Daughter didn't pass local grammar test and can't get in preferred high school

Alison Kinsey's picture
Altrincham Grammar School for Girls selects from a very wide area setting a very high benchmark discriminating against bright local girls.
Another local grammar is Sale which is mixed. Our daughter narrowly missed that too.
We decided to pay for a tutor to give her the best chance. Didn't feel comfortable with it but most people do it so decided it would help her confidence whatever the outcome.
Never really thought Alty girls 'right school' for her as so academic and pushy.
She loved another local school Wellington. We live 1.057 miles away...the cut off this year is 1.044 miles. We could pay private if we really wanted so we are lucky but the preferred one is 10 miles away. Gut instinct is it is too far. Most amazing school..but why can everyone have those chances and opportunities?
We are appealing to daughter's favourite and will find out in May.

She has taken it all on the chin but inevitable effect on her confidence and self perception. I think psychologically she sees herself at high school because she worries grammars are too hard.Was open minded about grammars. Live in Graham Brady's constituency. But more and more think local schools for all would be best option. Crazy that children separated from friends - so young. Judged as bright or not - so young. Put under all that pressure - so young.We live in an affluent area so the problem is masked because a lot of people opt out and pay private if kids dont get in. Shame because then it means the quality of high schools could be better.
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Natacha Kennedy's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 07:48

Excellent piece. It really is a shame that kids are effectively judged to be failures at such a young age. I remember being terrified when I took the 11+ because all my teachers said I would fail, which I didn't.

Apparently Einstein would have failed the 11+ miserably, as he could hardly speak aged 9 but he was a late developer and the system doesn't take account of late developers.

Motivation and self-esteem are crucial things for children, without them they will not be successful in learning. Having selective schools systematically undermines this; branding kids failures and dumping them into secondary moderns at age 11 is an educational crime IMO.

Billy no Mates's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 12:12

Children are resilient – even more so if they have a strong and supportive family, but selection at such a young age is like a cancer that eats away all this.

Watch your children closely and listen to how they express themselves. There’s more to this than failure. Even children who pass the 11+ often change, they don't understand why their friends aren’t coming on this final school trip and there is a silence between them that only children understand.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 13:08

The only people who are judging kids as failures as failures is YOU

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 14:07

I wish you well with your appeal. Come back and let us know the outcome.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 18:04

I really think selective schooling of this sort at that age is incredibly unfair, leaving children with feelings of inadequacy for the rest of their lives. John Prescott still hasn't got over failing the 11+.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 18:13

Well I think learning to live with our failures is part of life's lessons - but I wouldn't label children as "failures" or "written off" just because there 11+ result means they don't get in to a grammar school. This stereotyping of children's status or being is the thinking and language of the left.

I would say the child may be said to have failed the 11+, but the child is not a failure.

Andy Smithers's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 18:37

This posts opens up more questions than it answers.
Firstly it sounds like the daughter always felt she would not get into the grammer as "they are too hard". If this was the case why pay for tutors and make the daughter sit optional exams.
Also no point worrying about it as her heart was never in it.

Generally not everyone offered a place at your local school will accept it so there is a chance you will get in over the coming months.

Thirdly if there are not enough local places the local authority have not been planning - perhaps an opportunity for a great new Free School.

Most important point - no-one is labelling your daughter a failure except Natatcha, Billy No Mates and Francis. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Ian Taylor's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 18:45

Ben, when parents and their friends in a Grammar School area, spend several years drumming into their children how important it is to pass the 11+, how should a 10 year old child take it when they don't pass? When all of the children have been given extra private lessons for years to pass the 11+, how should the children feel when they don't pass the test? When those that have passed are rewarded with presents, how should those feel who have not passed? When wealthy parents of 11+ failures pay for private schools, how should those with poorer parents, that don't pass, feel? When their parents show obvious disappointment, how should they feel? When their parents spend time and effort appealing the decision, how should they feel? Your view seems to be "learn to get over being a failure. You are 10 now and life is like that so get used to it. " I notice in your profile that you are applying to be a state school governor. I am sad.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 18:47

Ben - that is what selective schools do. They make you feel that somehow you are not good enough to get in because you failed the 11+, because you are not academic, because your parents didn't have you baptized in the right religion for the "best" school in the catchment area. This is a judgment.

The fact is not everyone can be hothoused, ready for study at the uniform age of 11 when they are expected to be assessed as fit for a special school. Correct me if I am wrong, but boys for example tend to develop later. Other factors such as their home life, moving to the UK from abroad, just not wanting to knuckle down till your 14 - all these suggest that if you took this special exam at, say, 13 you might get in if you wanted to in the first place.

You imply the thinking and language of the left to be somehow skewed. From what I have encountered, I am not convinced the thinking and language of the right is awfully rational either.

Billy no Mates's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 19:22

As you say, living with one’s failures is a part of life, love and marriage. However, most adults have the time and experience to prepare for such failures. Rejection at 11+ is a monstrosity forced upon children. It is part of a construct of childhood that is so detached from wellbeing that you have resorted to defining failure.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 20:06

This is the problem: using the word "rejection at 11+" with such emphasis is just wrong.

Children just need to understand that it is a process of aligning them with kinds of education. It is not a judgement on their
worth as human beings. There may well be problems with the class system skewing preparation and it needs addressing. I am aware of teachers in state primary schools who spot the clever children from backgrounds that might no be traditionally supportive and aware, and they get them ready for 11+, including talking and planning with the parents about it.

Can't accept your comment taylorig, you obviously don't understand how a democracy works.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 20:27

I take it that you passed your 11+ Ben.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 20:54

Ben - what does a grasp of what democracy means have anything to do with what Taylorig said?

He's making a point about how a child might feel when constantly under pressure to excel in exams and how that might affect their self esteem. I don't think he is saying that parents should not be able to exercise a democratic right to burden their children with high expectations and the ever present fear of 'failure'.

By the way - do you have, work with, come into contact with many children?

Billy no Mates's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 21:12

More ill informed comments. Selection is labelling children as failures not parents, we are left to pick up the pieces. I did not pay for coaching, nor do I think the system too hard. In fact, the lack of contemporary evidence to support selection suggests that the grammar system is failing and neglecting many children.

The popular misperception in selective counties that grammar school is best is also a con. Of course parents pay - peer pressure and feeder targets leave little choice.

"Children just need to understand that it is a process of aligning them with kinds of education. It is not a judgement on their
worth as human beings."

Children so young don't need to understand selection at all. This is your opinion as an adult - your construction of what childhood should be. Children's opinions are missing and so is their right to choose.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 23:00


I did pass my 11+, I did however before that get refused entry to a gymnastics club in a state primary school when I was 9. However they let me in the school band, chess club and country dancing though so they had good arrangements for social inclusion even in the early 1980s. The Labour Manchester local education authority did however stop swimming lessons for everyone in my school so at least they comprehensively let us all down.

I have experienced the rough and smooth of education and I think what is needed is a philosophy of living that allows us to cope with the bad times, such as failure. It is this lack of such a system in many people's contemporary lives which I think is causing the wrongful advocacy of avoidance of selection and thinking this is a real solution.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 07/04/2011 - 23:09

Allan and taylorig

taylorig says he is sad I have volunteered to be a school governor, I think because he doesn’t like my point of view especially the politics. Well that is democracy so basically tough. I have done nothing unlawful so I can still do this even if he does not like how I think. We are not in Libya or China. I think Fiona Millar deserves some respect for clocking up 20+ years as a governor even if I don’t like her politics. She must have done some good along the way if she turned unpopular state schools around. Some respect due all round n the context of a liberal free democracy I think. I am sad that taylorig does not understand our society and how it permits people to think and act.


Yes I have contact with children, but since you disagree with me I guess you don't. It's your logic.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 08/04/2011 - 08:02


Perhaps you need to get more acquainted with how children think and behave and apply that to the context of education before exercising your right to be a governor.

Ian Taylor's picture
Fri, 08/04/2011 - 09:05

Hi Ben. I have been a teacher in secondary schools for 36 years. As a Deputy Headteacher for 21 years I have worked with very many governors of different political views. I am sad that you want to be a governor because you seem to have no compassion for the feelings of young people. It is nothing to do with your politics. Perhaps if you get to work with a range of young teenagers you will take a different view of what impacts on their lives and learning.

Ben Taylor's picture
Fri, 08/04/2011 - 11:55

So on the basis of thinking that selection at 11+ is a reasonable system I have no compassion for children? Please tell me this is a joke.

I do have experience of working with children including childen in care who came from very bad circumstancs. Not really sure why am I bothering with any justification towards such intolerance towards other people. Do you really think you can evaluate someone's suitability based on an opinion about 11+?

I'll present an argument to you with your own logic which is obviously flawed. Since you don't agree with me about 11+ you clearly don't care about the future of children, especially those from our social classes which will not be able to access private schooling. Your whole 36 career as a teacher is clearly invalid and you lack compassion for poor clever children.

To be clear, I actually don't believe that last point in the above paragraph, I am making a point to you about your own judgements of people's characters based on very little information and large assumptions,

W Smith's picture
Fri, 08/04/2011 - 13:14

Interesting discussion - getting a bit personal though!
Isn't it the school system that is failing children and encouraging them to think that they have failed?
Why do you need to "select" a school at the age of 11? Why do you need to prepare for an exam through tutoring or extra support from your teacher at the age of 11?
Asking/expecting children to do this sends very clear negative messages that are echoed by society in general.

I haven't noticed any cramming for exams or prep to get into a technical/arts/PE schools, yet the learning and skills taught here will provide a future workforce and successful adults that will be the backbone of our society. We should celebrating these skills not viewing them as an alternative to a failed 11+.

When all schools are valued, then failing the 11+ will not be seen as a failure - in fact it would not be needed at all!!!!

By the way I failed mine too!! Yep I did feel it and thought I had failed. At the time I didn't know why it was considered so important I just felt like I had disappointed my parents and that I wasn't clever enough to learn about the things they taught you at grammar school ( had no idea what that was!). I knew I had been segregated, by something big that my parents couldn't control,but didn't understand why. It did stunt my prospects for a good few years- but got there the hard way and still don't understand why we continue to separate our children from local communities and give them educational labels of "grammar" or "comp" kid.

At present if you fail the 11+ the alternative is not valued by our own society? And that is where the problem lies.

We need to worship the plumbers, caterers and gardeners of our world, not just the academics and mathematicians etc and not deem the vocational and practical trades to have chosen their path in life because they failed at the age of 11, because they didn't, the system did.

ambrin's picture
Wed, 05/10/2011 - 15:51

The alty girls exam is optional. If you don't agree with the possibility of your daughter failing her exam, thus being rejected from the school, why did you enter her for it?

a's picture
Sun, 04/03/2012 - 10:53

It doesnt matter if a child leaves to go to a school in which none of their friends are going, as if they do and are good at making friends they will receive friends easily. Also they can always keep in contact with their older friends. By the way if a child doesn't pass it doesn't mean that child is a faliure. Sometimes there might be harder children to compete with as some parents get private tutors which are really high with teaching and can start their childs preparation since the child might be 6.

a's picture
Sun, 04/03/2012 - 10:55

anyway if you didnt feel comfortable with giving her a tutor and the bet opportunity why did you bother

David's picture
Sun, 29/07/2012 - 23:20

I'm 72 and will never forget the day I failed my 11+. It was a flawed examination with the number who passed determined purely by the number of selective school places in a particular area. The tests were properly standardised but had a margin of error that sent an unacceptably high number of kids to schools unsuited for their needs. Has anything changed in areas clinging to this discredited system of selection? As it happened I was allowed to take the 11+ again the following year and passed. I became a special needs teacher because I never forgot how it felt to be perceived as a failure and considered worthless aged 12.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 30/07/2012 - 08:36

David - I too "failed" the 11+ and, like you, found that sending children to different schools on the results of a couple of tests meant that children resulted in stigmatisation. In my area there were grammar, technical and secondary modern schools so children were labelled "bright", "not-so-bright" and dim. Nationally, the system was biased against girls - there were more grammar school places for boys than girls so girls with higher scores than some of the boys would be said to have "failed" but the boys with lower scores would have "passed".

Jon Bradburn's picture
Wed, 17/10/2012 - 23:03

Amazing that in this day and age we are still having this argument. Selective Schools are state schools which by virtue of their name select their students based on criteria which they decide. This seems to me to be the fairest way to run an education system. If a child is bright, should they not be able to learn in an environment with similar bright pupils? Reading this entire debate, it would seem that some people would like the bright pupils to be penalised for their intellect and dragged back into a puddle of mediocrity with the less clever just so that those of a lesser intellect don't feel penalised. If we adopt this strategy, are we not therefore penalising and stigmatising the clever children? The OP admitted that she didn't feel that her child was 'right' for Altrincham Grammar, so why push her towards it in the first place? Why spend money attemting to tutor her into an environment where she most probably wouldn't be able to cope?

It would be lovely if all children had the ability to attend a selective Grammar School, but they don't, so please don't force them to try and for God's sake please don't attempt to destroy the clever children's ability to be taught in the correct environment if your child hasn't made the grade.

someone's picture
Tue, 09/07/2013 - 16:38

I failed the 11+, everyone said I would pass because I am very bright I already had year 9 grades in year 6. And my firned who had a really bad level got into a grammar school. I think the 11+ is unfair and has left me feeling that I let myself down. The school I got to now is OK but I find the stuff they teach too easy- I am not really given high level work according to my ability which is said. My primary teacher said that I would definetly passed- I missed by a few marks. I don't really have any tuition and only found out about the 11+ like three months before the test.

Tara's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 21:11

My daughter has just found out she didn't pass too. She has been consistently top of her class, we didn't pay for extra tuition, as I thought it would be a struggle for her if she did get in, as she would have been used to the extra help. I am gutted for her. I was not overly keen on the grammar school, but she has had it in her head that she wanted to go there since she started school. I hope that she realises quickly that it doesn't mean she is not clever, and that it just was not her day. It is a huge shame that resits aren't available and that the primary school did not assist in preparing them for test conditions.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 20/10/2014 - 06:37

Tara - this is something to bear in mind at the next election. UKIP wants a grammar school in every town. This would result in 75% of children feeling like your daughter - that they are failures and 'second class' at the age of 10.

State primary schools rarely, if ever, prepare children for 11+ tests. This is because it shores up a system which is not in the best interest of the majority of children. In any case, preparation for Sats (a meaningless exercise) would take priority.

If it's any consolation to your daughter, the Sutton Trust found that students from non-selective comprehensives outperformed their equally-qualified peers from both state grammar schools and independent schools at university.

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