.

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