Q: My eldest daughter has just gone through the 11+ process in the independent sector in London. On the advice of her prep school, we applied to five different schools. She has sat five different exams and had five separate interviews. Do you think a child of this age should be tested in this way?
A: An excellent question! - and one to which the answer - as with most questions about children and education - largely depends on the individual child. Some children love the challenge of exams, of thinking hard and fast, of pitting their wits against the paper, against other children, and, often, against their own past achievements. They also enjoy interviews - the questions, the interaction with the interviewer and, perhaps, other interviewees - the chance to ponder a question and express their own opinions. Others feel intimidated in exams, are nervous, unconfident and seldom perform as well as they would in less pressured circumstances. Their minds go blank when asked a question, the right words won't come and it's only on the way home they think of all the clever answers that deserted them at the time.
Academically selective schools have to select somehow and most do so in the friendliest way they can. But it can be hard for loving - and, inevitably, anxious - parents to send off their tender 10-year- old beyond the reach of their support and encouragement into the semi-unknown! The key is always to try to take the tension and anxiety out of it - not just out of the exam day and interview but out of the whole application process. It is generally the parents who suffer far more through the whole process than the children but they can transmit this anxiety to the children. No child performs well when they are nervous - afraid of failure, afraid of letting you down, afraid of not going to the school that they - or you - have chosen for them, afraid that their friends will succeed and they won't.
So - yes, I think the testing business is necessary and, not necessarily an evil - but I believe parents need to assess their own approach to it and how that will be translated to the children before they embark. If your daughter sat for five schools and had five interviews, she must have done pretty well in the exams. Doubtless you - like all sensible parents - will have selected at least one of the five as a less ambitious back-up school. No child at this age should be set up to fail and, with good planning and common sense, this shouldn't ever happen.