Agony Aunt: ‘I fear social exclusion if my daughter fails the 11-plus’

I feel like I will be out of the society I live in if my daughter doesn’t take this 11-plus test and succeed.

In the Asian society that I am surrounded by, your children going to a particular primary school determines your social status. I see other parents preparing for the 11-plus and am completely baffled by it all. All grammar schools are an hour’s drive from my home. I really don’t know what to do.

Nasima, Romford

Thanks so much for your letter and for reaching out for advice.

I think the focus on education within the Asian community will be a familiar theme to many. From talking to friends within the community, I can understand the desire to succeed in this area can feel oppressive, especially if you’re not sure how to navigate the system. And it sounds like you’re also contending with an element of competition which can make the process feel even more daunting.

However, despite all this, it is still worthwhile to consider all the education options open to your daughter. As a friend from an Indian background recently said to me, “I know my family made huge sacrifices to get me into a good school, and sometimes the pressure was extreme. But, now, with a good career, salary and social status, I’m deeply grateful that they did.”

First of all, there are some good non-selective schools in Romford which your daughter is likely to thrive at should you decide not to go down the grammar school route. The Frances Bardsley Academy for Girls, for example, is rated above average. Havering College Sixth Form which is nearby is ranked one of the best schools in the country by The Times 2020 Schools Guide. Even if you don’t get the school you want in year 7, by the time your child reaches sixth form there will be many more options open to you.

If you do opt for your daughter to take the 11-plus you will be looking at scooping up an out-of-catchment (OOC) place at one of the surrounding grammar schools. These places are awarded to children who do not live in the school’s designated catchment area and are all highly sought after. Hundreds of children take selection tests in year 6 in the hope of securing one of these places.

Chelmsford County High School for Girls for example offers the prospect of around 36 OOC places. Southend High School offers about 30 while Westcliff High School’s OOC places total about 46.

Bexley Grammar School, which is accepting a “bulge class” this year and so has increased its admission numbers, offers an unspecified number of OOC places which are given to students identified by Bexley Council as achieving “one of the highest scores in the selection tests.” Townley Grammar School does the same.

Despite these slim pickings there is a lot of interest in grammar schools from Romford parents, according to The Eleven Plus Tutors in Essex.

“Even if children are top of their game, it is still very difficult to get an out-of-catchment place,” said a teacher from the agency which has several Romford children on its books.  

Children have to be fluent in the fundamentals and have good writing skills to stand even a chance of getting a place, the tutor added. “It’s tricky.”

The agency assesses children for free (and then charges £145 a month for tuition). The assessment of your child may be worth doing to help you make a decision. If possible, ask the head teacher at your daughter’s primary school for advice too.

There are several forums and consultants you could consult. Also, some of the private schools near you offer bursaries. Brentwood School is one example.

As you said, the grammar schools are all located a long way from you. It is worth investigating these journeys and deciding whether they really make sense before you go to all the trouble of preparing your daughter for the 11-plus. Remember, that in the absence of a lift, your 11-year-old daughter will be making her way to and from school in the dark come Christmas of year 7.

Good luck with such a difficult decision.

If you have any advice please write in the comment section below.

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