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11 + and mystery school...

Discussion in 'Private tutors' started by CloudsTES, Dec 18, 2018.

  1. CloudsTES

    CloudsTES New commenter

    I’ll try and keep this short, but would appreciate anyone’s professional opinion..!

    Over the past few weeks, I’ve started tutoring a Year 6 pupil. She has learning needs, identified, to date, as being around attention and memory (she is having a new ed psych report done in the new year). As a tutor with experience of SEN, mum approached me to help support the pupil in the run up to SATs (the ed psych report was done months ago but no extra support has, apparently, been offered by school, or sought, privately).

    Having started with our tutoring, I subsequently learnt that the pupil was being put forward for the 11 + (private), but supposedly with a school that could accommodate SEN. Based on getting to know the pupil, I expressed concern about the level to which they would suddenly need to reach advance of the exam, within a few weeks (this was still a mainstream school). Suffice to say, unfortunately, the pupil was not accepted by this school. Feedback from the school has been received by mum, but I have been told that not much information was actually given. Since then, mum has arranged for the pupil to take the 11 + at another school.

    I have been happy to support this aim, based on my impression that mum would be choosing a school that would be to accommodate her daughter’s needs. Again, I conveyed my concern that the 11+ exams would be very challenging for her. The pupil has been shielded from the process by not being told very much about what is going on. Although I am supporting this new 11 + exam process, frustratingly, as has been the pattern to date, when I’ve asked, mum will not tell me what school the child is trying for (I can only think that she is wary that I might challenge her confidence further that everything is going to work out all right in the end). NB although I sound like a great misery about all of this, I do prioritise being positive in approaching the situation!

    I know that, in theory, I could tutor each particular area (e.g. comprehension, writing, verbal reasoning – I’m not covering maths/ non-verbal reasoning); mum has outlined those which will be required by this particular school. However, I’m starting to feel a bit like a (dare I say it) collaborator! Quite important (and basic) information being withheld from me is starting to make me feel uncomfortable, particularly in a professional capacity. I’m going to have one more crack at finding out the name of the school, because I think that is quite important (including in terms of respect for myself as a professional, to be honest!).

    Am I right to feel uncomfortable? Am I just a little bit tired as I drag myself towards the end of term?! If anyone has had a similar experience or can offer their thoughts, I’d be so grateful! Many thanks.
  2. SayItLikeItIs

    SayItLikeItIs Occasional commenter

    Hi Clouds

    Your dilemma sounds rather convoluted, and I can only respond from my own limited perspective. In my area there are very few grammar schools. Nevertheless, whether there be few or many, one would expect the entrance threshold to be very similar. So the issue of which school the mother wants her daughter to go to would be less important whether you, as an 11+ teacher, thought she would get in.

    I have known talented high functioning students with autism to get into grammar school. If I were the parent of such a student, I would choose a grammar school that could support my child with their sensory difficulties (for example). And I would of course research this first.

    You have not said anything about your student's underlying ability, only that she has difficulties with attention and memory. To me, that immediately flags up SpLD.

    Which hat are you wearing, that of an 11+ tutor, or an SEN tutor? As an SpLD tutor, I have occasionally 'discovered' that a parent of a new student, knowing that my field is SEN, wants their child to go to grammar school. In my experience, for most students, the two are antithetical, and I now do my best to screen such students out before I agree to tuition. It is just too pressurising for all parties. But you will know your student's strengths as well as their weaknesses. You have said that you have concerns that the 11+ would be too challenging for her. So if that sense of discomfort and collusion is present, then I would listen to it.
  3. CloudsTES

    CloudsTES New commenter

    Hi SayItLikeItIs

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read through my rather (unfortunately long...!) post, and for offering an informed and helpful response.

    My dilemma is likely rather convoluted, as I’m perhaps not quite sure what I'm asking...! I was hired as a SEN tutor, was then advised that the pupil was to be put forward for 11+, to get into a SEN friendly school, and could I support that 11 + process (yes, ok then..) and, only after that, once the relationship had been established, did I find out that she was also going to be put forward for other, conventional mainstream schools.

    I feel that the mum is trying to push through with something that will likely result in ‘failure’, so to speak. I wouldn’t have (readily, certainly) taken on what I feel is an uphill struggle (at best) and – as you suggest – pressurising and perhaps inappropriate, if I knew where the process was headed. In which case, I absolutely agree that a preliminary screening process would have been advisable.

    The student does, clearly, have SpLDs; the issue is that these have not been well defined (specialist reports, to date, conflict in key areas) and certainly not addressed. Underlying abilities, obviously impacted on by the SpLDs, are low, and this is where my worry stems from. I just feel that I’m being asked to join in with everyone in closing their eyes and just hoping for the best, an outcome I don’t see as particularly forthcoming.

    My plan is to continue to tutor, on the caveat that I continue to put forward my professional opinion that the 11+ exams are going to be a struggle for the student, and that I can only do my best in the situation in which we find ourselves. Obviously, I hope everything will end up working out, and perhaps mum has chosen appropriate schools; however, I’m often, myself, quite guilty of ‘blue sky thinking’, an attitude which is starting to be tempered, the more tutoring I carry out…!

    Anyway, thanks, again. Your response has certainly helped me in consolidating my thinking.
  4. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    I think you said they were applying to private schools. Are there any local non-selective private schools that you could recommend that might be more appropriate? Just along the lines of "by the way, if this doesn't work out, I've worked with a pupil from Bloggs House School, and they got plenty of support with their SEN there and made excellent progress".
  5. CloudsTES

    CloudsTES New commenter

    Hi frustrum

    Thank you – you make a very good point!

    The first (yes, private) school the girl tried out for was non-selective (and is known for having a good SEN offering, as part of its mainstream provision); however, following on from her performance in the tests/ interview, the school suggested that it couldn’t accommodate her needs.

    Because the pupil lives slightly outside of my usual catchment area, and because I haven’t been teaching 11+ for a great deal of time, I’m not totally up to speed on what other schools mum might consider (based on accessibility, certainly). To be fair, I think mum is quite aware that any school needs to present itself as being very accessible, but I do know that the new one being considered (and which I’ve recently found out about) is selective. So, we shall see…
  6. meggyd

    meggyd Star commenter

    I live in an 11 plus area. Some parents automatically enter their kids because everyone else does. They think if they don't others will see them as poor parents .
  7. CloudsTES

    CloudsTES New commenter

    Thanks meggyd - that's an interesting point...
    This pupil is actually being put forward for private schools (11+ seems to be used - as far as I understand - as a term for private entrance at Year 7, also).
    It just feels to me as if learning issues, although not necessarily well defined, have been known about for a while now; however, little has been done - for whatever reason - and now panic is starting to set in. I think I'm just going to be very clear on my view of the situation (I report back via email after each session, which can prove helpful in these kind of cases), and mum can take it or leave it. At least then I'll know that I've been true to myself, and my professional opinion!
  8. saluki

    saluki Lead commenter

    Let me tell you what you already know: The child will not pass the 11+. It is aimed for high flyers and is even more competitive than it was years ago when there were a lot of grammar schools.
    The mother is probably overly aspirational and deluded. All of her friends and acquaintances probably know this.
    You feel uncomfortable with this situation. You feel it is not fair on the pupil. It rankles professionally. Mum probably won't take your professional advice.
    You have two choices: either grit your teeth and see it through although you feel it may end in disaster. Or, walk away.
  9. cathr

    cathr Occasional commenter

    There seems to be confusion here between 'Common Entrance' at 11+, a test evaluating children for entry in a private school and the 11+ exam for grammar schools. Completely different, different syllabus.
  10. cathr

    cathr Occasional commenter

  11. CloudsTES

    CloudsTES New commenter

    Hi saluki
    I think you're probably bang on :)
    Although, as per cathr's helpful clarification, I meant to suggest that the pupil was taking 'common entrance' at 11+ to private schools, if the schools are selective - and the one the pupil is trying for in Jan is definitely selective - I'm obviously very concerned about her chances (especially considering a non-selective school felt unable to take her).
    Part of me is probably seeking permission to walk away from something that the other (masochistic) part of me refuses to do :) Maybe I'll get the 'heave ho' as a result of my frank reporting (although, as you say, anything of that order will probably be filed away as 'not relevant' to the plan in hand....).
  12. CloudsTES

    CloudsTES New commenter

    Thanks cathr; you're quite right. I meant to suggest 'Common Entrance' at 11+.
  13. SayItLikeItIs

    SayItLikeItIs Occasional commenter

    I can identify with your feeling that you need permission to walk away. The only time I have found walking away remotely easy is when parents are cancelling a lot and not being straight with me over reasons for non-attendance, ie messing me around. If they have paid a fee through a tuition website, that can add to the pressure to keep going when you know it isn't going to work. At the end of the day, I try to walk what I think is the most ethical line. If Mum has changed the goalposts since you took the student on, ie, wanting support for her child's special needs is now a child with special needs who needs to pass 11+ or CE exams, then I can't see why you would keep going. You can simply tell her that you don't have the expertise to support her child through this. That keeps your professional integrity intact.
    saluki and meggyd like this.
  14. cathr

    cathr Occasional commenter

    I don't know much about private tutoring but I have some understanding of admission to the private sector, at least outside London. This young lady will have to demonstrate more than academic ability to be taken in. Demonstrable ability to play a musical instrument to good grade, sport ( playing at county level would be good), acting, artistic skills ( portfolio needed) and/ or leadership traits. These can often compensate for academic difficulties. In the same vein, the school chosen should be adapted to the child's skills. All above may make all your efforts futile, the issue is probably out of your hands...
  15. meggyd

    meggyd Star commenter

    There are a couple of issues here. Obviously you feel sorry for your pupil but you also have your reputation as a tutor to consider. Only you can judge the parent. Ideally you will be able to talk them round into allowing you to give the pupil suitable support to do well in an appropriate secondary school but if not.... well the parent might blame you. Obviously you know that it is nothing to do with you. You can take the hit and her money if you know that there is enough work out there and if she is not part of a network of parents who gossip. Deep down I am guessing that the parent probably knows the score and all this is out of desperation. So sad.
    saluki likes this.
  16. CloudsTES

    CloudsTES New commenter

    You make a good point… I now have only two more sessions with the pupil before the exams, though, so I’m going to continue to provide support, whilst also providing frank and honest feedback to mum. I saw the pupil yesterday, and it did not bode well, in terms of her ability to approach a comprehension exercise. In my email report I detailed exactly what we had done in the session, where the (significant) gaps are, and reiterated my belief that the exam is going to be extremely challenging for the pupil. After the exams, I guess the expectation will be that we move back to curriculum and any ‘specialist’ support I’m able to give (although I’ll probably end up finding out my true role was just to get the pupil past the post for secondary and, if that doesn’t happen, I’m not sure what the expectations – or recriminations! – will be…)
  17. CloudsTES

    CloudsTES New commenter

    Well, quite! Unfortunately, there are no particularly ‘outstanding’ qualities or skills (apart from the fact that everyone is obviously unique and outstanding in their own way :)!) which the pupil has (or of which I’m aware), that might compensate for the significant academic difficulties. I think you’re absolutely right that the issue is out of my hands; I just want to ensure that the parents share this understanding (certainly regarding my part in the process (!), even if they’re not keen to face up to the bigger picture...)
  18. CloudsTES

    CloudsTES New commenter

    Absolutely, I do have that anxiety that this is all going to be blamed on me! I guess you can’t tell if a parent is going to project out in that way. Mum’s already left me a good review online, though, so at least that ‘threat’ is removed… I do think that, deep down, mum knows the score; she probably feels conscious that, despite difficulties having been identified some time ago, for whatever reason, nothing has been done (apparently) at school, or in a private capacity. My plan – with two more sessions left until the exams – is to keep ploughing on, whilst continuing to iterate how difficult the pupil is likely to find the process (the fact that mum was unwilling to let me know the name of the school the pupil will be trying out for next, is, I think, a reflection of her understanding that I’m not convinced that this whole enterprise is going to end happily). An emphatic mention, yesterday, about me taking Christmas week off, did not sit terribly well, however...!
  19. saluki

    saluki Lead commenter

    Hi CloudsTES.
    I give you permission to walk away.
    I, too, was a masochist who struggled on for the sake of the students. Hmmm. I don't think the students cared much.
    I would be worried that she may be the type of mum who blames the tutor. Oh well these things happen. She probably won't ruin your reputation.
    If you continue to feel uncomfortable or the feeling gets worse: Just Walk.
  20. modgepodge

    modgepodge Established commenter

    Some private schools are looking for well rounded children who have talents in sport, music, drama etc as well as high academic levels. However, many are not full and whilst they have an entrance exam, will take a wide variety academically, because, to be blunt, empty seats don’t pay.

    I teach y6 in a prep school; I have a number of children in my class who are quite low ability and some with a diagnosis of dyslexia. I’m not sure any are as weak as the student you describe, though there are others lower down the school who are. There are certainly schools near me who have entrance exams but as far as I know, no one ever fails. We push the lower ability ones towards those. There is one which has an interview but not exam - often used as a back up by those who are worried about not getting in to the ‘selective’ ones - this particular school does seem to do well with SEN kids.

    Frankly, the parent is not helping their child by not telling their tutor what they’re aspiring to. I think it’s safe to say this child is not state grammar material, but she would probably get in to certain private schools near me, so let’s hope the same is true where you are OP. though, the fact she didn’t get in to the school which is generally targeted by SEN kids is perhaps telling...

    I’d be inclined to focus more on actual skills for the curriculum (English and maths) than the nonsense that is VR and NVR. they are more useful in real life and private entrance exams often focus more on the academic subjects than fbe reasoning anyway - lots of schools near me have dropped the reasoning completely, whereas the state grammars use this almost exclusively.

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