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The 11+, ISEB, SATs, GCSE & A-level Resource Group: How It Can Help You as a Parent, Student and Educator Podcast Transcript

The Qualified Tutor Podcast episode of this conversation went live at 10am BST on Thursday 22nd July and you can find it on our Podcast page on the website here, on Spotify here or on any other major podcast platform.

[Ludo] – Ludo Millar

[Agness] – Agness O’Brien

[Ludo]

Hello and welcome to the next episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast, and a huge welcome to Agness O’Brien.

[Agness]

Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here today, Ludo. I’m really, really excited about this.

[Ludo]

Thank you, Agness. As a brief introduction to Agness, back in, back in October 2016 Agness set up the Facebook group titled the 11+, ISEB, SATs, GCSE and A-Level Resource Group.

[Agness]

Well done! You got it all in one go! 

[Ludo]

I spent the time memorising that, and this group was formed as a way for parents and educators to come together in a single space and share ideas, resources and discussion. And since then it has grown into one of the largest educational resource groups that we know of, helping over thirteen thousand individuals with learning in the specified areas above. I won’t be, I won’t go over them again because I’ll probably forget them, but, and- and really as it says on the tin, the group is a hub of resource sharing and test preparation tips, and materials. And generally a space in which people can have their questions answered and their fears allayed. Specifically, kind of, in this time of lockdown when there were so many questions and- and fears. So, you know, as the group has grown, Agness and her team have added branches such as the free book clubs, the Facebook live streams, a talk show and more really, to the repertoire of the group. And I council you, the listener, I think it’s time that you dived into the conversation too. So, over the next 25 minutes, Agness will be telling us how and why we, you should join and what sets this group apart from the rest. So, Agness, it’s a pleasure to have you on and we’re gonna dive straight into the first question, which is, what is your ‘why’ as an educator?

[Agness]

Well first and foremost, Ludo, I must clarify that I’m not a teacher and neither am I a tutor by profession, but as a parent of two girls I would say that, from the moment I first laid eyes on my firstborn I knew I was going to be an educator. Whether I liked it or not. So I vowed then, that I would actively involve myself and my child’s progress online. So naturally, with both my daughters at a very young age, as soon as they started to recognise the alphabet and began to write, I started to teach them words. Beginning with the three-letter words, four-letter words, five-letter words and so on and so forth. But give them a dictionary and a thesaurus and ten words each week for them to look up in the dictionary and thesaurus and, you know, put sentences together using the words that they’re given and try to apply those words in conversations at home during the week. So, it became a habit, it was sort of, a game, you know. Even if you’re on our walks or a car ride somewhere, you start using the words throughout the week. So they’re getting themselves more and more familiar with the words, so in a nutshell, you know, they would use synonyms and antonyms instead of the words I’ve given them. So, getting more and more creative with them, building their vocabulary and that to me was the start of it all. So, you know, then, you as the progress through primary school, we then came to the time where we had to decide what we’re gonna do about their secondary education. You know. My husband went to a local grammar school, so naturally, we were looking at the path of the Girls’ Grammar school ‘cause we are in Colchester where one of the top grammar schools in the country as well as, you know, in the county as well as the country really is. So we decided we would have a go at getting her, you know, to try sitting the 11+. The only problem we had is, I was brought up in a different country, everything I learnt, apart from English, was in a different language.

Even with helping my kids, with English I could still help them with. There was always the fear that I would confuse them because I’m trying to translate things from one language to another. So there’s always the tendency of probably just misleading them, so my husband was always working abroad. He was always away for three, three to four weeks at a time so all is down to me to make sure that I had my kids working towards the 11+ proper. So, with that, you know, what I did was, I started asking parents at the playground, parents in the village, friends in the village, if they knew anything about the consortium of selective schools, selective entrance exams CSSE as we call it here. I didn’t know head or tail about what it entailed, the would talk about verbal reasoning, they would talk about, you know, creative writing. And I’m like, is that similar to essay writing? What exactly does it entail? What do I need to teach them? Nobody knew. Some would probably not wanna tell you because there’s this whole sense of competitiveness, you know? A lot of people wouldn’t share their knowledge because they feel like, well why should you because your child is gonna sit the same exam my child’s gonna be sitting. Now there may be a hundred and sixty places on offer, but we are competing for maybe one of the places, so I had to research it all. I started asking other friends of mine in other, other parts of the country and there were quite a few of them who were also planning to put their kids through the 11+ proper but nobody knew exactly what to do. I googled as much as I could, didn’t really find much that really helped me to find out more about it, that’s when I thought, do you know what? Maybe I should just start a Facebook group. I was just beginning to use a lot more of, you know, apart from keeping in touch with friends and families I started seeing recipe clubs and all sorts coming up. So I said, look, maybe I should start something that, you know, kind of helps me get some resources for myself you know, and gather more members who will share their resources with me. That’s how it all started. But at that point I was only focussing on the 11+, so the name of the group was then, 11+ Resource Sharing for Parents.

[Ludo]

Right.

[Agness]

Okay? So that’s when, though, I realised, when I started researching everything about CSSE, I then realised, you know, I’m exchanging notes with other friends from other counties, you know. This exam is not the same throughout the country. So you probably need about, you know, some information about what’s happening here but the other members of the group needed to know about what’s happening in other parts of the country. Now, we all had, well for the first six months there were, what? Eight, nine of us, who had lots of questions but nobody had answers because we were all in the same boat. And then I realised that my group was set to the private function and in order to be able to allow others to see the group, find the group and join in and help us with what we needed, I had to make the group public, which is what I did. So that’s when a lot of tutors and teachers who found the group through key word searches, 11+ is one word that everybody put in the search bar to look for us. And then it started coming in and within two years I had two thousand members. And by that time my kids had gone through the whole 11+ proper and then came to the- the realisation that I had done this for about two years. Do I carry on with this? Or do I then, you know, probably just ditch the whole thing and just carry on with my life because my kids had already got into the grammar school. But by then I had two thousand members, and it’s not as easy as just hitting the delete button. 

[Ludo]

Yeah, by then you couldn’t go back, could you?

[Agness]

No! You can’t go back. You either gonna be, you’d look bad, wouldn’t you? That you’re just, you know, leaving all the members that, by then, they’re really excited about what you are offering. By that time, we had started sharing a lot of resources in the group. You know, from literary devices, similes, metaphors, alliteration, all those examples of everything has been shared in the group. We hadn’t started with Facebook live sessions yet then but I was beginning to think how, well I was researching how to actually delete a group. And Facebook said if you wanna delete a group you’ve gotta delete every single member first, before you can delete the group. So, that option was out of the question! And, I then asked, by that time I think I had two at least, who I’d asked to just come onboard and just help me to moderate the group because it was getting a bit too big for me to manage on my own. And at that point I had Sheena Ager the author of The Cadwaladr Quests trilogy, vocabulary knows, she was one of my first admins actually and Richard Gray from Crystal Tuition, they were my two admins at that point. So I was asking them, I said, guys what do I do with this group now? Where do I go from here? And they said, listen, you’ve actually started something that is big, you may not think it’s big, but it is big. You know, we are here, we like what you do and we like being part of this team. Let’s see what we can do to take this further. So that’s when we decide, well I say, unless it’s gonna benefit my  children, myself, there’s no point in me going further. They’ve now got into the grammar school, I need to now include ISEB, SATs, GCSE and A-Level. So that’s when the group totally evolved into what it is today.

[Ludo]

So, so how were you able to let go of what you were doing at that time in your life, to take on the extra work from this group?

[Agness]

I was always keeping myself busy, if not, I wasn’t actually working at that point. You know, I didn’t have a paid job at that point, so just, basically managing the girls and taking them to school, coming back and all that. That was all I was doing, so this, I had plenty of time to work on this at the start of it, but as the group grew bigger I started getting a lot of calls from members, because now messenger allows people to call you with Facebook, right? With Facebook you can call each other and stuff, and people started sending me messages and I would attempt to every single message or call, you know. I’d take my time to listen to parents who are possibly at that point going through what I had been through two years prior, three years prior, you know. Talking about the details of how do I do this for my child? What do I need to do? You know, I’m looking for these answers, what do I do? And I was, I was answering all these questions and that’s- that’s when I said to my admins, I said, we need to put things in the group that allows parents to be a member of the group, be able to find answers. You know. We started, so- so, you know, by that time I had about ten admins, I think? Every single one of them had something different to bring to the group. I had, you know, best in English, offers, or education material, or you know, educational, what do you call? Aids of any sort. Or running their own tutoring business and stuff but every one of them was so enthusiastic about what we did in the group. They started coming up with ideas and now we’ve got, we’ve got, what we call, Facebook live session that we do every, every the whole of this month in fact, I think we’ve had about more than 12 Facebook live sessions. You know. We do Facebook live sessions to explain what parents can- can- can do in order to help their child through the whole progression, from the start of the journey, to ace the 11+ process. And we would do specific subject lessons in the group, we get resource providers who are advertisers in the group to just come on board and just showcase how they teach. That gives them a chance to then engage with the members, almost will ask them questions and they get to then showcase what they’re doing and parents will say, I like the way you teach. I’ll engage with you. And they get business. 

[Ludo]

Yeah, so you’ve got the kind of, you’re sharing resources, you’re sharing this understanding of teaching and learning in these, you know, specific, exam-focussed areas for the benefit of parents, students and educators. And the ultimate purpose of everything that you do in the group is to improve outcomes for students. Is to ensure that students are best supported. So how does, how do you make this happen within the group, especially given the size of the group?

[Agness]

Well, with having, I think at the moment, I’ve got 14 admins and 3 moderators. The moderators are the ones that actually start the, they manage the book club, okay? The admins are the one who actually put in all the resources. I started doing that initially, doing that initially but now I’ve got subject experts doing stuff like that and they go, they go deeper, they delve deeper into the whole subject itself and do, for instance, they’re looking at maths. You have someone who’s an expert at algebra teaching all about algebra so that kids can then, you know, fill in the gaps for where they don’t understand various subjects. English, you know, we talk about comprehension, the different tactics for comprehension and creative writing and stuff like that. So, it kind of, really is a place where all the resources can be found in one place.

What we have gone further now is, what we have done is, we have actually put them in a way that is easily retrievable. It can be retrieved easily within the group by members. So basically, we have put all the literary devices, each individual type of item that we do in the group in its own album in the media section. So, whether you’re looking for a similes example or a metaphor, whatever, it’s all, it’s all in its individual albums and we’ve got videos that we do in the guide section in its own category. So if you’ve got something to with the different types of exam boards, what is the difference between CSSE or CEM or GL exam types? We have got a Facebook live session by all the admins together explaining the different types, ‘cause we’ve got, our admins come from various parts of the country. So they are all experts in the different types of exam types, so we’ve explained everything to the members. From the start of an exam, registration of an for an exam, and you know, nearing the exam what are the things they need to know? And then the CAF filling out of the common application forms, what happens on national offer day and beyond? So we prepare them from the start to the finish. We’ve got all these videos in the group and it’s all put according to category so it’s easily retrievable. If they are new members, we’ve now got a video where we do the new member welcome every Sunday night. We’ve got a video attached to it that tells them exactly where to find, or how to navigate through the group.

[Ludo]

And that video will be in the show notes below. So, if you’re thinking about that video, you’ve thinking about how that will help, you can find that below. As will, of course, the link to the group itself, so that will be below as well. Now, Agness, I wanted to ask, looking taking a step back, looking at the purpose of a group like this. Not necessarily your group, but what is, what is the trie power of an online learning and resources community in today’s society?

[Agness]

Well, without a shadow of a doubt, I would say that first and foremost, given the year that we’ve had, online learning is definitely here to stay. Right? I think every child of this era loves the screen. I know I’ve got two of those in my house. There was a time when we were trying to tell them to limit the time they had on the computers and any other gadgets that kids come on like social media and stuff like that. But now, online learning, basically revolves around the screen. You can’t take that back. It’s gonna be hard taking it back, you know, students show, studies actually show that humans learn better when they see and hear so, I think that online learning media. Which basically features, you know, video recordings, graphics, illustrations, and these are the things that a child wants this. They want to see. They want to be able to grasp what exactly these people are talking about. They just want to be able to visualise things. And, you know, it kind of, also, frees students to work at their own pace. I think when you’re learning online you can utilise your time more effectively. So, if you feel that you need to just stop for a while and come back to a recording, for instance, you can always continue with that later. It kind of gives you that, you know, that you don’t normally get in the classroom environment and I think, when you come. When it comes to introvert students, the confidence may not be there to ask questions or to do anything really, in a proper, traditional classroom. When you’re online, sometimes you find, I find that there’s a lot more confident kids coming forwards when they are actually being taught online. And, of course, the other thing that’s really great about this you are not, as a tutor, you are not limited to a certain number of tutees at any given time. You know, the one to one thing is almost, a thing of the past. You can teach four students, or six, or thirty at the same time.

[Ludo]

Or you can pre-record videos.

[Agness]

You can pre-record as well, exactly.

[Ludo]

Two or three years to thousands of students.

[Agness]

I think more and more things are going to a prerecording where you don’t have to worry about technical glitches happening and having to cancel and reschedule lessons.

[Ludo]

Yeah, and I’m sure, if you’re looking for tips and resources on how to do that. I think I know a place where you can find those as well. So, yeah, brill okay. Yeah, I think, an area that I wanted to ask you Agness, was what kind of, what sets this group, you know, your group, apart from other Facebook groups for parents and educators?

[Agness]

Wow, okay. I think we are, and there’s no doubt about this, okay, because of the amount of work that has been put in by my team of admins and everything. We’re definitely the innovators when it comes to the type of resources and the content that we share with our members. That is something I’m very, very proud of. A phenomenal team of admins I have, they just work tirelessly, tirelessly come up with all sorts of new ideas, just to make things a little bit, you know, for a change. Do different things, things like are you smarter than a ten year old? You know, trying to put a parent and a child together and you know, can you actually sit this exam now and pass it? And this is what your child is doing now. You know? And then we do, we do things like 11+ FAQs. There’s a session that’s done by Victoria Olubi-Ademosu who’s alsoknown as The Tutoress, it’s all the different questions that run through a parent’s mind. We actually think of it, we actually do a session to actually explain that to them. And the other thing that we also do is, we have a talk show that Nkem Ivara one of our, one of our admins would host every now and then. And in this programme she would actually interview students who are in top, selective schools and independent schools. Just to, you know, especially now, given the two years we’ve had, you don’t actually get to visit a school to know what it looks like, to know what it feels like to be a student at that school. Of that stature, or how, wherever it might be. So we interview some parents as well as the children, to first understand how to prepare themselves for this exams from the schools and how it feels that you talk to past students, current students and those were just about going to the school, finding out what it’s like.

[Ludo]

Yeah.

[Agness]

So that kind of makes us a little bit, we do, we basically offer a lot more than just resources.

[Ludo]

Yeah. But that’s still, very much, yeah the foundation isn’t it? The basis of what brings people to the group and then they are able to see that there are other areas and weekly sessions and events.

[Agness]

Exactly.

[Ludo]

So, so powerful. Yeah.

[Agness]

Yeah, I think, I think, delivering useful advice and unique content really is the key thing that really sets us apart from everybody else in the Facebook live session and, you know, the word of the day, the idiom of the day and all that stuff. Parents come here daily to see, what have I missed today? What do I need? You know, they know where to find things they’ve missed, or if they can’t find it on the news feed.

[Ludo]

Yeah, I think that’s a really powerful part of your group is, you know, how much time has been put into the structure of the group and how easy it is to locate historical posts. Which is, I find, one of the big downfalls of Facebook groups, if someone new comes to the group with an idea or a question and that idea or question has been touched on, you know, possibly 30 different …

[Agness]

20 times, yes, exactly!

[Ludo]

They just post it again and the same people have to respond and comment with the same ideas.

[Agness]

We’ve covered that in the introductory how to, you know, guide for new members as well. You know, basically, before you ask a question, how do you, you know find if that question was been previously answered in the group. You know? All those sort of stuff. But the one thing that I am really careful with is, when people are answering parent queries, we need to make sure that they are indeed people who know about that subject matter. And not just anyone just hoping to just, there to say something and misguiding a parent.

[Ludo]

Yeah.

[Agness]

Because that could cost someone a child’s place. So, we make sure that every single comment is monitored, every single post goes through an admin approval. So number one, the questions asked must be valid, of value to the group and the members, and there’s no one person slating another member. Tutors sometimes say, you know, don’t go to that tutor for any reason, they think. We do not play judge and jury, we’re very very careful with that because you could, you could damage someone’s reputation.

[Ludo]

Well, that’s very important.

[Agness]

Yeah.

[Ludo]

Okay, so, wonderful, we’re just drawing really to a close here. I think that’s been such a detailed overview of what the group can bring and what benefits it has to both parents and educators and therefore, ultimately, to students. And I, you know, I’ve looked through, you know, the group, I’ve been, you know, present on the group, been watching the posts, been looking back through the albums and I think there’s so much to- to learn from the group and from the members. I think it’s completely unrivalled, the number of admins and moderators and the level of detail that you take in each post. So, I wanted to end with just a question about what the future holds?

[Agness]

I think we’re here to stay, that’s for sure. We continue to add valuable content in the group and I am pleased to say that currently, with the help of the many tutors and authors and admins in the group, we have actually started something new. I’m starting that, It’s an idea that I came up with and we’re just gonna trial that this year, and hopefully that will continue in the years to come. We’re gonna start helping the disadvantaged children to prepare them for their exams, ‘cause there are many students out there who cannot really afford tuition. Especially the 11+, has now become something that, if you can afford tuition you can easily get through the exams because it’s just getting tougher and tougher. So we want to try and give a bit of guidance to fill in the gaps for areas where they are weak at and we are also very passionate about mental wellbeing for students and parents especially in the days following the pandemic. So, you know, to catch up with studies, ahead of the exams and stuff like that. So our focus is now to ensure students that whatever or wherever they choose to go for the next phase of their education, they will do well, so we will do everything we can to help. We will continue to think of new ideas to elevate the quality of online learning, not just in the UK but globally, because we do have members form Singapore, Dubai, Taiwan and I don’t know where else. There’s loads of members from across the world now. So, as long as, if you are on the internet, you’ve got access to internet, we will reach you and we will deliver lessons.

[Ludo]

So expansion both into internationally and into those critical areas of you know, mental health and wellbeing. I’m really looking forward to what the future holds for the 11+, ISEB, SATs, GCSE and A-Level Resource Group, there it is again.

[Agness]

Impressive!

[Ludo]

The 11+, ISEB, SATs, GCSE and A-Level Resource Group link to join this group will be in the show notes below. And, and I really strongly urge you to, if you’re listening to this, to check out the group and to look through the group and the albums and the media that Agness and her team have set up over the years. Thank you so much Agness, for not only sharing information about the group but also for sharing your ethos of teaching and learning and some of those future plans.

[Agness]

Thank you, Ludo, it’s an immense pleasure to speak to you today.

[Ludo]

Thanks very much, Agness and see you all next time.

[Agness]

Thank you, bye!

Jack Simmonds
Jack has been in and around education his whole life, as a teenager he was giving music lessons with his local youth music group and hasn’t ever stopped! He has worked in all sorts of different jobs from Hull to Fuerteventura, but most of his work has had some kind of teaching or facilitating element. Jack loves watching people in that moment where they realise they can do something they didn’t think they could manage before. He currently works for Nudge Education most of the time - when he’s not doing that, he can be found outside with his tiny dog.

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