Making selective education equal for all

    Following Education Secretary Justine Greening’s call for grammars to help ordinary working families, Zoe Catania, from AIM, an organisation offering free tutoring for the 11 Plus, explains how they can help

    TESTING TIME Zoe (pictured bottom right) with fellow AIM trustees are helping pupils from lower incomes

    AIM (Achieve Inspire Motivate) was founded in 2015 and has successfully been supporting bright children from low income families to prepare for the 11 Plus exam – the gateway to a grammar education – for the past three academic years.

    The current entry system into selective schools just doesn’t work, and actually achieves the opposite to what the system was set up for: To gain an excellent academic education without having to pay for it.

    AIM does not operate either side of the grammar school debate but we are very much aware of the discourse around social mobility and equality.

    Despite local authorities attempts to ‘tutor proof’ the 11 Plus – also known as the Kent Test – it continues to hold significant advantages for those children who are properly prepared for it. Without preparation it’s like taking a driving test without any lessons. Most well-resourced families will secure advantages for their children by sending them to independent primary schools who are able to prepare the child for the test or pay for private tutoring – sometimes both.

    There is also an increasing body of evidence to suggest the grammar system does not promote social mobility and children from poorer backgrounds do not have equal access to these school places. The Sutton Trust’s research found just 3% of children entitled to free school meals were awarded a grammar school place.

    ‘AIM wants to inform that the opportunity to attend a grammar school is open to everyone’

    In an attempt to ‘level up the playing field’ AIM offers 10 places each year to bright Year 5 children, from low-income families (earning less than £22,000 per annum) who are working at grammar school levels. The children take an entrance test so AIM are confident they are working at 11 Plus levels and wouldn’t struggle with the programme.

    The children then attend weekly preparation sessions with professional tutors from The Right Tuition Company, and have school holiday workshops and mock exam practice sessions, all for free.

    In many cases having to support their children in preparing for the test is often difficult for some families and it might not just be because of a lack of financial resources. Many families do not have the academic ability to support their child’s learning and many don’t know about the grammar options. Language is often a barrier and there’s often limited home space in which to work. Parents’ workloads all play a significant part, too and we have also found the perception of grammar is often perceived as schooling for ‘rich children’ and some parents are therefore reluctant to apply.

    AIM wants to challenge this perception and inform both parents and their children that the opportunity to attend a grammar school is open to everyone, and that we all have an equal chance. It’s unfortunate that not everyone is playing by the same set of rules.

    It costs £4,000 to run this yearly programme for 10 local children and we need funding for our September cohort. The organisers are all volunteers but we need money for the tutors, the venue hire, resources and the motivation reward scheme we offer. It costs £400.00 to give one child the opportunity of attending this programme for one year.

    AIM is not just about the 11 Plus exam – it’s about confidence building, changing aspirations, wider learning and supporting parents to explore opportunities.

    There is a lot of work to be done to make grammars more inclusive but I believe it should start with free exam preparation for children from low income families and for selective schools to educate their local primary school children about what they can offer.

    To find out more or to donate – either financially or with your experience – visit www.aimkent.org.uk