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11+, A Blueprint For Success

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 more than twenty years’ experience in the sector, I have been party to many! Driven, I have no doubt, 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 English, nine in maths, seven hours of verbal reasoning, six of non-verbal reasoning and, once completed, a possible further nine hours of interviews added in to the mix, not including school tours, night-befores and the inevitable anxious waits; all within a timeframe of two months, at the very least.

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 the 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 the parent rumour mill has led us to believe that more applications are being accepted this year, yet F places as much emphasis on performance at interview as in the entrance tests. In the blink of an eye, your just turned eleven-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 at Cameron Vale has been to ensure that we remain steadfast in our belief that successful preparation for 11+ lies in placing our knowledge of the individual child at the heart of the process. Hand in hand with 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 all does not go quite as planned on the day.

We begin to work with parents in Year 4, triangulating our knowledge of the child with our knowledge of the schools, their individual 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 irresponsible of me to deny that preparation for entrance exams at 11+ can be potentially stressful, for both parents and children alike. Of the two scenarios, 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, yet in children, more often than not serves to overwhelm and dishearten.

We have spent considerable time during the last year at Cameron Vale reviewing our curriculum to ensure there is never the need for non-stop cramming and coaching; instead, emphasis is placed on ensuring that children are taught the ability to use and apply knowledge with well-honed exam technique through exposure to a variety of practice papers. Together with the development of a growth mindset, what we see in our approach, is children assimilating a sense of resilience and confidence to approach the process with pragmatism and composure.

Our cohorts of leavers in Year 6, are testament to how successful preparation for 11+ is at Cameron Vale. Aside from being offered places at some of the most selective schools in London and the South-East with scholarships to recognise academic performance and artistic talent, feedback from senior schools has been how our children approached the various components of the entrance process with self-assuredness, somewhat beyond their years.

We will, of course, continue to review our curriculum and be mindful of the necessity to prepare children for the senior school entrance exams they take in Year 6. Where we will not waver, however, is that children at Cameron Vale 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.