Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

A polished performance? Fingers crossed

with 12 comments

It’s over and it couldn’t have come a day too soon.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=sitting+exams&iid=7029050″ src=”a/7/a/e/South_Korean_Students_8eb1.jpg?adImageId=7996220&imageId=7029050″ width=”234″ height=”157″ /]

All we have to do now is wait. And wait. And wait.

Yesterday, after months of preparation, my daughter actually sat the entrance exam for the grammar school she wants to attend.

She has worked hard for it, too. Since August, she has been seeing a tutor so she could get to grips with the verbal and non verbal reasoning questions that these school tests ask.

Starting from a low-ish base, the trajectory of her understanding has been steadily rising until – at last – she really felt she could tackle most of the questions.

My friend, whose son sat the exam and managed to attain a coveted place at the boys’ school a few years back, warned me how I would feel on the day of the test.

“You will feel dreadful,” she said.

I laughed. “Of course not,” I replied. “It’s just a test.”

She was right.

Yesterday morning I sat at home with the sickest of feelings. My guts lurched when I thought of it, even though I knew – deep down – that my feelings were faintly ridiculous.

My daughter was allowed the morning off school and didn’t see my wan face. Thankfully didn’t suspect my nerves and had no inkling that my stomach was doing a darned fine impression of a washing machine.

She didn’t even click when I asked her in a wobbly voice – an hour before we were due to leave the house to find a car parking space in town – if she was OK.

As cool as a cucumber, she turned away from the Nickelodeon channel and said yes. And carried on painting her nails (she wanted to look good for the test).

Painting her nails!

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=painting+nails&iid=4268397″ src=”7/4/b/7/RAFW_SS_200708_ab39.jpg?adImageId=7996187&imageId=4268397″ width=”234″ height=”175″ /]

Thank goodness she had that attitude.

I’ve heard horror stories of girls and boys being harangued by their parents about the importance of the grammar school tests and how they are EXPECTED to pass – or else.

My daughter reported that there were a handful of girls weeping as they sat the test, most probably because the formula had changed and the questions were nothing like they had seen or practised before.

She and her friends were all worried about their performance because of the surprise change in questions, but we parents reassured them that all 800+ girls who were competing for the 96 places would have had the same concerns.

So, it’s done. Over. The £26 a week tutoring is finished with (thank heavens). Results are out on March 1.

To celebrate the end of this stressful three-month chapter we ordered pizza. It was pulled at delicately, though: she didn’t want to spoil her French polish…


Written by CommonPeople

December 3, 2009 at 5:05 am

12 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Oh I do feel for you. We went through this with No 1 Son and I can still remember my stomach lurching when we arrived at the gates on the day of the entrance exam to see 1500 boys waiting to take the exam (competing for 200 places). Fingers crossed for your daughter x

    Liz (LivingwithKids)

    December 3, 2009 at 8:21 am

  2. Thanks, Liz. My stomach is just about settling now (but I think the extra lurching had more to do with the pizza afterwards!).


    December 3, 2009 at 10:27 am

  3. How nerve-wracking for her and thank goodness it os over, as you say. What a long time to wait though for a decision that will shape her future. My brothers both sat entrance exams to private school, they had the tutors too. The difference with them was that our parents put huge pressure for them to pass. Failure was not an option. Thankfully they did. Hope your daughter does too. Love the nails!

    Rosie Scribble

    December 3, 2009 at 1:29 pm

  4. I was interested to note that QM changed the format of the questions in this years entrance exam. What you may not know is that in September 2008 the QM Foundation contacted selected primary schools to invite their gifted and talented year 5 pupils (i.e. your daughters year group) to attend the grammar school “to ensure that such pupils have the best possible chance of success in the entrance examination”. At the time I was concerned that the Foundation was attempting to select its pupils ahead of the entrance exam. Did these selected pupils know about the new format or receive coaching to help them with it? Whatever the case I am not sure that the level playing field you thought existed did. I have a copy of the letter from QM Foundation and would be happy to email it to anyone who shares my concerns.


    December 5, 2009 at 7:52 pm

  5. Dear Ambrose512,

    Many thanks for your interesting comments. Apologies for not having replied sooner, but I have been away.

    I did not know about the Foundation contacting schools re gifted and talented and it isn’t something that any of the children at my daughter’s school have mentioned (some of whom are very good friends and are on the gifted and talented list). I know their parents wouldn’t have “wasted” hundreds of pounds on extra tuition had they known this.

    This is intriguing and I’d be delighted to receive a copy of the email, if you would be so kind. My contact details are on my home page.

    Be rest assured that any correspondence would be treated confidentially.

    Thank you for taking the time to tell me.

    jayne howarth

    December 8, 2009 at 8:12 pm

  6. Dear Jayne,

    I will scan a copy of the letter and send it over to you tomorrow. At the time I did write to QM Governors and express my concerns but did not even receive an acknowledgment of my letter. Finding out that the format of the exam had changed was a real shock. I would certainly like to find out how many pupils attended the ‘enrichment’ program at QM and whether they were being coached to the new exam.


    December 8, 2009 at 10:45 pm

  7. Jayne,

    I am a Foundation Governor at QMHS, and I was not aware of receiving any letter. Would you like to email me a copy of your letter, and I will ensure that it is responded to in the correct manner. I am currently out of the country, but will be back in the UK on Friday – just before the March 1 notification day.

    Thanks to my daughter (an ex-QMHS pupil) for notifying me of this weblog post.

    Simon Hallam

    February 23, 2010 at 10:41 pm

  8. Hi Jayne,
    I’ve been following this with interest. Do let me/us know what happened with the letter, and what happens this week….
    V best wishes (and good luck!!),

    Sarah Ebner

    February 26, 2010 at 7:48 pm

  9. Hi Simon – and thank you for posting a comment. I do not have a copy of the letter, unfortunately. I did ask Ambrose512 for a copy, but I didn’t receive it. However, I do know that the headmistress was asked about this at a governor’s meeting in September/October.

    She appeared to assure governors at the time that there was no “favouritism” towards certain schools – it was merely an attempt to encourage children from schools that do not normally send pupils for the QM exam to see that it could be right for them.

    The person who raised it did say that it had been commented upon publicly and that there were concerns, but the head did not seem unduly worried (so maybe it wasn’t an attempt at hothousing certain pupils). I honestly don’t know!

    If you learn anymore, please let me know!

    Clearly I wasn’t at the meeting and haven’t seen the letter, so I can’t really draw any conclusions from it.

    jayne howarth

    February 27, 2010 at 8:43 am

  10. Thanks for commenting, Sarah. I will let you know (+ there was the issue of the school whose admissions criteria had to be changed a week before the forms were submitted). What a time!

    jayne howarth

    February 27, 2010 at 8:44 am

  11. Jayne,
    I can certainly confirm what the headmistress is reported to have said to the governing body. There is absolutely no favouritism towards any junior school, inside or outside Walsall.

    As part of the commitment QMHS makes under certain government initiatives, the school extends outreach programs to certain areas in Walsall where the number of applicants to the school is disproportionately low in an effort to encourage a wider range of girls to apply. As a school we want to draw the best applicants irrespective of background, race, religion, location or socio-economic status.

    We also took the step this year (in concert with the boys’ school) of replacing the old NFER entance examination as we believed that the papers were available for sale on the black market, leading to some applicants in previous years gaining an unfair advantage. It also meant that we were seeing some girls join the school who were adept at the entrance exam due to over-specific coaching but struggled significantly with the highly-academic curriculum they were expected to follow.

    The papers this year were not seen by anyone in the school ahead of time, were not retained by the school, and were not marked by the school. We believe that in this way there was a level playing field for all applicants this year, and will prove to be a positive step for all concerned.

    My best wishes for your daughter’s results, and I look forward to meeting you should you become a parent.


    Simon Hallam

    February 27, 2010 at 12:05 pm

  12. Thanks, again, for commenting, Simon.

    I couldn’t agree more that the papers that have been introduced will give a much better indication of a child’s overall aptitude. I know anecdotally that some children are hothoused from Year 3 or 4 to pass the exam and then struggle there because they cannot cope with the pressure.

    I think the main problem, though, is that no one (child, GCSE, A Level, degree-level student whatever) would be expected to undertake any testing without knowing what style of questions are to be asked.

    The equivalent would be to say that because you have studied French you can take a Spanish GCSE because it is similar in parts. Everyone needs to understand the processes and the kind of questioning.

    Of course, I reckon in years to come, QMHS/QMGS will have exactly the same “problems” as they have had experienced in the past years because tutors will use old papers to ascertain the kind of questions.

    Perhaps I’m griping about that because my daughter went to a tutor from August (of year 6, not before!) to get to grips with verbal and non-verbal reasoning so she wouldn’t feel like a rabbit in the headlights when it came to the test. But NONE of the questions were in any way familiar to her.

    My only wish were that QM could have been a bit more accommodating about the style of questions (there was a mini paper of 4 or 5 qus with he application form). We knew there would be changes – nothing more.

    I’m not holding my breath about her getting in – which is a shame -(I’m an old girl, but less of the old!) but I hope she’ll succeed wherever she goes. But we’ll see. I’ll let you know!

    jayne howarth

    February 27, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: