THE 11-plus coaching industry in Buckinghamshire will adapt to the new exam, according to a prominent tutor.

One of the main points of the new exam, to be introduced from this September, is to put a stop to the current situation where children have been coached specifically to pass the 11-plus. It costs between £25 and £50 per hour for home tutoring.

Sian Goodspeed, who runs Flying Start Tuition in Chesham, says that she believes the majority of coaches will be able to change their methods and still tutor for the new exam.

She said: “The tests will undoubtedly be more difficult to tutor for. At the moment, we know the tests inside out, and it is possible to coach children on exactly the sorts of questions which will come up.

“There were lots of children who were so familiar with the types of questions in the paper that when they sat the exams, they didn’t even need to read the instructions, they just recognised the questions straight away.

“Obviously, if we are less familiar with the tests, it’s no longer possible to do this, but I don't think the tests will be untutorable.

“It’s always possible to boost children’s performances by coaching and making sure you practice the sorts of things that are likely to come up on the exam.”

Mrs Goodspeed says that at her business, children are already coached in other areas as well as for the current exam, so she believes that she will be in a good position to adapt.

However, she also believes that there could be problems in moving the exam from October to September.

She said: “Moving the exams closer to the summer holidays could be an issue.

“I’m a former teacher and we always used to notice that children came back after the summer holidays at a lower level than they were before they started.

“It took them a good few weeks or a month before they were back up to standard, so making them sit an exam very soon after the summer break is going to be quite difficult for them.”

"With regard to the tests being less easy to tutor for: yes, I do think that will be the case because in the past, tutors and parents have known the 21 question types that have always appeared and have coached children specifically to the tests. 

"It had got to the stage where children didn't even need to read the instructions for each question as they were so familiar with what to do for each exercise.  Since many of the old question types were not like anything the children were taught at school (eg the code-based question types) this meant that the more practice / tuition children did, the better chance they had, making it unfair on children who did not receive extra tuition . 

"So many children did have extra tuition to the point that they were adept at all the techniques, meaning the crunch factor was usually down to vocabulary and whether or not a child knew the meaning of a handful of the harder words on the paper - not really a fair assessment of a child's ability.

"The new tests will assess pupils in more areas and should therefore provide a more comprehensive measure of each child’s ability - hopefully resulting in a fairer system than the previous one.  Since Durham do not specify exactly what question types are on their papers, it will not be possible to coach children specifically for the tests in the same way as before. However, like anything in life, it is always possible to boost performance by coaching and practice of the right areas so I don't believe the test will be 'untutorable'.

"It is true that the actual question types will now be harder to predict but the areas are known to be verbal reasoning (which according to Durham is a broad term and may include literacy-based activities such as reading comprehension and cloze procedure exercises); non-verbal reasoning and numerical reasoning. Therefore, any preparation done for the tests needs to be much broader than in the past and will need to involve a strong grounding in core numeracy and literacy skills.  Children will also need to learn important exam skills and develop the ability to adapt their knowledge and skills to different situations.  These are all important life skills and will be invaluable to children, irrespective of which type of school they ultimately end up attending.  In that sense, therefore, there will be far greater value in tutoring children for the new tests because they will be developing skills that will be relevant to their schoolwork and will help to boost their levels across the board.   This has to be a good thing, especially with the current problems many schools face with children entering Year 7 with literacy and numeracy skills way below the levels they should be.

"One of the key issues for parents, especially those who have children in Year 5 who are already enrolled on an 11+ course, will be whether or not their tutor has the skills to adapt to the changes.  There are a number of tutors in Buckinghamshire who are not qualified teachers who, in the past, have been able to coach children for the Bucks 11+ by learning the techniques for the previous 21 question types and then passing these techniques on to their pupils.  Tutors who are qualified, experienced teachers will be far better placed to tutor children for the new tests because they will have the skills and understanding of how children learn and will be able to give their pupils a good grounding in the important core subjects of numeracy and literacy."At Flying Start Tuition, we have an excellent team of qualified teachers who have years of  teaching experience. Since we had anticipated these changes, we have been busy working behind the scenes to put the necessary resources in place to ensure we provide the best possible support for our pupils in the run up to the new tests. 

"Children who are currently on one of our Year Five 11+ courses have already been working on core literacy and numeracy skills alongside our verbal reasoning practice and will continue to do so, with the addition of practice questions in the format as close to the new tests as possible (based on sample questions form past Durham 11+ and 12+ papers). In addition, we will introduce practice of non-verbal reasoning question types which we have been teaching for many years to pupils who sit independent schools entrance exams, and more recently the new 12+ exam for Chesham Grammar School, which is also using Durham CEM papers.

"At Flying Start, our courses have always been about so much more than simply teaching verbal reasoning techniques. We believe in preparing our pupils for whichever type of school they may move on to and, alongside our emphasis on confidence-building and fun, key to this is a good grounding in core literacy and maths skills. The new tests will require even stronger foundations in these core subjects, covering far more topics than before. Since pupils will be at different levels in different topics, we will need to differentiate accordingly and, thanks to the quality of our teaching staff, we are able to do this, adapting our teaching to the learning styles and abilities of each child, enabling them to progress at an appropriate rate. In other words, we extend or support our pupils’ learning according to their needs.  We therefore have every confidence that we will be able to prepare our pupils effectively, giving them the best possible chance of realising their potential in the new tests.

"The other point is that, in bringing the tests forward, this means that children will be sitting them very soon after the summer holidays.  It is a commonly known fact that children tend to dip in their achievement levels over the long summer break.  At Flying Start, we run holiday courses and we are also extending our weekly sessions as well as adding on extra lessons to make up for the 'lost' lessons that would normally take place in September."