Form 6 Tutor and Assessment Lead, Jess McGhie, is known within Highfields as the 11+ Guru. Her encouragement and fun, but informative teaching style, ensures that not only is her 11+ Club fully subscribed, but that the children are excited to go to it every week!

As well as instilling the joy of learning in pupils, Jess captivates her students and creates an atmosphere where focus and determination to succeed are just the norm. Despite that, children are never pressured; the environment is supportive and nurturing of every child’s progress, no matter what level they are at. With 100% of Highfields children who took the 11+ this year, passing, her magic formula of fun, but focussed learning, is clearly a huge success!

Jess works tirelessly to ensure that Form 6 have the most incredible last year here at Highfields, with adventurous residentials, life skill workshops, end of term performances, and continuing their learning to the highest of standards, ensuring lifelong memories are made here at Highfields and that there is no doubt in the children’s readiness for senior school.

Tell us something you about yourself! 

I live in Coddington and have done for 7 years; I have 2 boys: James and William. We love to spend our time outdoors in the garden enjoying the fields that surround our home.
This year we have set ourselves a little family challenge; we have decided to climb the three peaks. We climbed Scafell Pike the other week, which was incredible – it was tough, but the view from the top was just breathtaking and made all of the hard work to get to the top completely worth it! We will be climbing Snowdon at the end of the summer holidays and aim to climb Ben Nevis next year! I also love sports and music – I play the trombone and sing in a local choir.

What is the most exciting thing you have ever done?

This is a tough one; I think I have to whittle it down to two!!  When I was younger I played in lots of orchestras; we toured Poland, France and Italy and often played in these incredible churches. But two particular opportunities stand out to me – I was asked to play a trombone and cello duet with Julian Lloyd-Webber – brother to Andrew Lloyd-Webber. I was only sixteen at the time, and had the most incredible time performing with Julian! I was also very lucky to play at La Madeleine church in Paris – it was a sell-out youth orchestra performance evening and I was selected to play the Trombone solo. I was so proud to be performing there and to be chosen to play a solo was a huge honour! I still enjoy playing music and am involved in supporting Music at Highfields.

What do you like about your job?

So many things!!! I think for me it’s variety – I love that I get to be involved in Music and Sport here. I love being able to teach all of those different skills; it’s great that we have such a variety of sports that we teach, so I get to develop children in such a variety of areas. I also really enjoy working with students and preparing them for their 11+ – it is so rewarding to build their confidence and make the process fun for them, whilst equipping them with the skills to pass.

One of the things I love most though, is that I get to be with students for their last year here at Highfields. It’s such a privilege to spend their last year with them and ensure it is as memorable as possible, whilst fully preparing them for the next step in their educational journey.

What is your aim as Assessment Lead?

Being Assessment Lead involves looking at the data from our in-class assessments and then having conversations with teachers about how we best support children based on their results. It may be that children could be pushed more in certain areas that they excel in, or that children need additional guidance where they might not be reaching the milestones that we are setting them. My aim is to ensure that by using this data, we have a holistic and personalised approach for each child’s education and that they are fully supported, whether that be with additional Teaching Assistant support, one to one help from our Educational Support Professional and qualified Counsellor, Sue Beaumont, or even something as simple as increasing the number of times a week a member of staff listens to them read. It’s not always an educational need that has to be worked on – sometimes it’s purely confidence, so, in those instances, I ensure we have additional pastoral support for the child, and once the child is feeling more confident we often see a boost in their results. I aim to ensure we have the right environment and plans in place to allow all children to reach their personal milestones. Every child is different and at Highfields we want them to achieve their own personal best, whilst ensuring that they are happy and confident at school too.

How important is the final year of Prep School?

Everything the children have learnt and become is built throughout the children’s time at Highfields, however the final year at Prep School is where it all culminates. I also feel that it will likely be their most memorable year as well – thinking back to primary school myself, I remember year 6 very fondly, but I don’t remember that much from the rest of my school days!  I feel that it’s really important to make memories and have amazing experiences during Form 6. It’s important to strengthen friendships so that when the children move on to senior school – even if they don’t go to the same one – they have a solid support network of friends that they can get in touch with to talk about their experiences.

What is the hardest thing about being the Form 6 Tutor?

It has to be seeing the Form 6 children leave Highfields. You’ve watched these children grow and flourish throughout their time at school, and you see the incredible young people they have become – and then you have to say goodbye, it’s so emotional! Of course, you’re excited for them to move on to their next stage in their journey, and they are so ready for it, but it’s just so emotional knowing that they won’t be part of day to day life at Highfields anymore.

 What tips would you give to anyone wanting to take the 11+ and their families?

  • 1 – See how the journey goes – the 11+ isn’t for everybody, it’s really important to realise this. Some students may start the 11+ journey and then realise that it isn’t quite for them – and ultimately, this means that an 11+ senior school isn’t right for them either.
  • 2 – If you do decide to continue your journey – work on the weaker areas. It’s easier to continue to focus on your strong areas and this is what most children like to do, but by going outside of your comfort zone and focusing on the things you aren’t as strong in, you will develop this part of your skillset and become more well rounded and ultimately achieve a better mark.
  • 3 – When taking the 11+ it is super important to have attention to detail, to slow right down, take time to read the questions and your answers, check and check again.
  • 4 – Try not to over do your prep; there is a fine balance between working hard and overworking for the 11+. If the 11+ becomes all consuming, it can put a lot of pressure on the child, so it’s really important that you get the balance right and don’t make it too high pressure.
  • 5 – If there is a back-up option, let your child know. It is often when children are aware that a grammar school isn’t their only option that they tend to relax a little and enjoy the preparation for 11+ – it certainly helps to take away pressure and stress from them.

What advice would you give to anyone in Form 6 moving up to secondary school?

Be yourself! Highfields is a very inclusive environment; we all know each other very well and we celebrate differences – but this isn’t always the case in year 7. Those differences will sometimes get noticed more, but don’t be afraid to be different. Be yourself, because if you are not, and you try to hide your differences, you will end up with a completely different friendship group, to what you would have, had you just been you, and that will mean that you probably won’t have the right support network there from people who understand you.

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