Disclaimer: This post is largely about the situation in Independent Schools and will cause some gnashing of teeth.
The results of the 11+ exams will arrive this week and my daughter will learn if she has a place at the school of her choice. She is, I have been told by nearly all of her teachers (the one exception is a story for another day) a joy to teach. She is academically bright and so diligent and tries to do her best at everything she touches. Her creative writing astounds me and even at Maths, her weakest subject, she’s not far from the top of the class. She is a ballerina and a blue belt at Judo. She is already a wonderful musician and can debate the hind legs off any equine. She is kind and funny and delightful. Any school should be crying out for her. But she is at a huge disadvantage in the school place race. Why? Because her father and I have refused to take her to be tutored.
Unbeknown to me, however, the vast majority of her year have been going to extra classes in English, Maths and Reasoning. Some for a few months. Some for years. On top of all their activities. On top of their homework. Most of them surreptitiously. It is the same story across South London, apparently. At a recent school interview, the senior staff member’s first question to us was whether our Daughter’s high achievement in Maths was a result of “support.” I was proud to reply that it was entirely her own achievement.
I feel very strongly that it cannot be good in the long term for a child to be tutored to a level without which they will not pass an exam to a particular school. Inevitably this will be the wrong school for them. I feel strongly that tutoring a child to go to a school where they will be miserable for the next seven years is just wrong. There, I’ve said it and I’m clearly swimming against the prevailing tide. At an Away netball match last week (yes, she does that too) one of the mothers told me she was surprised if anyone could get a place at my Daughter’s first choice school without being tutored. And, of course, the children who are intensively tutored will be awarded the top academic scholarships because they have been taught extra material to impress in exams, never mind whether their character or personality is a good fit for the ethos of the school. Never mind whether they have any original thought in their heads. Never mind whether they will be happy there. Some of these children have had to sit seven or eight entrance exams at the age of ten or eleven. The goalposts are being moved by anxious, competitive parents in a way that disadvantages all children, including their own in the long term. One cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear but one can glue sequins on the silk purse and hope they stick.
Now, of course, there are tutors and tutors. Some children will have difficulties such as Dyslexia that can only be properly remedied with access to individual help. And some parents fear that their child will not secure any school place unless they are carted off to be tutored several times a week for four years. Apparently many state schools simply do not cover the Independent Schools’ exam syllabi. But don’t you think it’s sad that our education system has become so polarised that we have resorted to putting our children through this? Those with resources and time are making their own children jump through ever more desperate hoops to steal a march on everyone else while others, who aren’t so fortunate, have to tolerate being assigned to a run-down school with a historically bad reputation. And what sort of message does this send to our children’s school teachers about whether we have enough faith in them to build a partnership that is so critical for the happiness of our child?
Young children are being intensively tutored when they could be enjoying themselves creatively or productively, or just eat a civilised family meal around the table and take some time to share their day, debate ideas or learn how to build relationships with people. The modern family seems predicated around the next desperate Kumon/Extra English/Verbal Reasoning class. Our children are stressed out and tired from an early age. It is a parental conspiracy of silence. The Rat Race starts very early in suburban London.