“When should I start thinking about secondary school?”
In my experience, some parents (especially those who are living within catchment of selective schools) do this far too soon. And by thinking about secondary school, I mean just that!
“I’m not talking to my child about secondary school yet, so what’s the problem?”
Since you aren’t vocalising your views, you may believe that your child is blissfully unaware of your thoughts and aspirations for his or her future. However, children are very much in tune with their parents’ feelings. They pick up on snippets of conversations you have with other parents, friends and family and they very quickly put two and two together.
At the age of 4 or 5, it would be ludicrous to even think about secondary school, but I kid you not, when I say I have overheard many, many parents discussing their reception-age child’s apparent aspirations to join a particular selective school. It goes without saying that this is not only completely unnecessary, it is quite possibly also very damaging.
Don’t even think about secondary school until your child is about to hit at least Year 3, but ideally Year 4. This includes resisting the temptation to live in an area that has good secondary schools, just for the sake of those schools alone (I will cover primary schools, as a separate subject, in another blog post).
“But what about preparing my child for entrance examinatons?”
The fact is, most children will need help preparing for the modern 11+ or other selective secondary school entrance exams. The tests are often nothing like they were when we, our parents or grandparents were children. In those days, bright pupils passed for grammar and selective schools with little to no additional practise. However, you do not need to start formally preparing your child for the 11+ until they are in Year 5.
Most state grammar school entrance examinations in England take place in September of Year 6. Private schools tend to favour January of Year 6 for their examinations. Check with the school your child is interested in applying to so that you are very clear on the dates.
“What can I do between Reception and Year 5?”
Lots and lots! Roll your sleeves up and really get involved by giving your child the type of education that can’t always be offered in a formal school setting. You can have so much fun at home by supplementing the curriculum at your child’s primary school. Ask what topics they are enjoying at school and extend the learning at home by visiting the library, going on nature walks, speaking to older generation family members or completing a relevant art project. The added bonus being, you will really get to know your child and see the world through his or her eyes.
If you are able to, try and volunteer to go into your child’s primary school at least once every academic year to help out, either on school trips or as a reading or other kind of classroom helper. This will really boost your child’s confidence and make them feel supported from home, whilst they are in school. It will also support your child’s teachers and allow them to focus on the job they are paid to do. Do not overdo this, however. If you spend too much time in school, you run the risk of making your child feel suffocated and/or too dependant on you.
Talk about the world around you and use your child’s wonder to expand the whole family’s general knowledge. Encourage the use of reference books to check information, and dictionaries to check definitions of words. Don’t be afraid to admit when you aren’t sure about something and show your child you are motivated enough to look things up.
Allow your child to lead the way and (above all) resist the temptation to ram certain ideas and views that you hold personally down his or her throat. Think about wrap-around, joined-up learning at all times and when possible allow your child to formulate their own opinions, whilst encouraging them to back up their reasoning with age appropriate arguments and evidence.
Eat together. We have heard this time and time again from the “experts”, but the importance of family mealtimes cannot be overstated. Foster an awareness of healthy eating at a young age and ban the incessant use of screens.
Work together. If you have older or younger children, encourage collaboration and kindess. Reward this generously whenever you witness it. Not with material possessions, but words of praise. Siblings can offer so much to one another and form emotional bonds in childhood that remain with them for life.
Do all of these things, not to prepare your child for secondary school, but to really, truly get to know your child and to give him or her an education that is as unique as they are. You genuinely won’t regret it.
If you do all of these things, by the time your child has reached Year 5 within his or her primary school, you should have a pretty clear idea what his or her strengths, likes and dislikes are. Respect your child’s class teacher’s opinion and have open dialogues about their behaviour in class, their attention span and willingness to tackle problems.
Talk to your child about the 11+ or selective process. Be sure to really listen to his or her concerns and take into consideration the emotional strength or fragility of your child (I will produce a separate post about the best time and type of discussion to have with your son or daughter about the exams).
Then, and only then, are you equipped to make a decision as to whether your child is able to cope with the rigorous demands of preparing for an entrance examination.