Perhaps not quite in keeping with my role as Head of a Prep School as one might expect, I must admit that the 11+ process does not always sit terribly well with me, particularly in London.
There are horror stories and, with eighteen years’ experience in the field, I have heard many. Driven, I am sure, by the best intentions yet perhaps a soupçon of uncertainty, I was once made aware of a child whose parents had duly completed applications for nine schools. What this effectively amounts to, is fourteen hours of exams in both English and maths, seven hours of verbal reasoning, six hours of non-verbal reasoning and, once completed, a possible further nine hours of interviews, not including school tours, night-befores and anxious waits; all within a timeframe of two months, at best.
I can quite easily see how nine school applications can happen: if option A do not offer a place, then we move to option B on our list, option C appears to be a certain back-up, but then again, so does D, with its emphasis on a music and drama, as does E, as rumour has it more applications are being accepted this year, yet F places as much weight on performance at interview as in the entrance tests. Before you know it, your just turned ten-year-old child is exposed to a fate better confronted when applying for CEO roles at the age of forty something.
One of my personal goals, has been to ensure that, at Wandsworth Prep, we remain steadfast in our belief that successful preparation for 11+ is placing our knowledge of the individual child at the heart of the process. Part of this, is finding a school that fits the child, or rather, three schools that fit the child. Why three?; an ambitious choice, a safe bet and a fall back, in case it does not quite go as planned on the day.
We begin to work with parents in Year 4, triangulating our knowledge of the child which we marry with our knowledge of the schools, their ethos and curricular. We warmly encourage parents to listen to the views of their child allowing them to be their guide. I have always believed that a child should like what the students and teachers say; it should feel somehow familiar to them: warm and engaging – like home.
It would be remiss to deny that preparation for entrance exams at 11+ can be potentially stressful, both for children and parents alike. Between the two, however, it is the child’s stress that needs to be avoided as much as possible if the preparation is to be effective. Stress may be a motivating factor for adults, but, in children can overwhelm and de-motivate.
Our curriculum at Wandsworth Prep has been carefully planned to ensure there is never the need for non-stop cramming and coaching; instead, children are taught the ability to use and apply knowledge with well-honed exam technique through exposure to a variety of practice papers. Alongside the development of a growth mindset, this fosters a sense of resilience and confidence to approach the process with realism and composure.
Our first cohort of Year 6 leavers, are testament to how successful preparation for 11+ is at Wandsworth Prep. Aside from being offered places at some of the finest schools in London and the South-East, feedback from senior schools has been how our children approached the various components of the entrance process with confidence.
Whilst we will continue to review our curriculum and be mindful of the necessity to prepare children for the important senior school entrance exams they take in Year 6, we are determined that children at Wandsworth Prep will not feature in stories of overly-coached and stressed ten-year-olds, forced to give up precious time in the name of getting in to the right school.
Bridget Saul - Headteacher