Please forward this error screen to 209. Every week, tutor Stephanie Williams rings the doorbell of a house in Brentwood, Essex, to be greeted by two girls, nine-year-old Riya Mohan and her sister Maya, four. Stephanie sits down A Lot Like Me – The Offspring – Rise And Fall, Rage And Grace Riya and starts asking her questions. What is an oxymoron — give me an example?
What is another word for guttural? When their hour together is up, Riya goes upstairs to study for a further two hours alone, while Stephanie sits down with Maya for her own one-to-one tutoring session. All this is in addition to the girls’ full-time education at their local state primary. The reason for the extra-curricular coaching? In two years’ time, Riya will sit the 11-Plus exam for a highly coveted place at one of Essex’s eight remaining grammar schools. Her sister Maya, who started tutoring sessions when she was three, will not be taking the exam until 2018 — but her mother Sharon, a 35-year-old marketing manager, believes you can’t start preparing too early. I feel it’s important that Maya starts learning letters and numbers — and a teacher with a class of 30 can’t always give her the attention she needs,’ she explains.
But the next day she’s always back on track. The 11-Plus is harder than A-levels and she needs to start preparing for it now. Welcome to the modern world of securing a place at a grammar school — a process filled with tears, anxiety and tantrums. 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. Current government policy is to allow the few remaining grammars to continue, though there are no plans to build more.