Holding crucial entrance exams in early January is causing parents and students unnecessary anxiety over the Christmas period.
“More and more providers are offering Christmas holiday tuition,” said Will Orr-Ewing, director of Keystone Tutors, a highly respected tutoring company.
Mr Orr-Ewing says that most tutoring business would prefer to close over Christmas. He says that many firms are simply responding to customer demand and staying open at the request of parents who are persuading private tutors to keep working so that their children can be in “peak-condition” when the entrance exam season starts.
Independent schools have historically always held entrance exams straight after the Christmas holiday. But Mr Orr-Ewing thinks the situation is far worse now than it has been in the past and that it’s time to change.
“There are far more applicants for good day-school places today because many professional parents refuse to consider boarding for their children,” he explained. The problem is particularly acute in the south east because London is a global hub and attracts ever-growing numbers of professional couples who want to send their children to independent schools.
“In the past five years there has been at least a five-fold rise in the number of applicants for every place at many schools,” Mr Orr-Ewing said. “It’s not surprising anymore when you hear about schools dealing with over a thousand applicants for 100 places.
“The supply of good secondary schools hasn’t expanded to accommodate the growth in demand. Consequently, more and more parents are chasing the same few places,” he added.
“I used to let him play on his iPad, but I’ve now told him he can’t use it again until his exams are finished,” said one mother who asked not to be named.
“The whole family is making a sacrifice this year. We’d normally head off to Australia over Christmas for some sunshine, but the jetlag at the either end of the trip would ruin the revision timetable that our tutor has put in place.”
Another parent, Mr Andrew Moss, has no plans for a family holiday this winter, but he does intend to keep up the pressure on his ten year old son Toby in advance of the New Year exams.
“We’re not sending Toby to a ‘revision camp’ in the same way that some of our friends are, but we will be making sure he takes a practice exam each day of the school holidays. And yes, that means Christmas Day too. I know that he won’t be happy about it, but it’s for one Christmas only. The right exam result could have a major impact on his whole life, and not just the next school he goes to,” says Mr Moss.
Mr Orr-Ewing thinks the exams should be held in February to give the chance for children and parents to relax over Christmas. “There is no reason that I can see why they have to be held in the first week of January. Admissions aren’t decided until the middle of February. Surely it would be possible to delay them a few weeks.”
His sentiments were echoed by Sarah Knollys, headmistress of Glendower Preparatory School in London.
“I have heard that some London tutors are offering revision courses over the Christmas holidays and even during the week between Christmas and New Year and find this quite shocking. I think it is a terrible shame that parents feel so pressurized that they want to keep a high intensity study programme going throughout Christmas for their children.
“If the 11+ entrance exams could be delayed by a week or two at the start of the year it really would let the children enjoy a proper, well-deserved Christmas break.”