FST pupil 2We spoke to Sian Goodspeed from Flying Start Tuition to get the low down on the changes to the 11+ exams, advice on how you can prepare your child for the 11+ exam, the pros & cons of 1:1 tuition vs a course, as well as Sian’s thoughts on how you know if your child is ‘right’ for grammar school. So here goes:


Q: What does the 11+ exam involve and what school year do they take the test?

The new system will involve 2 tests taken on the same day with a short break in between. The exams are to be taken in the September of Year 6.

Overview of new tests:

In brief, the tests will no longer comprise two verbal reasoning papers but instead will be as follows:
• Two tests, each lasting 45 minutes and including:
• Verbal reasoning
• Non-verbal reasoning
• Numeracy
• The score from both papers to be added together then age-standardised
• Test date to be brought forward to September – actual date to be confirmed
• Timed sections within each test
• Average score from two papers will be taken and this will be age-standardised
• Set by Durham Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring


Q: When should you start tutoring your child & how far in advance should you book a tutor?

When to start tuition is a question of personal choice as there is no ‘right time’ per se. Many parents choose to have their child tutored in the year leading up to the 11+ test, ie: throughout Year Five, however, some parents and children prefer the more relaxed approach of commencing tuition a year or two in advance of this, ie: Year 3 or 4.

How far in advance to put your child’s name down will vary from tutor to tutor. There is no harm in registering your interest with a tutor several years in advance, as long as you are not required to commit to tuition until much nearer the time. It is fairly standard practice to be asked for a deposit the year before the course commences but be wary of tutors requesting large deposits several years in advance.


Q: How do you know if your child is ‘right’ for a grammar school?

Speak to your child’s teacher as he / she should know your child’s academic ability better than anyone else. A rough guideline is that your child should be in at least the top third of the class academically although this varies according to the school / year group. It is always a good idea to visit the schools with your child and then discuss each school with your child. Which school did your child prefer and why? Which school feels right to you? If you do opt for private tuition, your child’s tutor should give you regular feedback and should be able to give you their opinion as to how your child will cope in a grammar school.


Q: How long and often should they have tutoring?

Again, this will vary according to the individual child / family and the structure of the course. As a general rule, lessons usually take place during term-time on a weekly basis and the average course duration is a year, although there are a number of courses that start several years ahead in order to lay the foundations for the 11+.


Q: Should my child do 1:1 or group tutoring?

This is again down to personal preference of the family and child and will to some extent be dictated by how your preferred tutor / tuition centre works. Some children feel more comfortable in a 1:1 situation, especially if they have special needs or lack confidence and a 1:1 session should be designed specifically for that child, enabling him / her to work at his / her own pace.
Group tuition provides a supportive environment in which to share the 11+ process with peers. Children often prefer a group setting as it removes the pressure sometimes felt in a 1:1 lesson of having all the attention focused on them all the time. A group environment is often fun as the children are able to learn through games and interacting with each other. A good group course will be differentiated according to pupils’ abilities and, provided there is a good adult:pupil ratio, there should be enough support for individual attention where needed.


Q: What mark do you need to get to pass? Does the age of your child get taken into account when marking the paper?

The pass mark is 121 and this is an age-standardised score so it does take into account the child’s age. Under the old system an August-born child would have to score a few points less than a September born child to achieve 121.


Q: What can parents do to help prepare their child for the exam?

Under the old system, there was a tremendous range of materials, including help books and test papers that had been designed specifically for the Bucks 11+. The new tests are designed to be far less transparent and no past papers will be released so it will be difficult or impossible to find any resources that will properly replicate these tests.
We do, however, know the general areas that will feature in the new tests and it is really important that pupils have a good grounding in core numeracy and literacy skills. There are a wealth of resources both online and in bookshops to support pupils in boosting these cores skills and parents can help their children at home by working on the following areas:
– Reading and comprehension – encourage your child to read a wide range of authors and genres and talk to your child about what they have read. Encourage them to ask about unfamiliar words and to keep a word book for new words and definitions. Don’t expect them to write down every new word, however, as this could take the enjoyment away from the story.
– Cloze procedure activities – filling in the blanks in a sentence or passage
– Developing vocabulary – particularly finding synonyms, antonyms and building lists of vocabulary around certain topics, eg. different occupations, animal family names etc
– Regular spelling practice – use the Year 5 and Year 6 spelling lists (ask your child’s teacher or tutor) and help them to identify words that sound the same but are spelt differently (eg. hair / hare) and words that have different meanings (eg. their / there)
– Regular practice of maths facts, eg. times tables and division facts
– Developing rapid written maths skills
– Practice of all key maths topics in the Year 5 / 6 maths curriculum
– In addition, the new tests will include both verbal and non-verbal reasoning so practice of these will also be useful.


Suggested resources:

– Schofield and Sims and Bonds both publish a range of good maths and English workbooks that parents can use at home with their child.
– SATs style test papers – maths and English from a range of publishers
– Non-verbal reasoning method and technique workbooks, eg. Understanding Reasoning – Non-verbal Reasoning’ published by Schofield and Sims / Bonds ‘How to Do Non-verbal Reasoning’
– Verbal Reasoning method and technique workbooks eg. Understanding Reasoning – Verbal Reasoning published by Schofield and Sims / Bonds ‘How to Do Verbal Reasoning’
– Online sites such as 11-plus.co.uk and elevenplusexams.co.uk have a range of advice and resources, including suggested reading lists, free downloadable resources and online games to support learning


Q: How do you find the right courses or tutors and what kind of questions should you be asking potential tutors?

If possible, always visit the centre / meet the tutor before committing to a course. Some tutors offer free assessments / trial lessons and this is a good opportunity to go along and meet the staff, get a feel for the atmosphere and ask any questions you may have. With the new tests assessing so much more than before, tutors will need to be able to teach maths and English to a good level, as well as verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Ideally, the tutor should have a relevant teaching qualification and experience of teaching your child’s age group.

Good questions to ask a potential tutor include:

FST pupils– What qualifications / experience do you have of teaching 11+?
– What is the format of the lessons?
– How many children are in a group?
– What is the adult:child ratio?
– How do you motivate your pupils?
– Is there a discipline policy? (ie what happens if a child is disruptive in a lesson?)
– What feedback do you give to parents?
– What resources do you use and are those included in the fees?
– What are the fees / deposit?

Also check that the tutor has a current enhanced CRB check and ask for references / testimonials. These security checks are even more vital if you are inviting a tutor into your home or taking your child round to the tutor’s home.


Q: How much does tutoring cost?

This varies significantly from tutor to tutor but ranges from about £20 to £50 / hour. Check for hidden extras: are resources included? Are you obliged to sign up for additional courses such as holiday courses and mock tests or are these optional extras? Also check payment terms and what the notice period is should you decide to terminate tuition.


Flying Start Tuition (www.flyingstarttuition.co.uk) can be contacted on 01494 772898 or email: enquiries@flyingstarttuition.co.uk