It is a Wednesday afternoon and more than 100 primary children are walking into a grand Victorian school hall at King Edward VI Handsworth for Girls, one of the oldest grammar schools in the Birmingham.
The pupils are there for their second “familiarisation” session. “It can be quite intimidating going down the drive for the first time and looking up at a Hogwarts-esque school,” admits Denis Ramplin, director of marketing and communication at the foundation. The gated and leafy school site is located in the middle of the deprived area of Handsworth, which lies just north of the city centre.
The aim of the foundation’s outreach scheme for its five selective schools in the city is to give less privileged children a flavour of grammar school life before test day, and to help them to prepare for the exam with maths, English and problem-solving activities.
All of the King Edward VI grammar schools host five two-hour sessions in the summer term for academically able children eligible for pupil-premium funding, who have been chosen by their headteacher.
Sitting in a bright pink maths classroom, a group of nine- and 10-year-olds from different primaries discuss with teachers and pupils the best ways to prepare for the test.
Taking breaks, getting early nights and preparing through play – for example by playing Scrabble and Sudoku – feature in the discussion.
However, asked by a teacher to name the best ways to prepare for the test, a primary school pupil suggests one-to-one revision with tutors.
“Personal tutors is what we are trying to get away from,” responds Leona Osborne, head of mathematics. “There is so much out there [online] that you don’t need to go down that route.” But later, two Year 7 girls talking to the primary school children about their experiences mention the preparation work they did with their tutors.
Across the city, the foundation is hosting a maths mastery CPD session for primary school teachers to help improve the chances of children passing the 11-plus without private tuition.
Ramplin admits that they still have challenges, not least persuading some families – especially those from white, working-class backgrounds – that the grammar school is for them. Primary school headteachers tell Ramplin that the main aspiration of some pupils is to be a Premiership footballer or an X Factor star: a grammar school education is not on their agenda.
He admits: “We really do try to change the perception but it is challenging.”