October 17th, 2014

Understanding the Independent Girls Schools 11+ Process: What you need to know and how to protect your daughter’s sanity and self-esteem.

The process of applying for independent secondary schools for girls at eleven can be a nightmare for many reasons. Parents and girls are subject to extreme pressures so to take some of the stress out of it we set out here in simple terms how it all works, including insider tips. 

The 11+ process starts to pick up steam from Year 3.  Many preparatory schools commence Christmas and summer exams and girls and parents start to get a sense of how the girls are performing academically.  The subjects of particular importance are English comprehension, English composition, Mathematics and Science. 

In Yr 4 parents start to think about and schedule preliminary visits to potential schools.  Exams become more formal with revision being expected. 

Yr 5 is the year of heavy lifting when most of the 11+ syllabuses are covered.  Depending on how their child is fairing academically, this is the point that many parents start to get their children tutored.  This is particularly true in London where there is intense competition for London day school places and many parents fear taking a too softly, softly approach.  School visits happen in earnest in Yr 5.  For parents considering boarding schools this is particularly important.

Boarding schools

The boarding school process is quite different from the London day school process. With boarding schools you register approximately 18 months in advance.  When enough people have registered they close their lists.  Even for the most academic boarding schools there is likely to be no more than four girls registered for each place.  As soon as you start Yr 6, in the September or October, your daughter gets invited to spend a day at the school.  There may be some computerized aptitude tests (normally some combination of verbal, non-verbal, mathematical reasoning questions), an interview, a chance to do some sport and a general seeing if you will fit in.  The Head Teacher’s report from your existing school is particularly important and there will be an emphasis on your Yr 5 academic performance. 

Just a few weeks after your school assessment you are told whether you are being offered a place.  You can apply to lots of boarding schools but once they have sent out their offers, you can only accept one to sit the 11+ Common Entrance exam for.  The Independent Schools Examinations Board organizes this exam. In mid January of Yr 6 you sit the 11+ exam – this normally takes place at your own school and is then sent off to your chosen boarding school to mark.  The results are normally sent out two weeks after taking the exam. Each school has it’s own mark scheme and pass threshold.  If you reach the necessary pass mark you are then automatically accepted.  For boarding schools you sit papers in English, Maths and Science. There are a few boarding schools that have their own exams so these can be sat for in addition to the 11+ exam. 

In general the boarding school route is much less pressured and there are quite a few good girls boarding schools in easy reach of London including Wycombe Abbey (High Wycombe), St. Mary’s Ascot (Ascot), Downe House (near Oxford), Benenden (Kent), St Mary's Calne (Wiltshire), St. Swithuns (Winchester) to name just a few.   

London day schools

For the London day school process parents generally have to register their daughters to sit the exams by November of Yr 6. There is no limit to the number of exams you can sit.  Some of the London girls’ schools have formed a consortium for purposes of the 11+ exams. The North London Independent Girls’ Schools Consortium comprises two groups of schools that have their entrance examinations on the same day. Schools in the same group set common papers using the same mark scheme.

Francis Holland (Clarence Gate), Francis Holland (Graham Terrace), Heathfield School, Notting Hill and Ealing High School, Queen’s College, St. Albans High School, St. Helen’s High School, South Hampstead High School, The Royal School, Hampstead

Group 2:
Channing School, City of London School for Girls, More House, Northwood College, Queen’s Gate School, St. James Independent School, The Godolphin and Latymer School.

By sitting the exams for these two groups you are covering a lot of schools in one go but many London girls schools are not part of these consortia.  For instance, St Paul's Girls School (for which you need to pass a computerized pre-test in November before being eligible to sit the exam), North London Collegiate School, Putney High School, Lady Eleanor Holles School, Latymer Upper, Wimbledon High School.
This means that many girls sit exams for 5 -7 different schools/consortia over a two-week period in early January.  The exams are generally English and Maths (no Science).  Some schools also test for Verbal and Non-Verbal reasoning.  This can be very exhausting for the child. 

If you score highly enough in these exams, you are invited in for an interview.  The head teacher’s report will also be taken into consideration at this point. Many of the day schools are highly competitive – in some cases there will be up to 10 applicants for every place.

Around the middle of February the day school places are awarded. The deadline for acceptances for the day school places is early March. 

What do I need to think about as a parent? 

From Year 3 you need to start thinking about what type of school – boarding or day – will suit your daughter and your family. 

From Year 4 start to narrow the list and get as much information as possible, talk to other parents who have children at these schools.  Where possible do preliminary visits. 

From Year 5 do follow up visits.  Visit as many times as needed so you really understand a school’s values, culture and how it will fit with your daughter.  This is the year to decide if you do want to go down the boarding school route (many parents who feel it is too early to make this decision apply to a limited number of boarding schools and then to day schools as well). 

Your daughter’s wellbeing

Consider carefully how hard your daughter is working, particularly if you decide to go down the tutoring route. With girls you have to be very careful about their mental health.  There is some evidence that girls’ brains have a higher blood flow through the area of the brain that handles emotions, thereby making them more susceptible to depression and anxiety and also the pervasive feeling that they are never good enough and they should be striving for perfection.   

Whilst for many parents an academic education is important - it is only one part of a bigger picture.  Confidence, curiosity, resilience, emotional intelligence, good social skills are key to a fulfilling life, so it is important not to focus exclusively on academics.  Girls need to keep a balance in their lives so make sure they keep up the extra curricular activities they enjoy and that there is still plenty of fun and family time at the weekends.  

In Year 6 the boarding school process will start immediately and there is only a term until the 11+ exams.  Try to de stress their lives as much as possible.  Make sure they understand your love and acceptance is not dependent on how well they perform in their 11+ and that the world is much wider than this process!   You can do this by focusing not on exam and test results but on the effort they put in, strategies they use for learning, attitudes they show, improvements made and when they don’t do so well what they can learn from that. Give them lots of descriptive praise and empathise when things are tough. And make sure they get some play time! 

If you want to know more see our publication on Creating Happy Learners. http://www.theparentpractice.com/shop/publications 

Wishing you a stress-free approach to secondary school preparations.

Do you find the school system stressful? What are your tips for counteracting those pressures? 

If this information has been useful to you share it on your favourite social media platform. 

Jenny, Melissa and Elaine

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October 01st, 2014

Are your children safe with money? 4 Top tips to canny consumers and savvy savers.


I was recently asked by Sky TV to comment on the recent announcement that the Department of Education was introducing

finance management into the curriculum for secondary school children. About time too and this is certainly a step in the right direction, as all parents have a moral duty to ensure we make our children safe with money. Managing money is a life skill and needs to be taught both at home and at school. We give our kids swimming lessons in order to keep them safe in water -we don't throw them in the deep end and expect them to swim.

In order to make our children safe with money we need to be giving them some pocket money or an allowance and allow them to earn extra for additional jobs or duties.

My own daughter is at boarding school and the other day reported back that for the last few months she was really proud of herself for managing her monthly allowance so well. Indeed she was 8p under spent last month and I had to smile to myself with the thought that my 15 year old has taken on my values of budgeting and looking after the pennies!

I get many parents saying they are sick and  tired of kids asking for things; why don’t they value what they have? Why are they always asking for more? We call this pester power and it is symptomatic of our current world where instant material gratification is the norm. Are our children spoilt or is this a popular myth? So many parents today become confused with how to cope with the bombardment of advertising messages and children’s demands for more. It’s hard to be clear and firm and consistent with kids and to not succumb to pester power. It can be so difficult to say NO when faced with your children telling you "you're the best mum in the world. I love you so much - thanks for buying me that game."

Parents have the biggest influence on children’s financial behaviour so in order to raise a generation of sound financial citizens here are our 4 top tips to ensuring canny consumers, savvy savers, generous givers and insightful investors! 

  1. Start giving your children small amounts of pocket money whilst at primary school and for teenage children give them an allowance. It sends a very powerful message that we trust you and feel you can be responsible with managing money. How much you give and what they can spend their money on will be personal to each family and age dependent. You might like to compare notes with other parents. So  primary school age kids may be interested in treats, toys or comics whilst teenagers usually are motivated by  mobile phone allowance and items of clothing.
  1. Set up 3 jars: saving, spending and sharing – you may decide what proportion goes into each one or leave that up to your child. Having your children wait and save teaches delayed gratification. If you want to teach compound interest you can even reward with them earning interest on the savings if they are not spent in the month. 
  1. Do talk to your children about the powerful consumer messages the media world employ to entice you to buy goods. Discuss with older children the role of advertising and the manipulation involved. Most kids like the idea of not being conned by the conglomerates! 
  1. If it’s important to you that your child learns to be focused on/considerate of others, including spending some money on others then model this (let them know what you do by way of charity) as well as requiring it of them. Let them donate toys to a local hospital, or giving to old folks’ homes in the form of a baked cake etc. Many schools have some kind of charity effort before Christmas –if the children are asked to put together a donation box then consider getting them to fund it themselves or work to earn the money you spend on it or at least to go and make the purchases themselves.

Does your child get pocket money or an allowance? At what age did they understand the value of money?

If you have tweens or teens this may be  becoming a hot topic of conversation, so  do check out our latest teen workshop where we explore values and boundaries and learn how to connect with teens, even when they want more and we say no!

If you found this useful please share it on your favourite platform and like us on Facebook 

'The Teenage Years - setting then up for success.' is running on 8th October 2014, 7:30-10pm in Clapham. Click here for details and don't worry if you have missed it contact us so we can let you know when it is running again.

Happy parenting

Elaine and Melissa

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