Superinfluence Part 2: Deciding what and how starts with where

Okay, decision time. This level of superinfluence happens either before, or in the early stages of, helping your child be superhero prepared and happy.

Your child can’t do this because they don’t know the choices. They can’t see over the fence of the next hour without your help. That’s how children are; totally immersed in the moment. You are the strategic thinker, it’s your plan. Create the learning moments and your child will live them.

Here’s what you need to think about.

Deciding what and how starts with deciding where.

Why? Three reasons.

1. Each school tests slightly differently: don’t waste a minute on something your child isn’t going to be tested on.

By example, the three schools we chose for our son at the time tested English, Maths and verbal reasoning, but not non-verbal reasoning, so we ditched non-vr completely and devoted all study time on the first three areas. This freed up a lot of time, as we had been trying to learn everything. For our final school choice, only English and Maths were tested; knowing this allowed us an even sharper focus.

2. You need to know the catchment areas for schools you are interested in and how they work. Often, grammar schools have no geographical bias – getting in is based on ability in the test and that’s it.  Nevertheless, some grammars may favour local children, at least for a percentage of admissions.

For example, if all children applying passed with the same high mark, the first 50-80 children (out of an average intake of 150) might be chosen from the nearby area, with the rest going to outliers. This may or may not influence your decision, but you need to know.

3.Travel time. How long will your child spend travelling to and from school? I drew the line at an hour, but there are children at my son’s school for whom two hours each way is the norm. It’s up to you and your child.  Also, how will they get there? Is there public transport from where you live?   

Finding out where the schools are is easy.

 Visit  www.ngsa.org.uk  the home of the National Grammar Schools Association and do a geographical search across England or Northern Ireland. There are no grammar schools in Scotland or Wales. A google search will also throw up results quickly.

Ask at your child’s school and speak to other parents in the playground. (As complete newbies to both the area and secondary education, we found out about the local school – Wilson’s – from a neighbour who lived half way down our street and who we’d only ever had a couple of chats with. How thankful are we for that conversation and that lady’s generous information and encouragement to apply?) Parents and families may have inside and up-to-date information – an elder child who goes to a nearby grammar, for example. Your local education authority (LEA) will also advise you of any grammar schools in the area.

When you find a school that interests you, here are five questions you absolutely need the answers to, either from their website or from a telephone call to the ADMISSIONS department. Ideally, do both – check a website first, then follow up with a phone call to get things totally clear.

1. When and how do I apply to your school?

2.  What’s in the entrance exam? What subjects will my child be tested on?   

3.  HOW do you test each subject? Is the test format

  • A full sentence/calculation answer sheet, with working out shown for maths question?
  • Multiple choice?
  • A combination of both? If so, which parts use which format?

4. Does your school offer a sit-down ‘mock’ or practice test’? Do you provide sample questions or a sample paper?

5. When are the dates of any open days so we can visit your school?  

It might help to zoom in a little on each of these points. Remember, your child cannot do any of this without you. Nor is it your primary school’s role. You alone are the power here.

Usually, you apply in the Spring term when your child is in Y5, around Easter time, April. The cut-off date may be early July, or sometimes as late as September of Y6 if the testing takes place later in the year. There are, however, some tests which take place closer to July, and which may have earlier cut-off dates. PLEASE DO THIS STEP ASAP!

Make sure you know this date well in advance.

In fact, if you are in a position to, stop reading this and find the date and as much of the information as you can now. It’s that important. Don’t miss it.

You must fill in a separate form for each school.

 Depending on the school, you apply online, but may be able to apply by post. If you apply online, you need to upload a photograph of your child, but the process is easy, with full instructions given.

Later, in October of Y6,  after you have applied separately to the school, and in some cases, after your child has sat the test for a grammar school, you fill the local authority shared Common Entry Form.  On this form, you list all your school choices in order of preference. This form goes to the local authority, not the schools. Your child’s primary school will give out, and may help in submitting, this form. Do ask them.

If you have visited possible schools earlier in the year, choosing the order of preference may be easier. Note, I say easier, not easy.

 A lot of thought and worry goes into choosing which school to put first, second, etc.  Some people argue that if there is more than one grammar in the borough, it is risky to put 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice as grammars, simply because the pass rate for first choices is high enough to make it very hard to get a grammar as a second or third choice. Some parents put a grammar 1st, then choose the best secondary comprehensive they find. I can’t advise you on this, it’s your decision.

Personally, as my son had passed two tests before we filled the form, we risked it all and put the three grammars as our first three choices. I know we were not alone in doing this, and we also heard from one grammar school Head that several children had come to his school as a second choice.

Remember, each school does not know how you have listed your preferences. If your child passes with a high enough mark to be offered a place, they will be offered a place. The offer is submitted to the local authority, not you, and it is the council who look at 1st choice 2nd choice, etc.  

If your child has sat an entrance test in September, and you know the result, this can help either way.

If your child hasn’t passed the entrance test, DO NOT continue to put that school down on as a preferred school – it will not be considered, and you waste a chance to put a good second choice as a new first choice. I know this is an obvious point, but each year people make this mistake.

It’s also worth repeating, so you are very clear on this, that you cannot list grammar schools, or many other state schools, on the CEF unless you have first filled out the individual school form and applied for the test earlier in the year.

Don’t miss the opportunity – fill in the school’s separate form. Even if you change your mind later, it’s better to have the option to put a school down on the CEF. It happens every year that parents leave this too late: you are not going to be one of them.

 After you have submitted the individual school application, the school will confirm receipt, then write to you with the date and time your child will sit the test. Tests happen from as early as September in your child’s Y6 year (just a few weeks after they start Y6), to as late as January. You are given a morning or afternoon time – they choose, not you.

When you are given the date, congratulations! You’ve handled the paperwork that makes it possible; the opportunity to get into the school is now a reality.

I’m splitting this post into two, maybe three parts, as there is so much information to share with you. We’ll continue to zoom in on the above points tomorrow, starting with answering the question: what’s in the test? What will your child be tested on?

Have a happy day of learning, Lee

P.S. Do you know the 21 must-haves of creative writing your child needs to show in every piece of creative writing? Are you prepared for the multiple choice tricks all English tests play to try and catch your child out as schools reduce the number of applicants down to the most alert and prepared? Click here to get started or find out more now. (Do it before you run out of time to prepare.)

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