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

To Tutor Or Not to Tutor, That is the Question…


We’ve all been there: sitting at the dining room table trying to get our child to do their homework and secretly wanting to scream:’ FINISH YOUR DAMN HOMEWORK SO I CAN GET ON WITH MY LIFE!’ But instead, we smile at them, restraining ourselves, and quietly tell them they need to finish their homework and bribe them with a bit of TV… And then the day arrives when you throw in the towel and call in the professionals.

When I first heard about tutors for children as young as 6 I thought it was absolutely absurd! Of course, I now know that it happens even earlier, and that there is a lot of discussion about whether to get a tutor for your child or not. I never thought I would be one to encourage the use of tutors unless necessary but I’ve come to think of it as I do breastfeeding: If it works well for you to breastfeed (ie. your child is naturally clever and doesn’t need extra help), wonderful, lucky sod, but if it doesn’t work out for one reason or other, well I’m all for bottle-feeding and tutoring.

Now, there is a stigma around tutoring, and many mums hide that their children are getting tutored. More than once, I have had friends who have asked their children’s friends’ nannies for playdates, for the nanny to reply ‘sorry, so-and-so has tutoring that day’ even if the mother of the friend previously denied ever using a tutor. I also know that this tutoring phenomenon is not only prevalent in London, but is in New York (obviously) and is around in other places like Switzerland, Canada, and Monaco.

I think there is a definite place for tutors, especially when a child falls behind in class and needs extra help, then tutoring is absolutely warranted. The problem I find though is that in London everyone ends up being tutored and to keep up, you have to get your child tutored and it isn’t about choice or innate intelligence but how many hours of tutoring they have each week. I mean, I know a 4 year old who already has English tutoring on Mondays, French on Tuesdays, Maths on Thursdays and endless other activities to fill their week! How is anyone else supposed to keep up?

For now, I am holding off having the tutoring conversation with myself, but one day, I realise that I might have to address it. I have been approached by many tutors over the past few years and took the opportunity to ask one to answer a few questions about whether to get a tutor or not, for those who may be interested. It’s quite long and a lot of it you may feel you already know, so feel free to jump to the questions that interest you. More posts on education coming soon!

I have no personal experience with this tutor therefore cannot endorse them in any way. This is purely for informational purposes and to get a tutor’s perspective. 

Milestones Education: WHY GET A TUTOR? 

1. Why should we use tutors in the first place?                                                                                                                                                                                                    

There are so many reasons why tutors are valuable. It is not a one size fits all reason; every individual will have different reasons for getting a tutor. However, from my experience, I can tell you the common reasons people use us. The individual attention that the student gets with using a tutor is extremely valuable. It is something you cannot even get at the top independent schools.

  • Good tutors have the time to truly identify the student’s weaknesses and strengths and then correct them. In the traditional classroom, it is impossible for one teacher to meet all the needs of each student and ensure everyone is up to speed on a topic all the time.
  • If you have a good tutor, there will always be a much higher level of direct communication and feedback with not only the student, but the parent too. This is invaluable. When I train my team of tutors, I always work on ingraining those communication and feedback skills Learners cannot progress without understanding and reflecting on where they are at, where they need to be and how to get there.
  • If you do not believe your children are thriving or reaching their potential this would be another reason. Stagnancy in learning is just as dangerous as decline and strips the student of their confidence. A tutor can fix these problems in a way that often a school or parent cannot.
  • If you have important examinations or are trying to achieve particular goals and grades, you may not know how to get there or it may just be extremely difficult to do so without some help.
  • Most importantly, the proof is in the results. Students progress further and achieve more with tutors.

2. When is the right time to start using a tutor? 

  • When there is a need or a goal that needs to be achieved by a certain time. Also when a subject is causing the student to struggle, feel stressed or under-confident.
  • In general, tuition has greater effects in younger children. From my experience and through my study of cognitive science, I know that younger primary school children have a higher level of learning plasticity in their brains. That is, their learning capacity is much higher than at later stages in life; it is still within the exponential part of the learning curve. The key to giving children the best push ahead in education is to give them a solid foundation during the early stages. It is much harder to go back and fix problems than to build the learning bricks correctly in the first place.

3. How do you help a student who is falling behind?  

  • It also means formulating a robust plan that can be regularly reviewed and monitored for progress. It means setting targets, expectations and goals. It means having a competent teacher who can support the student and help the student learn in a way that is individualised. Students need guidance and direction but they also need praise and feedback.
  • In short, you must first identify the student’s starting points through thorough assessment. They must be able to understand where they are and where they are going.
  • Over the years I have been very passionate about addressing how to most effectively conquer this scenario. It actually lead me to formulate the Milestones Methodology with contributions from psychologists, scientists, and schools.

4. How do you make learning fun and interactive? 

  • This is so important, I am glad you asked. There needs to be a bond between tutor and child; there needs to be trust. At Milestones, the team is trained to use visual organisers, apps, videos, podcasts and a large variety of multi-sensory stimuli. Where appropriate we get our students to enter competitions, do reflective diary entries, create presentations and go out to utilise skills in a way that aligns with their interests. Active learning is the only way students truly commit content to memory. You cannot use tutors that will sit and talk at your student for two hours and then set homework. This is passive and the student’s progress will be minimal and slow. You have to engage in discussion and use reflexive questioning to get the student to think about answers or conclusions themselves.

5. What about students who use tutors to get into top schools like Westminster/St Paul’s but then can’t keep up? 

  • This should never really be the case. To me, that says you have had a poorly skilled tutor or the student should not be applying to such schools. This is one of the reasons why I must assess the student to determine their starting points and so I can give an honest indication to the parents of what can be accomplished. You should not be sending your child to a school where they will be continuously struggling. There is a big difference between challenge and struggle. On the other hand, a good tutor would prepare the student in a way that puts them ahead long term. I do not just equip students to pass exams; I equip them with the skillset and knowledge to enter a trajectory of excellence long term.

6. How do you help children handle the pressure of tutoring and school competition? 

  • Students should not be in a position where they dread tuition. A supportive system should be created where the tutor is easing the pressure not causing it.
  • At the same time, this is why I said communication is important; the student has to be on board and understand the purpose of tuition.
  • Again this is why emotional intelligence development is important to me; you want to instil the skills of time management, discipline and self-motivation to deal with any pressure and come out stronger.

7. What do you think of the concept of it being better to be at the top of a lesser school rather than at the bottom of a best school? 

  • How can a student be pushed further or challenged if they are comfortably sitting at the top already? This question assumes these positions are static. If the student is at the bottom of the best school, which means there is room for growth and a plan should be established to put that in motion. The key here is to remove the generalisation and comparison. The focus should be on finding a position in the school that is best for that individual. If a student is at what is generally considered the ‘best school’ but the student is unhappy, struggling and receiving inadequate support than clearly it is not the best school.

8. What advice do you have for children going through exams? 
One of my past students discusses how he dealt with the pressure and competition here>

9. What advice do you have for parents trying to give their kids the best education?

  • Ensure the choices you make are for the right reasons. Do not try and get your child into a school because everyone else is.
  • Get the child assessed; if not by an experienced tutor then get input from your child’s school. Your priority is to establish what is best for them and find the place that will best develop their unique potential.
  • Get involved with your child’s education. Understand what they are finding difficult and what they find easy. Get your child help when they need it- do not let them struggle alone.
  • Do not take schoolleague tables so literally. They are really quite misleading. The factors used to rank them cannot really be standardised and controlled for. There are also many things you need to take into consideration beyond grades in a school!

10. What’s the best advice you have on navigating the super competitive school process in the UK?

  • You need to understand what you are up against. The level of competence today is higher than ever. Even within our cohort of students there are an increasing number of truly brilliant international students well ahead of British education that are now taking top places. Therefore you need to be realistic about the level your child needs to get to and objectively decide whether it is right for them.
  • It is always good to talk to someone who understands the process well and has gone through it before; teachers, parents, students and tutors. The consultations I carry out with parents can be really eye opening and help you decide on next steps.

Anne-Marie Idowu. –Director & Head Tutor of Milestones.