In some town and city centres, you can barely turn a corner without seeing another poster for 11+ revision courses. But which, if any, are worth the money?
11+ revision courses – what should I expect?
Think finishing school rather than ‘Absolute Beginners’. Usually aimed at pupils in years 5 and 6, these booster courses – also known as ‘workshops’ and ‘crash courses’ - take place over half term, in the holidays and sometimes after school in term time, often at the tutors’ own offices.
While some firms also offer mock interviews (a firm handshake and engaging conversation can be deal clinchers) much of it is down to the nitty gritty of exam practice.
Expect small classes (no more than a generous handful in most cases, although some have many more), effective differentiation, well thought out and engaging course material (some firms develop their own resources), high teacher to pupil ratios, lots of detailed feedback - and a hefty price tag. If any of this isn’t made clear before you sign up, be sure to ask.
Who offers them?
Some course organisers make a big deal out of their expertise in prepping for specific highly selective schools, both independent and maintained, from Latymer Upper to The Henrietta Barnett School, where around 2,000 children sit exams for year 7.
But you’ll find 11+ courses advertised all around the country, from Edinburgh to Manchester and Birmingham to Cheam - anywhere, in fact, where unbounded parental aspiration meets limited school places. In London alone, tutor businesses like Osborne Cawkwell, Hampstead & Frognal, JK Educate, Exceptional Academics, Enjoy Education, Carfax Private Tutors and Kings Tutors – most reviewed by The Good Schools Guide – all run their own courses.
Are they worth their salt?
It all depends who you’re talking to. Cynics argue that 11+ courses are, first and foremost, a brilliant money making wheeze that relies on ramping up – and monetising - parental anxiety levels.
Even some in the business agree. Eamonn Byrne, who runs Edinburgh Tutors, doesn’t mince his words. Some courses, he says, are ‘a bit like puppy farms. There’s 20 to 30 kids or as many places as can be sold, the tuition is not one-to-one and my question is why would anybody think that’s any better than what they’re receiving in school?’
Other tutor firms, unsurprisingly, have a different perspective. Alexander Nikitich, founder of the Carfax Education Group, which also runs GCSE, A level and IB revision courses, points out the benefits of a fresh perspective. ‘Teachers are often competent but teach you in a certain way which, in most cases, works very well. But it can help to be exposed to a different way of teaching and look at things in a slightly different way.’
Tutor businesses also argue that boosting confidence levels and buffing up exam technique won’t come amiss even for the brightest of the bright. ‘If they see an exam question they didn’t expect, that extra confidence can help them deal with it,’ says Alexander Nikitich.
Mark Taylor sees his courses as a way of removing stress from the revision process. ‘To get a child to sit down and cover the amount of content that we do over two days would be virtually impossible. We’ve got the expertise, so when they come to us, they’re motivated.’
The bottom line
Don’t sign up just because all your child’s friends have and you’re suffering advanced FOMO (fear of missing out). Do sign up if there’s likely to be a clear benefit. Classes can work particularly well for the outliers, thinks Alexander Nikitich, like bright and motivated pupils who are being held back by lower ability pupils in their class, or children who are struggling and could benefit hugely from a slug of individual attention.
Reputable firms will give you an honest opinion on your child’s chances of success before taking your cash. If they don’t think they’re up to it, they may even turn you away. ‘We’ve had conversations where I’ve said that I’m not sure this is the course for them,’ says Mark Taylor, principal of Hampstead and Frognal Tutors.