They did warn me.
But then, they also warned me about childbirth and I thought “No, not me. I’ll be fine. It can’t be that bad.”
I was wrong then, and I have been proved wrong yet again. The current experience to which I refer, as you might already have guessed if you have a child in Year Six, is the 11+.
The 11+ is the exam sat in the last year of primary school by children applying to certain— usually private — secondary schools. Competition is fierce. This year, I heard of one school that had nearly 3,000 candidates for only 100 places.
Many of you will probably think that I am being utterly ridiculous and, frankly, over the top. Maybe you are right. But right now, between exams having been sat and waiting to hear if interviews have been granted, it is not far off torture.
I'm uncomfortable walking into the school playground. If there's a rejection from a school, I don't want to talk about it, in case the other parent had good news about the school you wanted. And if it's good news, you don't want anyone to ask you in case you got the school they wanted.
One minute you feel miserable because of a rejection, the next minute elation because you hear that your child has been granted an interview. There's a constant feeling of walking a tightrope between soaring possibility and dashed hopes. The stress can prompt you to do silly things. One day I had a drastic haircut, just because I had to do something I had control over.
I remember this feeling from long ago, when I, too, sat exams, but the fact that my child is going through this has changed the quality of the feeling, making it less bearable. Only now do I fully appreciate what my poor parents must have gone through during my school and university days.
My child attends a state Jewish primary — a disadvantage compared to the majority of the other 11+ candidates who attend private prep schools. State schools do not prepare children for the 11+, whereas at prep schools all they seem to do is prepare children for these gruelling exams.
Aware of this discrepancy, we engaged a tutor in Year Four, like many other parents at our school. But even prep school parents feel the need to have their children tutored as well, and so the disadvantage is perpetuated.
Why even bother to put my child through this? Because there are always a good few bright state-school children who make it, and because we were told that our child might be one of those outliers.
There is of course another layer to all of this. As a frum family, do we really want our child to attend a non-Jewish school? (As far as I know there is just one Jewish school — Immanuel College — for which a child can sit the 11+.)
My husband and I have debated at length — and did so even before we were blessed with children of our own — the merits of Jewish versus non-Jewish secondaries. Is the Jewish foundation firm enough if left at primary school level? Or is it even more crucial, in those incredibly formative, teenage years, for them to still be ‘held’ in a familiar Jewish environment before being sent out into the brave new world of university or work?
Ultimately, of course, the outcome is entirely out of our hands. And as an observant Jew, I do genuinely believe that it is not even in the hands of the schools who seem to hold all the power.
Whatever happens next will be beshert.
And if it isn’t, we can always re-apply for 6th form.