FOR thousands of primary school pupils across Essex this is the most testing time of the year.

The last Saturday of November is always set aside for youngsters to sit the 11-plus exam.

Although it has undergone some changes over the years, the test, which was created in 1944 as a way of selecting the brightest pupils for the best schools, is still the only route into a grammar school.

For more than 4,000 youngsters across Essex, aged 11 and over, Saturday was the culmination of months, or even years, of preparation for the exam.

Pupils hopeful of getting into one of the county’s ten grammar schools attended test centres across the region to take the paper.

Many of them would have undergone private tutoring, attended special 11-plus clubs at school or even been taught by their own parents in a bid to get them through the exam.

Private tutoring for the exam has become more popular than ever.

Mum-of-two Nicola Barnes, 41, tutored her daughter, Sarah, now 13, through the test.

“We spent about two hours a week, for six months, going through test questions and working through maths problems,” she said.

“It worked because Sarah got into the school she wanted.”

Nicola, of Kings Road, Laindon, added: “I think it’s great to have a private tutor if you can afford one, but if you can’t it doesn’t mean your child should miss out.

“Parents are more than capable of helping their child, if they have the right resources to do so. I think it’s important this exam is something kids from all backgrounds have a chance of passing, not just the ones who can afford private tutors.”

The Consortium of Selective Schools in Essex is responsible for the running of the exam across the county, after taking over from Essex County Council in 1996.

Pat Elliot, professional officer for the consortium, said: “This year we have more than 3,800 youngsters across Essex sitting the exam.

“The test is made up of questions, which test how pupils apply themselves to thinking and solving problems.

“It’s not just about answering general knowledge questions.

“As well as a maths paper, there is an English test where pupils are asked to read a piece of composition and then answer questions to determine how well they have read the piece.

“It is important pupils are prepared for the exam as the questions are about problem solving and they need to know how to do this.

“From what I hear, a lot of parents are opting for private tutors these days, but it’s not the only option.

“Some schools have their own 11-plus clubs, which can be very effective, but there’s no reason why parents can’t tutor the child themselves either.”

For many years, youngsters attending Lee Chapel Primary School, in the Knares, Basildon, have been given the opportunity to take the 11-plus.

Headteacher Sue Jackson has herself tutored pupils for the English verbal reasoning part of the test during the school lunchbreak.

The commitment of Mrs Jackson and Year 6 form tutor Steve Whyman, has seen the school obtaining a very successful record in getting pupils through the test and into their chosen schools.

“Traditionally we have always provided 11-plus coaching for those children who have chosen to apply for selective schools,” she said. “Each year between eight and ten children gain entrance to a selective school from here.

“These children are usually those who are in the top literacy and numeracy set in school and, therefore, only require verbal reasoning coaching in order to prepare themselves for the test.

“Those children who transfer to selective schools are the more academic pupils who are well suited to a grammar school education. They do extremely well and progress at an accelerated rate.

“Their GCSE results have been outstanding.

“Moreover, the children develop a wider social network of friends and all have aspirations of taking A-levels and going to university.”

Mr Whyman is currently tutoring a class of 20 Year 5 pupils at the school for next year’s 11-plus exam.

“We ask the parents of pupils to pay a very minimal charge to come to the after-school class and that enables us to buy text books,” he said.

“This saves parents, who might be thinking of hiring a private tutor, a lot of money.

“Having the pupils learning together is a very effective way of preparing them for the exam.

“The most popular schools our pupils apply for tend to be the Southend High school for boys and girls, but we also have youngsters applying to other selective schools.

“We are very proud of our 11-plus successes here and we will all be carrying on with the hard work.”