Before deciding to embark upon an Eleven Plus preparation journey with your child, be sure to visit any school you are considering. Speak with your child, to see if it is something they would like to do and if they are prepared to put in some extra work. If you rely on a tutor you will be spending a lot of money - up to £1000, whilst preparing at home will take time, energy, and some money for other resources.
The most important thing to consider is whether you and they feel that they would like the opportunity of this choice of secondary school, and if they have a reasonable chance of success. Whilst huge leaps in progress can be made in a year of intensive tutoring, would success in the test as result of this, really position them in the right school for their needs?
So how do we decide whether to move forward regarding a child's current level of academic attainment? It is very tricky. Children do not naturally progress at a linear rate - numerous factors may influence their current attainment, and who is to know who may 'shine' in secondary school?
However, there are a variety of indicators that can give a reasonable sign of success in the Eleven Plus exam. It is unlikely that you will be able to find evidence of all the indicators we suggest, but several together should provide you with a picture.
What appears to be the most obvious place to start, may be the most difficult to discover; that is the opinion of your child's teacher. In some cases, this is because the teacher will have only known your child for a few weeks and feel unable to make a judgment. For others, they may not like to give you an opinion in case this is scrutinised at a later date. Also, some teachers are opposed to the Eleven Plus: there is compulsion for the teacher to give you their opinion.
If for any of these reasons, a clear answer seems unlikely, it might be worth asking a previous teacher that knows you and your child better, as they may be more willing and feel more qualified to offer their opinion.
It is not necessarily easy to assess your child's ability based upon where you believe they stand academically in their class. The cohort will be too small, and your knowledge of the level of other children has most likely been reached through anecdotal evidence from your child, which may be unreliable.
All is not lost, there are other indicators that can help greatly. Amongst these are something called CATS scores (Cognitive Attainment Test) scores, which are used in many schools in Gloucestershire. These nationally standardised cognitive tests are taken without preparation, to provide the schools with an indication of academic potential of its pupils. They are very different from attainment tests (SATs), and bring up some surprises. Often taken in the autumn term, the tests can be particularly useful for schools in highlighting underachieving pupils. For parents considering the Eleven Plus they are equally useful, and although your school may not voluntarily provide the results, you are free to ask for them. If your school uses these tests, you will find your child receives a score for verbal reasoning including vocabulary, numerical reasoning, and non-verbal/spatial reasoning. They will show you how your child has performed in comparison to national scores; of particular note is that the age of your child will have been accounted for.
Just like any other piece of evidence this is just a single 'piece of the puzzle'. The publisher themselves, whilst providing exact scores, explicitly says that these are within a likely band of scores; and of course, some children will be lucky and show their full potential whilst others will not on any particular day. That being said, if your child scores in the 130 – 141 range, they are likely to do well in the Grammar school test with some preparation. If they have scored in the 120s there is also a reasonable chance of success. Children with considerably lower scores have also gained places at grammar school and done very well.
One point of note is that Pates Grammar School requires that qualifying candidates pass verbal reasoning, maths and non-verbal reasoning sections of the Eleven Plus. Even if your child is exceptionally brilliant at mathematics, if their verbal reasoning is poor, this school will not accept them.
Other solid indicators of ability are previous high scores in SATs (Year 2) and optional SATs from other years, the ability to play a musical instrument at a high level, and school reports. If your child achieved Level 3 or more in Year 2 SATs, whilst this does not show a current level, it does show that at some point they were working at a level beyond most of their peers. Within the school report it is the level of attainment that your child has achieved, that is valuable as a sign of ability at a given time.
A number of publishers such as Bond and CGP also provide placement test materials, which can shed further light; however, sometimes these tests are not in line with the CEM test that Gloucestershire will use.
Aside from this, be confident that you know your child better than anybody else. Your opinion of their strengths and weaknesses is of value. Try to consider if they are likely to thrive in a school that is particularly academically challenging. Not only their ability, but their personality will be important. Also, if they are very committed to extracurricular activities such as sports or drama, this might influence your decision. Many of the grammar schools are strong in these fields, but the children involved do need to be able to manage this alongside a rigorous academic environment.
We are very lucky in Gloucestershire to have many wonderful schools. That your child is happy and feels appreciated and involved, are the real signs that you have found the right place.