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FAQ: ​Questions asked frequently about grammar school preparatory tuition with Dr Karen O'Rourke

11+ assessments for state school children who entered Year 4 in September 2017 are taking place NOW. Please read <Grammar School> and <FAQ> pages before you contact me by email from this website. 


NEWS! Thursday 12th October, 2017: 

Birmingham Consortium Test Results released!

All my students have now learned their Birmingham Consortium test scores, most of which arrived a day earlier than expected. It was good news for them and their families.  The highest score of my students this year has broken all previous records: 268!  Overall, my students have an average (mean) score of 245.   This means that every child is assured of his or her first choice of grammar school.  Well done!


NEWS! Friday 13th October, 2017: 

Walsall Consortium Test Results released!

Friday 13th was by no means an unlucky day for five of my students!  As at 10pm on Friday, 20th October, I can report that the average (mean) score of is 361.  I'm really proud of my students' achievements, and am confident that all those entering grammar schools in 2018 will thrive in selective education because they are equipped to do so.


NEWS! 1st March, 2017: 

Grammar School Allocations: 100% again this year!

Every one of my students has been allocated his or her first choice of King Edward's grammar schools today.  All students who have secured grammar school places and took the entrance tests for bursaries at independent have also won assisted places at King Edward's School and King Edward's High School. Words fail me!  I would like to thank your wonderfully supported parents, who must be so proud of you all. 


Grammar School Tuition Assessments 

Grammar School Assessments ​are taking place NOW

Year 4 students (September 2017)

Assessments for entry into a Year Four group to begin in September 2017 are taking place this month. Please do not call me at this stage. Kindly click <Grammar Schools> and <FAQ> tabs above for further information, and then send me an email via the <contact me> tab above. I will then send you full details of the assessment process.  Please do not call me until you have received read all the information I will send you.  I regret that I do not have the time to offer parents general advice about the 11+ tests.  My <11+ Grammar Schools> page should give you a very clear and thorough introduction to what the 11+ involves.  

Year 5 students (September 2017)

There are NO PLACES for grammar school preparatory students who will enter Year Five in September 2017, and NO WAITING LIST for this year group.  If a Year Five student was to drop out of tuition, I would not replace him or her at this late stage, as this would be unfair on the other four members of the group.  For safeguarding reasons, I have a policy of not recommending other tutors, so please do not call or send me emails for this reason​.



Q: Are there any vacancies for students who entered Year Four in September, 2017?

A:  Yes. Assessments are taking place this month.


Q: Are there any vacancies for students who will enter Year Five in September, 2017?

A: No. I receive calls evey day asking for grammar school tuition for children about to enter Year Five, and have to disappoint every caller.


Q: Are there any vacancies for students who attend independent ('prep' or 'private') schools?

A:  No. I do not accept children rom independent schools for 11+ tuition.


Q: Would you make an exception for my child because s/he attends an independent school and is struggling?

A:  No.





Q: Do you offer any tuition in school hours?

A: Never. Please don't contact me to request this service.


Q: Do you offer tuition to children who are home-schooled?

A: No. For children to thrive and to meet their intellectual and wider social needs, they need to be a part of a wider school community.  From September 2017, if the parents of an 11+ student were to remove their from school to receive tuition at home, 11+ tuition with me would be terminated by me with immediate effect. 


Q: Do you accept pupil premium students for tuition​?

A: I'll assess children who are not home schooled and those who attend state, not independent schools; but for tuition with me, pupil premium students would need to show skills on a par with other non 'pupil premium'  students in my 11+ group.  I'd never take on any child - whether 'pupil premium' or not - who was average or below average to give intensive tuition to be successful in a selective test.  I've assessed some very bright so-called 'pupil premium' students and have advised some of those children's parents against having any commercial tuition because I believed that those children would be able to gain a place in selective education with the free tuition ('familiarisation' sessions) that is available in some Birmingham schools.  Five students assessed by me during the past three years have since won places in selective education without my help. 

Q: Where do you teach? Do you teach anywhere else?

A: All tuition takes place at my home in Handsworth Wood (B20 2LH). Handsworth Wood is three miles north­west of Birmingham City Centre, and within 20-25 minutes drive of Walsall, Streetly, Harborne, Edgbaston and much of the Black Country, and slightly longer from areas such as Moseley. I am not, and have never been, employed by any other tutor; nor do I work at any other tuition centre.


Q: When do your grammar school classes take place?

A: I follow the Birmingham Education Authority school term dates. Grammar school group tuition with me takes place just once a week on one regular day in term time for two hours. Please note that I do not hold any classes at the weekend.  11 + preparatory tuition is a long-term commitment on all sides: parent, tutor and child.

Q: Do you teach at weekends?

A: No. Parents are always trying to offer me financial incentives to provide this service; but I have family commitments, and a life and interests outside my work, as well as needing time to prepare for my own students! There are many tutors and tuition centres who do offer this service, and so I advise you to contact them.


Q: What are your fees?

A: The fee for group tuition (in a small group of five students or fewer) is £17.50 per hour per child (i.e. £35 per week per child). The fee for six terms' tuition (calculated by six terms of 12 weeks) is therefore equivalent to two-thirds of the cost of one term at an independent ('prep') school.


Q: Do you offer discounts for the unwaged, low-waged, or for brothers and sisters from the same family?

A: No.


Q: For which grammar and independent schools do you prepare children?

A: All no-fee consortium grammar schools in Birmingham, Shropshire, Walsall, Warwickshire and Wolverhampton whose entrance tests are set by the the University of Durham CEM. I also prepare students wishing to prepare for scholarships and bursaries for the 'premier league' independent schools of the King Edward's Foundation. (Please see the page independent Schools 11+> for more information.)


Q: Do you offer tuition in the school holidays?

A: I recognise that there has to be a balance of work and play for children and their families - and the tutor!  For this reason, there is no tuition during each of the three half-term holidays.


For children in Year Five and approaching the 11+ tests, I offer ad. hoc. practice tests for a limited period in the Christmas and Easter holidays, and (usually) for up to three weeks in the summer holiday in my annual Summer School.  Tuition at these times is at the same rate as term time.


In addition, for Year 5 11+ students in the summer holiday, I will set, on request, a personal scheme of work (which parents will need to monitor and mark). It is tailored to each child, and is for three weeks only during the six-week summer holiday, when they are not receiving tuition from me.


During every school holiday, I expect families to make a commitment to ensure that children read widely and adventurously.




"Now [my family has] been through the 11+ with you, I totally get why your website is a bit scary.  At first I didn't get why you had to put all that information down on the website. It was really offputting.  But now myself and my wife have seen how some parents just leave everything up to you and don't support their kids, I understand where you're coming from."  


Q: What sort of families use your tuition services for grammar school preparatory tuition?

A: I teach children who attend state schools, and come from a variety of backgrounds, who come to me from a wide geographical area, including Birmingham and the Black Country, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire.  I am particularly keen to teach children with the potential to thrive in selective education whose parents have not had the privilege or luck to have enjoyed higher education.  I try to have a mix of students in my groups.  In recent years, for instance, I've taught the children of first generations refugees along with the children of teachers and lecturers, factory and clerical workers and people with disabilities.    


For tuition with me, I welcome the following families:

1. Families who understand that my tuition homework set is not simply intended to enable a child to 'pass' a test, but is intended rather to try to foster good learning habits, broaden their child's outlook, interests and knowledge and, crucially, to prepare a child for the rigours of grammar school homework.

2. Families who have a fair and reasonable assessment of their child's abilities, and who have thought well ahead about what is best for their child, and what that child might need to fulfil his or her potential.

3.  Families in which parents can organise their own time for their child to undertake work at home, without homework becoming a battle-ground.

4.  Families (and especially parents) whose social, recreation and extra-curricular commitments enable the children to undertake supervised homework for four evenings of the week and at the weekend.

4. Families who encourage and follow their children's reading of a range of books.


However, families who regard a place in a grammar school as their child's right, without considering their child's suitability, families take holidays in school term-time, along with families in which both parents work full-time and find it difficult to find time to organise time to work with their children, families who are starting a new business, or are in full-time education or training, or whose children have more than two nights' extra­curricular activities, are unlikely to have the stamina or adequate time to support a child attending grammar school preparatory tuition with me.


I expect that all your child's homework should be completed by 6pm. If any of your commitments do not allow this, please do not consider tuition with me. For this reason, please think carefully about your ability to support your child effectively before you make a commitment to tuition.


Q: My child's bright: why does s/he need tuition to gain a place at a grammar school at all?

A: An excellent question. Children who are lucky enough to attend schools that nurture high ability students to their full potential, and whose parents are confident and focused in supporting them, are not likely to need my help. Tuition with me is for children whose families welcome expert and experienced guidance.


In recent years, one third of all my students has at least one parent who is a teacher; and yet what all the parents of my current students have in common is that they have recognised their child's potential accurately, and they have the motivation and ability to organise their own time to support the child in the 11 + journey.


Crucially, parents thinking about tuition with me should understand that they will need to make the time to sit down and work face-to-face with their child at home to revise and consolidate tuition reading and written work.


Q: My child has average ability, but is a very hard worker. Why don't you take on children like my child for 11+ tuition?

A: Each year, I take around 100 phone calls from parents requesting tuition for children who are struggling now they are in grammar schools. Often, children in this situation have received inappropriate, lengthy and intensive tuition while at primary school.


I don't intend that the tuition I provide should be simply the means to an end of passing an entrance test. I am criticised over the 'phone and online for stating that a grammar school education won't be appropriate for every child. Grammar school preparatory tuition with me is for children with the capacity to perform well in an environment which uses accelerated learning methods. Sadly, this won't be suitable for most children, however hard they work.


In Birmingham each year, 14,000-15,000 children leave year six and enter secondary school. Fewer than 1,000 of those children will enter a grammar school.


My aim is not to teach or train children intensively simply to pass a test. Rather, it is to work with children of substantial ability whose present education might not equip them to fulfil their potential fully, so that in the future, and after 'passing' the test, they may go on to flourish in selective education.


Q: Your website states that you take on only children from state schools for 11+ tuition. Why don't you take on children who attend independent ('private') schools?

A: There is a simple and practical reason. The amount of homework that many independent schools set makes it nearly impossible for children attending independent schools to complete my homework thoroughly and, crucially, to read widely, which are what they need to do to be successful in the grammar school tests. Despite my explaining this, I receive at least three requests for tuition every week from parents of children attending independent schools. Please note that I have not accepted any child from prep schools for tuition with me since 2009; so please do not contact me about grammar school tuition if your child attends an independent school.


Q: Do you provide any individual tuition for grammar school preparatory teaching?

A: No, I don't, and for a good reason: children need to see the results of their work set against the results of other children preparing for the same tests.


For many of my students, tuition is the only opportunity they have each week to mix with like-minded peers. I am very proud of the fact that many well-motivated students and families maintain contact long after tuition has ended, and several children each year go on to enter grammar schools as friends. I keep in touch with many of my former 11+ students, who are now parents themselves. 




Q: When should my child start grammar school tuition?

A: This, of course, depends entirely on your child. However, tuition with me is for children who show a high level of ability and potential in a careful and thorough initial assessment that I undertake before tuition begins. To offer continuity and structure for my students, and to avoid unnecessary repetition, Students who attend an 11 + course with me will start at the same time in Year Four. 


Q: What subjects do you cover in grammar school preparatory tuition?

A: I cover relevant elements of the Key Stages 2, 3 (and occasionally Key Stage 4) curricula in English and Mathematics, with non-verbal reasoning. English ('Literacy') covers proof-reading, grammar, punctuation and syntax, vocabulary expansion, comprehension and cloze completion. The scope of mathematics ('Numeracy') that I cover in tuition ranges into all relevant parts of the KS3 and 4 curriculum.


Q: What level of term-time commitment does tuition actually require from children and parents?

A: Students have approximately one hour of homework for three nights of the week, and 2-3 hours at the weekend. (This does not include reading fiction and non-fiction, which I do not classify as 'work' at all, and which students should be undertaking every day, irrespective of their other commitments.)  For parents, on weekday evenings, I expect them to work approximately twenty minutes for three or four evenings a week, face-to-face with the child, testing understanding, and approximately five minutes monitoring work and checking (and not just asking!) whether and how well the work has been completed. At weekends, I ask parents to spend at least an hour working with a child on tasks and topics, for which I will give clear guidance in a weekly homework pack.

Q: Your website mentions an 'assessment' by you before an offer of tuition is made. What does this involve?

A: The assessment is in stages, and is planned this way to avoid unnecessary stress to families and children.  It involves:

  • A simple functional and contextual reading assessment of approximately three minutes, which can be undertaken at home over the telephone and online before families come to meet me for the first time. There is no fee for this assessment.

  • If this simple reading assessment reveals that your child has a reading age of three years above his or her actual age, I will invite you and your child to come to meet me here before you commit your child to sitting the full assessment.

  • The full assessment lasts for up to two hours and takes place at my home. It takes place in a small, informal group of five students or fewer, with breaks between sections.

  • My assessment seeks to identify a potential for learning, not prior knowledge, through short tests in vocabulary, comprehension, maths and non-verbal reasoning.

  • For comprehension, I use cloze and multiple-choice formats, which children find less intimidating than writing full answers in sentences. Most children leave the assessment smiling!

    Please note that in your child's interest:

  • I never discuss assessment results directly with students.

  • I send a confidential full, written report of the assessment to parents by email, including scores and comments, within 24 hours of the assessment. This report will contain an offer of grammar school preparatory tuition, or alternatively, will explain the reasons why I do not think tuition with me is appropriate for your child. 

  • Please note that assessment feedback is confidential and will not be shared with anyone other than a parent or legal guardian.I appreciate that on the day of the assessment, nerves might affect performance. However, each child may have only one attempt at the assessment. In exceptional circumstances (such as an acute illness or a child not performing well in the assessment in one area, while doing well in other areas), I may offer a short period of individual or group tuition with me to monitor and measure progress. Parents can help children by not placing pressure on them.

  • My decision in the offering or declining of a place in tuition with me is not negotiable, and I will never respond to financial or material inducements, threats to leave poor reviews on websites, or any other form of intimidation in this respect. 

    And finally . . .

    To sum up, grammar school preparatory tuition with me is for children whose assessment indicates over a number of key areas that they have the potential to benefit from and thrive in later selective education.

    If you think that your child might be suited to a grammar school education, please don't be afraid to ask your child's teacher or head teacher whether they believe that grammar school is appropriate for him or her. I encourage parents to discuss the prospect of a grammar school education with children, and to visit the schools' open days and evenings long before they come for tuition with me.

There are no vacancies  for new grammar school preparatory students who entered Year Five in September 2017.  Please do not call me or send emails with enquiries for this year group.  I wish very sincerely that I could offer tuition to families who are very worried about their child's likelihood of winning a place in a grammar school; but since I operate groups limited to five students, and work only three days per week, I cannot accommodate any new families.  


Updated 09.09.17