Choosing an 11+ tutor

Choosing an 11+ tutor
Every parent wants their child to have the best chance of 11+ success, and choosing the right tutor could be the key. We explain how to find the best person for your child.

If you live in one of the areas of the UK which has a grammar school system, you’ve probably already heard the playground buzz about finding a tutor for the Eleven Plus (11+). These exams are taken by children in Year 6 who want to be considered for a grammar school education, and can involve any or all of four separate disciplines: English, maths, verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning.

Although the two main examining bodies, GL Assessment and CEM, are constantly reviewing their papers to make the 11+ ‘tutor-proof,’ the reality is that many families do have their children tutored for the 11+. It’s not essential, however – you may feel you can help your child prepare at home, for example by using revision materials and past papers.

‘My belief is that parents should see tutoring as a way of familiarising children with exam techniques which they probably won’t learn at primary school, rather than getting their child to scrape through the 11+, only to then struggle at grammar school,’ says Catherine Stoker, managing director of the Independent Education Consultants. ‘Tutoring is a big investment of time and money, so it’s important to be realistic about whether your child is suitable for grammar school when you’re considering it.’

Types of tutor

There are different types of 11+ tutor. The sort you choose will depend on availability in your area, and your own preferences.

  • Independent tutors are individuals who work locally and tutor children on a one-to-one basis or in small groups, usually in their own home. They are often qualified teachers who are retired or on a career break, or students. ‘They tend to have a good knowledge of the 11+ exam in their particular region,’ says Catherine. Independent tutors usually charge £17-£25 per hour for individual tuition, depending on your area and the tutor's experience and popularity, but the most in-demand tutors can charge £80 plus per hour. Fees for group tutoring are generally around two-thirds of the price of private sessions.
  • Tutoring centres are companies that employ a number of tutors; they may be locally based or national chains, and usually tutor children in groups. ‘The advantage of a tutoring centre is that there is more of a classroom atmosphere, so it’s less intense and children can bounce off each other,’ Catherine explains. Tutoring centres typically charge a monthly fee, which can vary from around £50 to £120 per month, usually for two sessions per week.
  • Skype or online tutoring is a new innovation where pupils can be tutored remotely. ‘Generally, face to face tutoring is better as there is more interaction, but this can work well for expat families who are looking to move back to the UK, for example, as they can tap into the skills of a tutor who is immersed in the UK system,’ says Catherine. Online tuition generally costs around £15 per hour.

How to find an 11+ tutor

Tutors are not currently regulated and don’t need any formal qualifications, so it’s important to do your research. Word of mouth is a good place to start, although the competitive nature of the 11+ means that some parents keep their tutor’s details a closely guarded secret! Your child’s school may also be able to recommend tutors that past pupils have worked with successfully. ‘Our tutor was recommended by a friend who was a teacher, who had used her for one of her sons,’ says Kirsty Hughes, mum to Ella, 11.

If you don’t have a personal recommendation, you should be able to find details of tutors near you by searching online or looking at the classified ads in your local newspaper. In some areas, particularly those like Kent and Buckinghamshire which have a large grammar school presence, there are also agencies who can supply tutors, although this is usually a more expensive approach as you’ll be covering an agency fee as well as tuition costs.

Most families start tutoring around the beginning of Year 5, with the exam taking place early in the autumn term of Year 6. But well regarded tutors will book up in advance, so you’ll need to start looking at some point during Year 4.

Choosing a tutor

There are a number of different factors to consider when choosing an 11+ tutor. These include:

Experience ‘The most important thing to find out is what experience the tutor has at getting children into the schools that you are interested in,’ says Catherine. Check whether they are experienced in coaching pupils in all of the disciplines that are tested, and if the 11+ has recently changed format in your area, make sure the tutor is up to speed with the new format.

Pass rates Always ask the tutor what percentage of their students have passed the 11+ over the past few years. Ideally, try to get references from other parents whose children have been tutored.

Qualifications Tutors don’t need any formal qualifications, but you may feel more comfortable if yours does have them. For example, if maths is your child’s weak point, you might want to look for a qualified maths teacher.

Methods Would you prefer your child to be tutored individually, or in a group? Do you want an intensive summer course or regular weekly classes? Bear in mind that methods can change: ‘We were looking for a one-to-one tutor and went on a recommendation from another parent, but annoyingly, she changed to small groups partway through the year,’ says Jenny Mitchell, mum to Zara, 11.

Location and cost These may seem lesser factors, but are important to consider before committing to a long-term tutoring programme. ‘I have a younger child and don’t drive, so a key factor for me was finding a tutor who would come to our house,’ says Sarah Melling, mum to Penny, 10, and Reuben, seven.

Will the tutor suit your child?

One of the biggest factors in choosing a tutor is to consider how they will get on with your child. ‘Some parents like very traditional, mature tutors with years of experience, while others prefer someone young and dynamic who can motivate their child,’ says Catherine. Likewise, consider whether you would prefer a male or female tutor, or, in the case of tutoring centres, whether you child will see the same person each time.

Before you commit to a tutor, it’s sensible for your child to meet them, and ideally to have a couple of trial sessions (which may or may not be free). ‘Seeing your child with the tutor is the best way to gauge whether they are right for each other,’ Catherine explains.

Monitoring your child’s progress

Having chosen a tutor, you’ll need to make sure that your child is making good progress with them. ‘It’s reasonable to ask for a report after every six to eight sessions, and also to talk to the tutor about your child’s test scores – are they improving, or are there areas they are still struggling with?’ says Catherine. ‘Try to listen in on the occasional tutoring session, too – you are the best judge of whether your child is engaged and learning.’