Family Life, Social Commentary

Senior School Anxiety & The 11+ Exam V.2

Lately, I have been approached by a lot of mums going through the 11+ process who have been asking me for advice. When I was trekking through that minefield, I had – luckily – some elders who gave me a lot of advice: some good, some excessive, some useless, but mostly I was really grateful to have people to talk to. Earlier in the year I wrote my first blog on senior school anxiety: and here is the follow up blog Version 2.0.

(Note Bene: these were all mothers who had been through the process and had a lot of opinions. I did not speak to other mums going through the 11+ at the same time for a number of reasons, but mostly because they would stress me out or put their stress on me.)

This is how I navigated the 11+: I took advice from those who knew better and learned from them. Here are some of the questions I wish someone had answered before I started the whole process.

When do you start prepping for the 11+ process? Every parent is different. Of course, you will always have the kids who know their entire multiplication tables by the time they get to Year 1, but those are the outliers. And those who might be behind academically might need to start earlier. But as a general rule, a good start for the 11+ prep is one year from the exam. So if it is in December, start one year before. Some will start later, like in Easter, but I think that’s too late in case your child has weaknesses that you haven’t spotted yet. You can start more than a year before, but in my opinion, that’s a bit of overkill and might burn out your child too soon. With the one-year-before approach, I would advise little and often. If you decide to start earlier, one good thing to do is to assess your child to make sure they are on the right path. Your school should have given you their test scores and you should have a decent grasp of how they are doing. This is where you can see what your child needs to work and address those weaknesses early on.

How do you prepare for the 11+?

Everyone wants the magic formula. Of course, tutors pretty much have to be involved if you are aiming for the most academic schools. Very few get in with little tutoring. It is still possible, but your chances are inevitably lower. For good, but not the most academic schools, you can get away without tutoring if your child is bright enough. For me, as I already mentioned, I addressed my child’s weaknesses and put my focus on that. In that way, I didn’t have to over-tutor and kept the process relatively gentle (unlike some parents who were tutoring every day). But many people feel that’s not enough so in general, for those aiming at the most academic schools, I found that most parents have two tutors: one for English and one for Maths. On top of that, Bond books and atom are very popular (Bond books for general knowledge and atom for exam practice). After that, everyone has their own methods and needs and each child is an individual.

How do you choose a senior school? Now, everyone has different requirements and values so the schools you like are not necessarily the school other people will like. So every person should just do what’s right for them. But don’t always voice your opinions. (Recently, someone I know went to visit my child’s senior school on open day and came back to me and said, ‘I hated it!’ which is probably something one should avoid doing).

The way I chose our school is as follows:

  • Academics
  • Proximity to home
  • Curriculum
  • The School & Facilities
  • Social environment
  • Extra-curriculars

I’ll go through each topic in some more detail.

Academics is of course on top of most people’s list: will the school challenge my child but not push him/her too far? Schools that are going to be too intense may not be the right school for your child, which is why sometimes over-tutoring can backfire. Do you want your child to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? You could argue for both. But you want to make sure the school is right for your child: I repeat, not all these pushy schools are right for your child. There are plenty of kind, good schools particularly for those who are less academically inclined.

Proximity: Proximity is very high on my list on how to choose a school. I wanted a school that wasn’t too far from our home. Ideally under 30 minutes, but 30-45 minutes max. Having spent 3 hours on the school bus every day growing up, I didn’t want them to have the same experience. In addition, you want your child to have friends that live nearby and not have friends scattered far away. This makes it so much easier for playdates. Even for boarding schools, it is much easier if they are closer so your child can easily come home for the weekend. Also, how are the transport links? Because soon enough, they will want to travel on their own.

Curriculum: Not all schools have the same curriculum so make sure it is a school that offers what you are looking for. For example, some have only A Levels whereas some offer the International Baccalaureate as well. Most academic schools will have a broad, somewhat similar curriculum, but some will have more languages on offer for example or be more focussed on sciences and maths.

The school & facilities: My child immediately wanted a school with sports facilities and big spaces. It’s not easy to find that in Central London, so until you see the schools, it will be hard to decide. Just as someone might like a smaller school saying it is more cosy, someone else might say the exact same school is very cramped. So everyone has their opinions and needs. Facilities like a nice gym, a climbing wall, modern 6th form areas, swimming pools, sports pitches on site all add something as well. Also, do you like the neighbourhood? Is it somewhere you could see your child hanging out after school?

Social Environment: This is an important topic that is just as important as the other ones. Every school has a reputation: ‘the urban school, the drugs and alcohol school, the trustafarian school, the super-academic school with mental health issues, the sporty school, the ED school’ and the list goes on. Every school has a reputation and you will have to decide which aspects you are willing to live with and which you just don’t want to ever come across. The schools have very different feels to them and it has to be the right environment for your child.

Extra-curriculars: It’s not the most important on the list, but is still to be taken in consideration. Some schools offer lots of sports, some offer music, some art etc… Just have a look at them and see if there is something your child would like to do. A few jumped out when we were visiting schools and it was one of the big reasons my child chose that school.

At the end of the day, each child will end up where they should end up. And if it doesn’t work out, they can always change schools. This school will not determine the rest of their future, so relax a bit, take my advice and all will be well. I asked my child what they liked about their school and the reply was: 1. My friends 2. The lessons 3. The atmosphere. So far, it sounds like we made a good choice.



Family Life

Senior School Entry Anxiety…

They say a picture conveys a 1000 words and for those of us who live in London and have children who will – inevitably – take the 11+ exam (or 7+/13+) to gain entry into the most coveted senior school places, the 11+ conjures images of bloody backstabbing, intense Olympic-tutor-training and Edvard Munch type fear. (For those of you who don’t have kids – stop reading – or this will put you off kids forever).

But don’t worry. You are not alone. And you will survive. I promise.

The bad news is that it can be as bad as you can possibly imagine, I mean tears, pill-popping and lying-to-your-best-friends-face bad. But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be and I am here to hold your hand and guide you through the whole process. Not sure if I will actually help, but think of me as a ‘survivor’ and someone who made it out alive in – barely – one piece.

I was very lucky in that I had friends with older children who had gone through the whole process and gave me their infinite wisdom, some of which I ignored completely, but a lot of it which helped me infinitely. And for those who don’t have that luck, well it’s your lucky day, because I can be that person. Hopefully, in the next few blog posts, I can give you some of my wise advice.

So to start, ** drumroll* here are my 10 Commandments for getting through the 11+ and Senior School Exams:

  1. Always remember, it’s the school that chooses your child. Not the other way around.
  2. Look at schools that will fit your child, not where you think you would like your child to go to.
  3. It’s not about what you want. As a matter of fact, it’s not about you. Did I already mention that?
  4. Over tutoring may not be a good thing. They may end up overanxious, stressed out, eating too much or too little, and end up a statistic in the increasing teen mental health problem.
  5. Don’t listen to what so-and-so is doing. Anyway, most of them are lying.
  6. As a matter of fact, if you really want to stay sane, don’t talk to any of the other mums at the school gates. Choose a few close confidantes that you can talk to, who will support you, and that’s it.
  7. Make a plan of what you think is reasonable for your child. Don’t over tutor just because you think you have to. Have a clear idea of where your family values lie and don’t waver.
  8. Have reasonable expectations and be realistic – if your child is in the bottom sets, don’t try to make them sit St Paul’s. That’s just a waste of time and energy.
  9. Don’t stress, or your child will stress too.
  10. Remember, it’s your child’s race, not anybody else’s. So support them, love them, guide them, but the rest is up to them.

So remember, just Keep Calm and Carry On and you will get through this.

And Good Luck!



Social Commentary

The British Schooling (Torture) System


Images courtesy of the internet. NHYM 2018. 

Lately, all we’ve (the mums) been talking about has been exams: it is January when most of the 7+/8+/11+ exams are happening and it’s been dire: chatter about who’s taking what exam, to what school and who’s been getting interviews etc…and those that say they aren’t taking them and you see them at the 7+ hiding in the bushes. I have consciously not yet entered this quite cutthroat world, but eventually, I too will have to face it.

I was having lunch with a friend who is slightly panicking because she has never tutored her kids but now has the 11+ coming up next year and is worried about her child not getting into any school. She is adamantly against tutoring, but I told her that the problem is that everyone else is tutoring, so you need to know what you are up against. She then said ‘This is crazy. What are we doing to our kids? And to what end?’

I have heard of people going on anxiety pills for the infamous 11+ – and that’s just the mums – and children not able to sleep at night because of exam stress as young as 7 years old. Everyone is getting stressed: fathers losing their s*&t and mums taking a year off prestigious jobs to overlook their children’s progress. But it is starting earlier and earlier. Children are already being tutored in Reception and by Year 2, everything accelerates when those looking to do the 7+ are already learning the Year 4 curriculum. I’m being advised by a friend on what activities my child should be doing right now for her future university application. It’s all very fast, too early and too soon.


So, why are we doing this to our children? The most prestigious girls school in the UK has an extremely high rate of mental health issues: anxiety, depression, eating disorders and personality disorders. Until this changes, I would never send my children there. And the girls consortium who is trying to scrap their exam because of exam stress. Isn’t it all a bit much for 11 year olds?

I understand the statistics though: the better school you get into, the higher chance of going to a good university, and the better the university, the better chance of getting a good job. This is all true, by all means. But it’s not the only way. There are ways of getting to the top without these illustrious diplomas and distinctions.

My alma mater receives 30,000 applications for something like 1,500 spots. There is no way I would get into it these days. But I have hope that there are plenty of great schools/universities – perhaps not the best but very good – that will provide my children with a great education. So, let’s all relax a bit. If you’re not trying to be a billionaire/Fortune 500 CEO/Entrepreneur of the year, then you should relax too (and if you are, good luck to you). Most of us are lucky enough to send our children to good schools, and most likely they will end up in good universities. So, let’s just take a step back and realise that the world will be run by robots anyway, so your kids might as well have fun along the way.




Here’s some advice to parents from Hannah Ogahara, who runs a local tutoring agency Love Learning Tutors:

How to be involved in your child’s school life without being overbearing

It is easy enough to be involved with your child’s studies when they are young but what do you do when your child grows into one of those moody teenagers? We’ve all been on the receiving end of some harsh backchat. It can leave you feeling helpless when all you want to do is to offer your years of experience. Let’s face the facts, it may be a challenge to be your child’s best friend over the next few years, but here are some simple things you can do to ease tension at home and stay involved without becoming overbearing.

Actively listen

One of the greatest frustration that teenagers face is when parents make assumptions about what they should be doing. This is quite a general one and includes friendship groups and interests as well as school life. It may be that you don’t remember the particular teacher they are talking about, or perhaps you weren’t really listening because you were juggling many tasks when they confided in you. We recommend discussing school life with your child and making an effort to really listen and retain what you are being told. This builds trust and the knowledge that they can come to you for guidance.

Be aware of your communication style

If you find yourself getting into frequent arguments with your child about school, change your approach. Try to avoid confrontation and change the focus to constructive solutions. Veer away from the nagging voice and steer towards calm, pragmatic tones. Ask open question rather than questions that can be quickly shut down.

Swap “Have you done your homework?” and “Where is your homework?” for “Do you have a lot of homework?”, “Tell me about your homework, is there anything interesting?”

Ask small questions often

Get into the habit of asking small school related questions often so that it doesn’t come as a surprise when you need to bring something up. Try remember who is teaching what, which teachers they like and which they don’t. This shows that you’re really listening and taking interest. It makes it easier for your child to keep you in the loop.


Let your child know when they are doing well and celebrate successes together. Everyone loves to feel successful and valued. No matter how big your child gets, no one is immune to a bit of praise (provided they feel they have earned it). This should encourage your child to tell you how things are going on a frequent basis.

Share stories

Carefully select stories to share about your school experiences. Regardless of whether they are things that went well or terribly wrong. A good story provided at the right time can allow for bonding between you and your child. It helps your child understand that you’ve been through the same things are sympathetic towards them and their academic journey. Be on the same team rather than opposing sides, “you are wrong” vs “I am right”.

Less “When I was at school it was much harder because…”

More “I had a similar teacher who used to…”

Don’t take it personally

This is one of the hardest tips to put into practice. Having your child snap at you can leave you feeling distraught; and feeling that your constant efforts to provide them with the best you can, aren’t being appreciated. Unfortunately, adolescence is a difficult time for everybody. The above suggestions will help with positive and open communication, but things will not always go to plan. When this happens take a deep breath and step away for a moment, rather than letting things escalate.