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In some areas, there are around 20 applicants for every grammar school place.
Two years ago, police were called to prevent ‘havoc’ at Wallington County Grammar School in Sutton, Surrey, as parents dropped off their children for the exam.
‘I naively thought that if Molly had the ability, she’d get through on her own merits — and if she didn’t then grammar school probably wasn’t right for her.
Such ruthless competition means that even the most academically able children from less well-off backgrounds find it harder than ever to gain entry to grammars, destroying the whole purpose of the system.‘It’s not a level playing field — it’s not the naturally brightest children who get through,’ says Lizzie.
After she took her mock tests, she just sat and cried — and that just broke my heart.
I was so close to saying: “Just don’t take it, it’s not worth it.” But that stage passed.’Sian Goodspeed, who runs Flying Start Tuition in Chesham, Bucks, is familiar with the heartache that many families go through in the build-up to the 11-Plus — and says many simply can’t cope with the strain.
Sleepovers are banned, and holidays are put on hold until it’s all over.
She took a week off to go on an Outward Bound course with the school, and I did think: “Oh my God, it’s a week’s worth of work,” but then I put it at the back of my mind and she returned recharged.People ring me all through the night, sometimes at two or three in the morning, absolutely desperate, offering me twice as much money to drop a student and take their child.’Ilesh Kotecha is the founder of the website uk, which receives more than 500,000 visitors a year, overwhelmingly from middle-class parents.He says demand for tutoring is so high that it’s easy for unscrupulous ones to flourish.‘And then the starting date gets earlier and earlier.The 11-Plus is harder than A-levels and she needs to start preparing for it now.’With exams for ten and 11-year-olds starting all over the country between now and the end of January, many families are about to reach the climax of years of ruthless preparation in a desperate attempt to win their children a coveted place at one of the 164 remaining grammar schools in England and 64 in Northern Ireland — down from a peak of 1,200.Established to help the most intellectually able 25 per cent of children receive a rigorous academic education, grammars have long been a political hot potato, and since the 1980s most have been forced to become comprehensives. With so few places on offer, and a combination of soaring fees and squeezed budgets placing a private education beyond most families’ grasp, aspirational parents are prepared to do whatever it takes to win their children a place at what has come to be seen as the educational holy grail.