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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Helping Children Triumph

I watched one of our pupils with some interest yesterday afternoon. He was struggling with an assignment where he was trying to write about a task of great endeavour. The work had been planned carefully and he knew what he wanted to say - but he was trying to take that great leap forward to where your essay actually follows your plan.

This brought to mind two friends of mine who now live in Australia. Rob and Olga have devoted their lives to helping children and adults effect change.

Rob loved Hemmingway. He could remember passages from `The Old Man and the Sea’. We all recall the story of the old man who caught an enormous Marlin and, after an epic struggle, tried to bring the fish to land. The fish left a trail of blood - and sharks attacked - leaving only the carcass of the fish.

Rob, as a teacher and educator, would have tried to enthuse the child with the love of the task, the grandeur of the occasion and the need to be poetical and even lyrical. Olga would have concentrated on the actual task that the child was involved in. She would have developed a step by step approach so that the child actually knew what he had to do.

We tend to think of `The Old Man and the Sea’ as a triumph of indefatigable spirit over exhaustible material resources. When we watch some children strive to reach the standards demanded by the 11+ examination we can understand the words `indefatigable spirit’ when we see the amount of effort some children have to put into their work.

All we can hope is that our children will meet teachers who love their work, who can stimulate minds and also deal with the minutiae of the task.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Three Card Trick

(Words parents want to hear.)

When your child greets you after school, or after a lesson, you are sometimes offered rather a short reply to your well meaning question.

`Did you have a good day at school?’ Can be followed by:


Did you learn anything new and interesting?


Do you have any homework?


It is time to take direct action. Insist on a three sentence reply. Here are some answers you really do want to hear: Write the answers on cards, shuffle the cards and hand three cards at random to your child as soon as you make eye contact.

1. `Yes thank you. I had a nice day at school today. I tried hard and did my best.'

2. `My teacher praised me because I did some good mathematics and I was able to help others because I knew how to do the mathematics.'

3. `The new box of pencils granny gave me for my birthday was very useful because no one else had the same shade of pink. I am going to write to granny to thank her.'

4. `I liked assembly today because our Head Teacher told us how easy it is to work hard and do well at school. Our Head Teacher is funny and I like the jokes. I am going to try some of the suggestions.'

5. `We wrote a long story today and my teacher said my spelling is much better. I used the dictionary we bought on holiday and it had all the words I needed.'

6. `The dinner lady made me laugh because she said I have a cheeky face. I like her and I liked the lunch we were given.'

7. `Mummy, Mummy, Mummy I am going to be a cabbage in the school play. I am going to sing the cabbage song. I have to wear a green cabbage costume.' (By tomorrow????)

8. `Everyone liked my new shoes. Thank you for buying them for me. I am going to look after them very carefully.'

9. `We were given lots of homework today. I am going to do the work as soon as we get home. I am looking forward to the homework because I like mathematics.'

Sunday, October 29, 2006

11 Plus Multiple Choice

There is a useful hint that is sometimes offered to children taking 11+ examinations.
With multiple choice questions it is best to cover the answers and work out your own before looking at the choices on paper.

This would work very well for a large number of 11+ questions - but what happens if the emphasis changes from knowledge to understanding? Is it still a good idea to cover the answers?

Which is the odd one out?

Trumpet, horn, trombone, tuba.

We know these are all wind instruments. Three of them use a set of valves while one uses a slide.

Are we testing knowledge or understanding? We can know that the trumpet, horn and tuba are members of the wind family. We can understand how a valve works and the slide operates.
As teachers if a child struggles with sections of a verbal reasoning test we say those meaningful words: `You know, you really must read more!”. You wonder just how many children must have heard those words. Should the child read general literature in the hope of gleaning knowledge or should the child be encouraged to sit down with a series of `fact books’ and try to cover as wide a range as possible?

Suppose the question had read:

Arrange these instruments in order of size and then select the one in the middle.

Cello, double bass, violin, harp, lyre.

Now, it does not matter if your 11+ child can distinguish between bowed string instruments and plucked instruments. The question is asking for the one in the middle.

We need a different sort of knowledge to be able to carry out two different operations. But it certainly does not need understanding of the difference between plucking and blowing.

Poor children. Poor parents. What on earth should they read! What on earth is the point of the child remembering to cover the answer - or is this what understanding really is?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

11 Plus Fairy

I am asked at least once a week about what books a child should read. I think the children’s librarian in the local library should be able to answer that more comprehensively and competently than I can.

If a child is studying for the 11+ what books should be read? There is no easy answer. One child studying for the 11+ may have a reading accuracy age at least two years above his or her chronological age. The comprehension level could be two years younger. Do you ask the librarian for books at the uplifting 12 to 13 year old level or do you stick with books that a ten year old would enjoy?

Some ten year old girls are delighted to be immersed books like `Little Women’. Other girls could not countenance the language and the pace of the book. They would want to read a swift moving modern book.

Which girl is right? Well naturally the answer is somewhere in between. `Little Women’, for example, has a mention of a fairy when Tina is described by Jo as being a `perfect little fairy’.

There must be generations of children who have read or have heard the poem `Fairies’ by Rose Fyleman.

There are fairies at the bottom of our garden!
It’s not so very, very far away.
You pass the gardener’s shed and you just keep straight ahead -
I do so hope they’ve really come to stay.

We know that a fairy is: `A tiny imaginary being in human form, depicted as clever, mischievous, and possessing magical powers.’ We know too of good fairies - and bad fairies.

It is probably time to invent the 11+ Fairy. This is the fairy that keeps our girls calm and focused. Naturally the 11+ Fairy will be clever and possess magical powers. The 11+ Fairy will pour her heart out and really communicate.

We just need to look back a mere eight years ago to when our bright ten year old was just two. At two she wore a lovely smile and dainty wings. She listened to you reading to her.

She listened to you.

She listened to you!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Multiple Choice Conundrum

Would it not be a whole lot easier if the multiple choice examination was simply true or false.? Just think of all the techniques you could tell your child to employ.

The words examiners would need to use would have to change:

£5.00 is 10% of £50.00. True or False (Delete the wrong answer).

Sadly the 11+ children will need to recognise multiple choice questions with fine distinctions between correct and nearly-correct statements.

Find 10% of 50. ~ 4 ~ 5 ~ 6 ~ 40 (Circle the correct answer.).

Now every child is different. You may care to discuss some of the following suggestions with your child. You will know which points you need to labour. Beware - there may be some points you should not even dream of putting into your child’s mind.

Ten points to 11+ Multiple Choice Questions

Read the question twice before looking at the possible answers.
Think about all the question - not just one or two words.
Look for key words like: `not’
Consider the difference between correct and nearly correct answers.
Remember that you have done selection tests to get used to thinking about different types of questions.
Read all the questions carefully.
When you have done all the easy questions - go back to the more difficult ones.
Guess the really hard questions.
Eliminate any answers that are obviously incorrect.
Remind yourself that you need to understand the text of the questions as well as the options

But why do you have to remind your child to beware?

Well there are multiple choice maths questions, multiple choice English questions as well as verbal and non verbal reasoning questions.

Be strong because sometimes as an adult you have not selected the right answer. Life has told you that. On other occasions you have not studied either the question or the answer carefully enough. If you are not infallible what chance do your offspring have?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

11+ Excuses

As your most loved child approaches the 11+ examinations you must look forward to crossing excuses off your list:

Words You Really Do Not Want to Hear
After school, or a lessons, please award yourself five points if you hear:
`The teacher gave us the homework but did not explain it.’
This allows you to get rid of your frustration in one early swoop of anger. You can transfer all your negative thoughts and this will really make you feel better.

Your Teachers/Tutors and Excuses
Naturally your child’s teacher will be waiting with bated breath for the one excuse that is always trotted out in any conversation about a child: `I only want the best for him/her’.

Many teachers must really mourn the passing of home visits by doctors. At the beginning of every school year the staff of many schools have a sweep stake on who will be offered:

`Please excuse little David for not being at school yesterday. His father is away and I could not get him ready because I was in bed with the doctor.’

Excuses your Child does not want to hear:
Your child must admire the artistry of one of your `killer phrases’:
`I don’t mind you going ………… as soon as you have done your homework.’
The next really popular, and possible overworked, phrase must be:
`I’ll have to discuss it with your father/mother first.’

Excuses and the 11+

“Please can you set some homework for my son. He will not do any work for me?”

Sit down with your son. Discuss the amount of work you think is appropriate. Work out a time for study that all concerned agree is convenient. Write down a list of all the exceuses you have heard about doing any extra work. Make sure you have a list of at least seven - to cover every day of the week. Draw up a weekly calendar and write the excuse above the work to be studied.

You now have:
You promised me that …..
Verbal Reasoning

I don’t feel very well…..
Non Verbal Reasoning

I have too much homework - and any way you said …….

Good Luck!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

11 Plus Clothes

There are three basic colours: Red, Yellow and Blue. All other colours emanate from these colours. We learnt, for example, in early lessons at school that Yellow and Blue make Green.

There are the warm colours - Red and Orange along with some Purples and Yellows.

The cool colours are the Greens and the Blues - as well as the remaining Purples and Yellows.

We know that if we add Black to any colour we darken the colour - but when we add white we lighten the colour. We have heard endlessly on the Television, and in the newspapers, that Grey is the colour for clothes for 2006. Grey is made by mixing Black and White so, depending on the shade of Grey, we can lighten or darken the colour.

Use warm colours to make a room warmer
Use dark colours to make a room smaller
Use cool colours to make a room cooler
Use light colours to make a room larger.

We know that to make the colour black we need cyan, magenta and yellow in equal intensity.

Please make sure on the mornings of the 11+ examinations that while you can wear any combination of cyan, magenta and yellow you need to avoid black.

Wear warm colours (because they are more vibrant) if you want your child to feel excited.

Wear cool colours if you want your child to look and behave in a cool and dignified manner on the morning of the examination. This is because the colours are more muted.

Keep off the contrasts of the very dark or the very light. You child may be feeling very sensitive. So, as you look over your clothes on the morning of the examination, spare a thought for your child. Do you really think that Grey is the colour for an examination morning?

Naturally if you do not have the right colours you will NEED to go and spend money on assembling the right ensemble. What a price parents have to pay!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Wise Girls and 11+ Examinations

My wife Susan was born in Tunbridge Wells. Her family emigrated to Africa for 25 years - and Susan returned to live in Kent some thirty miles from her birth place.

Her family, especially her sister Judy in America, have investigated their history and came across a web site maintained by the National Geographic Society. All women can have their mtDNA tested though the Genographic Project. You simply send a swab through the post, along with an amount of money, and some time later a certificate arrives back

Susan belongs to Haplogroup H. All DNAs are descended from Mitochondrial Eve who was born in Africa some 150 000 years ago.

The male `Y’ chromosome polymorphisms are the male line of descent and also point to an African origin - but this dates back to only 60 000 years ago.

Surely this gives all girls approaching their 11+ examination the benefit of greater wisdom? Just remind your ten year old daughter of her long heritage. Sympathise with your son about his shorter heritage.

If you do decide to send a swab away for your female lineage the results will come back a lot quicker than the 11+ results.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Eleven Plus Trust

At this time of year many parents have found themselves between a rock and a hard place. Their heart has pounded to put the top local grammar school as first choice. Their heads, however, have told them to put the second choice grammar school first - and then the top local comprehensive school.

At the same time mothers and fathers have been listening to opinions from their friends, their families, teachers, head teachers - and sometime even the child in question. Naturally any older brother or sister, having passed the examination, will have also offered cogent advice.

I can remember reading about Odysseus who was told how to sail between Scylla and Charybdis. These are the two small islands in the Mediterranean with just the space of an arrow’s flight between them.

Scylla was a narrow pointed rock that had a sharp point reaching into the sky. Half way up the rock there was a dark cave - where Scylla lived. Scylla had twelve feet, six necks, six heads and six mouths. The monster simply ate sailors. Charybdis, the other island, had a monster that swallowed sea water and squirted it back to cause a whirlpool.

We know that the meaning of `between a rock and hard place’ is that someone is in difficulty - faced with a choice between two unsatisfactory options. You will recall that Odysseus sailed between the islands - but lost six men.

Every parent must be comforted by the fact that whatever the outcome of the examinations their children will neither be eaten nor caught up in a whirlpool. In time all parents will rationalise their decisions.

Good luck parents. The great majority of decisions you have made about your children have been correct. Trust your own instincts.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Keeping the Eleven Plus Simple

Naturally with a such a short time to go to the 11+ examinations you will not want your 11+ child to be stuck over books all weekend. You will want a family bonding session to show your love and confidence.

You may decide to go fishing as there are carp to be caught in November. Many fisher folk use breakfast food for bait for carp - including sausages, bacon and bread. I am sure that it is general interest to know that there is considerable discussion about whether the sausages should be cooked or uncooked.

The following applies if one of your family should get caught by a fish hook:

Send the case to the nearest doctor or Accident Unit - if one is available. If not:

Cleanse the wound with an antiseptic.
Do not try to pull the hook out.
If you can, push the point and the barb of the hook through the skin.
Cut the barb off.
Withdraw the hook.
Apply a sterile dressing.

Send the case to the nearest Accident and Emergency centre.

The point of this fishy story is do not try to give too much detail. There may be a need to discuss the state of the sausages - but I can not see any point in discussing pushing the point of a hook through the skin and cutting the barb off. Give help with key 11+ topics but do not go into too much detail. Keep it simple at this stage.

Simplify your own personal routine until the examinations are over to allow you time to savour the build up to the examinations. You will never go through such pressure again. The GCSE and A level examinations are cinch compared to the eleven plus.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Eleven PLus Food

It is likely that there will be some nerves on the day of the examination. We have all felt, at one time or another, that we are simply too excited to eat. As parents we do know that food is important in the morning. What do you do if the cupboard is thrown open, a suspicious eye is thrown over the eleven different types of cereal, and all are rejected? How do you cope when `eggy bread’, scrambled egg, soldiers and any other comfort food is rejected.

You know that your child has to eat something. Well it is time to plan ahead. On the Sunday breakfast before the examination toss, rather casually, a few pancakes onto the plate. Do not explain that you have been up half the night worrying. Just say, in your best and sweetest way: `Did you enjoy those pancakes?’ Naturally you will not wait for any sighs of approbation - you will lean back and watch with delight the pancakes being consumed.

4 ripe bananas
2 eggs
100 g of flour
2 tea spoons of baking powder
175 g of oatmeal
1 tablespoon of oil
150 ml of water.

Keep aside the bananas.
Stir, mix and whisk the other ingredients. Cook for two minutes.

On the morning of the examination you can offer your child an exotic pancake, filled with `good, honest, sustaining’ food.

When you have dropped the children off at school you allow yourself the treat of something sinful.

You could keep the same recipe but change the filling. What about pears marinated overnight in wine? How about a prawn and mango filler? You just need something to keep you comforted while you are waiting for that happy, confident face to appear.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Eleven PLus Rhythms

In the early 1900s a Viennese professor of psychology and a German Doctor independently discovered evidence from studying patients’ records of the existence of calculable life-cycles. In the 1920s an Innsbruck Doctor discovered a third - an intellectual one of 33 days.

This gives us three life cycles, each with a very definite span, a all calculable from the day a person is born. In bio-rhythm terms:

Physical relates to energy, self confidence, drive and physical health.

Emotional refers to moods and feelings, frustrations and outlook.

Intellectual means the ability to absorb knowledge, or reason and to develop skills.

These cycles are supposed to flow through lives like waves. The first half of the phase is called the positive phase - as then someone is at their best. The second half is the negative phase when it is unlikely that a person can better their performance.

What then if a child arrives to do an eleven plus examination when he or she is in the negative phase of the intellectual side? Even worse, take the day when all three phases meet - that is the stay in bed day. If only two phases are meeting that is called `double trouble’.

More worrying is if parents plan ahead at conception that the intellectual side will be strong on the day of the eleven plus examination. (Even couples in love can look ahead ten years.) Then, through circumstance beyond the mother’s control, her baby arrives two weeks early. This then would throw out all calculations.

Even worse - what happens if the date of the eleven plus examination is moved? Can the parents sue the examination board for depriving their child of a fair and honest examination?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Education and The Eleven Plus

`Education is the inculcation of the incomprehensible into the indifferent by the incompetent.’

When you recall that the other great saying that he is remembered for is: `In the very long run we are all dead.’

His name naturally springs to mind as J. M Keynes. From your own studies you will recall that he went to Eton and from there on to Cambridge to read mathematics.

It does seem to me that it is very unlikely that helping youngsters with 11 Plus work is `inculcation’. There will be times, however, when all of us will wish that we could try to `impress something on the mind by frequent instruction or repetition‘.

The next key word is `incomprehensible’. Some 11+ questions may appear to be incomprehensible on first reading.

Two men, starting at the same point, walk in opposite directions for 4 meters, turn left and walk another 3 meters. What is the distance between them?

2 meters 6 meters 10 meters 12.5 meters 14 meters

This could be incomprehensible until one remembers Pythagoras.

Who are the indifferent? Every year we are amazed by the dignity and commitment of our eleven plus children. Our children care - and the great majority aim high and want the best. Indifference? Never!

But `Incompetent’? This one is easy. Do we teach different kinds of probability to ten year olds on 11+ courses because we think it will come up in the examination or because we think that bright children should be exposed to great ideas? Are we incompetent for not sticking to the `syllabus’ because we try to go on to extend knowledge with `Tree Probability’?

You see the first work at university of J. M. Keynes was on probability. If he had stayed a mathematician we can only wonder about the content of 11+ papers. We know that: `The square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.’ We know too that we are all a long time dead - so why not allow our very brightest to explore and soar?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Romance of the Eleven Plus

It is a story of kindness to an escaped convict and walking off hand in hand after having won the lady. What a romantic story.

There was young Pip, looking at his parents’ graves, when he met a fearsome man who demanded food and a file. Pip stole the food and the file and helped the convict.

Pip was later apprenticed to Joe - a hard working blacksmith. One day Jaggers, a lawyer from London, told Pip that a mysterious benefactor had provided enough money for Pip to be properly educated.

What a story and what an ending!

We know that every parent in Kent - and some from even further away, will be bringing their children to the marshes near Gravesend over the next few weekends. All will be searching for the hand of fortune. Some children will find the pot of gold by hard work and diligence. Other children will naturally rely on stealing a few hours of work in the hope that the examination will only ask questions that they know how to answer.

What ever route your children will follow in their lives, as parents you will hope for that little bit of luck and good fortune. Remind your children not to be too egocentric while the examinations approach. Remind them too to look kindly on the weak and the homeless - and help the disadvantaged when they can.

You could, as sensible parents, warn them to make an exception for any escaped convicts called Magwitch. You all know that Magwitch, in later years, was found guilty of killing his partner and so Pip lost his fortune. (But Pip did get the girl!)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Eleven Plus and Questions

Thank you all for your remarkable response to the blogs. We have families who return to read the blogs on a regular basis.

We have been emailed with a number of questions and thought we could share just a few with you. If you do have anything you would like to discuss we can only try to help.

My child is doing well at school. We have just had an open evening and his teacher said that while she could not categorically say that he would pass the 11+ examination, she felt that the school would certainly recommend that he should try the selection tests.

I just can not encourage him to do any work at home.

Take away all discussion of long term aims and goals. Do not talk about the advantages of a good education. Do not stress the importance of doing the best work possible. Start with small elements from different papers. Forget all about setting a full paper. Attempting full papers comes towards the end - as the examination grows closer. Simply work together on a few questions from a range of papers.

There is a big difference between a child feeling confident at school and feeling confident that he can pass a competitive selection test. Build him up bit by bit.

My son just rushes through all his work. He is untidy - and he never seems to stop to read questions carefully. He is getting between 60 - 70 percent on the practice papers. I think he can do more.

Start with building a timetable that will last all week. Suggest set times for work, play, homework and 11+ study. Make sure you listen to how much time he wants to devote to different activities.

Ask him to agree to do a certain number of questions every day. Look at the questions together and talk about the amount of time he will need to spend. Go over any difficult questions before he starts any work.

Discuss the rhythm of the questions. You child has to learn how to stop rushing. It will not help if all you say is: `Be more careful and slow down.’ Help him too to understand the concept of time a little better.

When I speak to my teacher he says that my child is doing well at school and is not experiencing any difficulty. Why is my child struggling so much with the 11+ mathematics papers?

In terms of the National Curriculum your child may be doing very well at Level 4. Schools and teachers are aiming to have as many passes as possible at Level 4.

There is a National Curriculum Level 4 element in 11+ examinations. These are probably the questions your child is coping with. Confidence with these questions reflects very well on the school and your child’s teacher.

In addition to the Level 4 mathematics in the eleven plus examination, there is naturally some Level 5 maths. It may be these Level 5 questions that your child is struggling with.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Eleven Plus and Two Left Feet

All sorts of people say that they can not dance and they have: `Two Left Feet.’ This works very well - but what happens when they go to a party? That is the time when the grooving moves come out. Some chemical is liberated in the brain and, after protesting to everyone in ear shot, the dance strut takes place.

Some times it is not the alcohol that brings out the athlete - some times it is simply dancing round handbags that encourages wanton moves.

The day of reckoning comes, however, when different videos show the sprightly `artist’ performing. That then is time for the: `Do you remember?’ chorus to start. Invariably the `Two Left Feet’ brigade are the ones who want to see the re-run of the videos. The viewing is often accompanied by friendly but apposite comments.

The `I can’t dance!’ troupe sometime become the butt of ribald but timely criticism.
The cruel words are easily forgotten - unless they come from an already hated member of the family.

The sweet loving comments are remembered.

Your 11+ child may have to go through the whole routine if unwelcome results emerge. There may be some easily forgotten aunt who mumbles: `Well his father never did it so why should he?’ It could even be: `His second cousin, Aunt Mildred, of course passed her Eleven plus - but you know what they say about that side of the family.’

Simply remind your child not to complain about the tricky paper. Warn too, about your child blaming the teacher for everything and anything including finishing the examination 20 minutes early and allowing a fight in the examination room. `I could not concentrate because of the noise.’ is almost as bad as: `I can’t dance. I have two left feet.’

`Two left feet’ is an idiom meaning that people with two left feet can not dance.’

`The room was noisy and I could not concentrate’ is an idiom for …….’

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Extra 11 Plus Tuition from a child's perspective

Carla (9y 8 months) writes about extra maths tuition at home:

Every time I go to my Dad's house I do half a chapter out of my extra maths books. I have already completed three chapters and am working on Fractions today. Sometimes its hard to get down to work but my Dad makes me do it - sometimes by bribing me! I'm glad that he makes me do it - because once I start I enjoy it.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

11+ Examination Help

I was asked today, by a very pleasant and worried mother; `What is the best thing I can do to help my child as the 11+ examinations approach?’

It is difficult to pin just one label on 11+ preparation. Surely preparation implies more than just one activity. I suppose, however, that the one best activity to do is 11+ papers. The problem with doing papers is that sometimes the first few papers seem to show pleasing progress. It may then become difficult to maintain the momentum. If you do too many papers then some children will appear to be rather bored with the whole process. But this must surely be better than being disadvantaged by not doing any papers at all.

Part of the solution to this is to do parts of papers so that the children do not have to keep getting over the magic pass number. What then arises is: do you allow your child to choose the easy questions or do you work together through the hard questions? The obvious option is naturally to do a combination.

One thorny question that lingers in many parents’ minds is that of timing. Naturally you want your child to learn that an extra five minutes here or there can add marks to a final score. Where to find the extra minute or two may hard be to judge.

Why not read over a fresh paper together? Work out the hot spots. Discuss the timing of these areas. Your child should then take his or her watch off and lay it beside the paper. You must also take your watch off and help your child with the timing. Try to avoid looking at the questions while the two of you are sitting there. You are helping your child with timing - not marking the paper as your child goes along.

Talk about what the two of you have experienced and felt. Discuss possible solutions. Remind your child that the reasoning papers are to test reasoning - and it is very unlikely that there will be any tricky questions in the actual examination. Naturally you will say: `Leave out the hard ones. Come back to them later on - if you have time.’

Friday, October 13, 2006

11+ and Time Travel

Here is a picture of two travellers on the island of Tavenui in Fiji where the international date line crosses one of the islands. They had to draw the international date line around the Fijian islands otherwise half the island would be living in yesterday and the other half would be living in today. This would make getting to exams on time very complicated for pupils on the island who lived on different sides of the date line.

If it is 11am for the travellers in Fiji what time is it for everyone back in Dartford? You need to think about how many hours there are in a day and also how many degrees the earth turns through. It also helps greatly to know that Greenwich in England is on the 0º line of longitude and the international date line is on 180º.

In the picture one of the travellers is standing in today and one is standing in yesterday. They only have to take one step to travel back or forward in time. How does that work?

Learning is like travelling, you find out a lot of stuff along the way, but you keep on bumping into new questions that need answers.

(Written by my brother Michael Drury - Thank you!)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

We will be running half courses in October of this year. For some children the courses will be just a few weeks before the examination and other children will be writing their examinations early next year.

Going away on holiday before an examination is always a worry to parents. Would their child be better served by having a peaceful half term, doing a little work and generally relaxing – or should the family fly off to a remote location so that all the family can `get away from it all?

A middle route could be a visit to Marbella. In the heart of old Marbella is `Angela’s School’. The school has been running for many years. Angela has all the up to date information about how to get a child into an exclusive school.

Your loved one could do work towards the examination for an hour or so in the morning – and then have the rest of the day to enjoy a holiday.

One of the best arguments that a child can put up about not working on holiday is that of missing out on the rest of the family’s activities. One family tried to solve the problem by `agreeing’ that the rest of the family would read for the forty minutes of 11+ work. We were told that the ensuring arguments about books, and what to read, were far worse than the actual 11+ `Just now! Just now!’

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Get me there on time!

Tarryn and Chris were married in Spain. They arrived in style with a beautiful black horse. The journey was eventful because the horse decided to take a lap around the seventeenth and eighteen green before they could alight to wow their guests.

If the eleven plus examinations are at your child’s school then you will know just how long it takes from waking to breakfast to leaving and then arriving. Naturally you want to arrive on time.

Some children do the 11+ test at a local grammar school so this involves different sets of traffic lights. You timing is changed. In years to come this might become a very familiar route – but you can’t afford to gamble on the day of the actual examination.

Simply drive the route a few times, ahead of the day, to make sure you are aware of local traffic conditions.
The last thing you want is your anxiety about arriving on time to rub off on your child. Remember too, that any unforgivable signs and words may be repeated at the most inopportune moment.

Avoid any or all discussion or last minute advice about examination technique and timing. Your last words, and in fact your only words on the subject all morning, just need to be: `Good Luck. Just do your best – we will love you what ever happens.’

You will of course have followed an action plan where the countdown started a full 24 hours before:
Pencils and general stationery
Keeping yourself calm
Not harping on about the examination
After exam snack

The list is endless. Good luck!

Do you remember the discussions about transport to your wedding? How fast will the horse go? Can we rely on the driver? What happens if we arrive early? Does the horse need food? Where can the horse get a drink? How do we recompense the driver?

Arriving at an 11+ examination needs just the same amount of scrutiny. Tarryn (my niece) and Chris arrived relaxed and unflustered. We hope you do the same.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cars and Mathematics

My sister married the most academically gifted man I have ever met. They studied together at university and enjoyed a wide and varied social life.

One day my brother in law arrived, with my sister beside him, in a very large motor car. The engine, I think, was urged from a very large lorry. The car was white with a pointed nose that protruded a good three feet in front of the fan belt. The rear of the car had no boot that I can recall but there was a ledge where suitcases or boxes could be strapped.

There were only two seats – and the driver and his passenger were probably about four and half feet off the ground. It was in fact the driving position of a very early Chelsea tractor. Naturally the car was topless. In those days it would have called an open tourer.

It was a remarkably noisy vehicle, as befitted its description as a `sports car’. I am not sure how long it took to reach 60 miles per hour. The engine did not purr – it chugged and gurgled majestically. There was no gentle emission, or puff of blue smoke – there was, quite simply, a continuous plume of carbon emissions.

Naturally there was a discussion of how many miles to the gallon the car did. In those days we did not have concern ourselves with litres. We could talk about gallons, quarts and pints. I think the car did eight miles to the gallon. If the car was driven fast (over 30 miles per hour) the consumption dropped to nearer to four miles to the gallon.

By now you should be able to work out the 11+ question. (Conversion of units is still a part of some 11+ examinations.)

Hint 1: We will need to change 4 miles to kilometres and then change 1 gallon to litres.

Hint 2: We know that 4 miles is about 6.4 kilometres.

Hint 3: We know too that 1 gallon is about 4.5 litres.

How many kilometres to the litre did the car do when it was driven quickly?

Monday, October 09, 2006

11+ Mathematics

Probably comparatively few people are able to buy a house `cash down’. Banks or building societies may advance part of the purchase price. The charge is usually made 1% over the bank rate.

During 1931 the popularity of house purchase by instalment grew – and a total £90 228 000 was loaned. This was back in the days when a house cost around £500. An advertisement in a local paper focused on a single estate agent in one of our local villages who has recently sold over £5 000 000 worth of property. The average price of a house is this village in 2006 is around £290 500.

Some straight forward 11+ mathematics follows.

Back in 1931, by dividing the total money loaned by the average house price we can see that 180456 loans were made in the whole country.

In 2006, to find out how many times 290 500 went into 5 000 000, we had to divide once again. The local estate agent had to make just 17 sales.

However, and there is always a however, £290 500 in today’s money divided by the £500 cost all those years ago suggests a rise in value 581 times greater.

The 11+ question is: Assuming the rise in house prices maintains a similar pattern in the future, how much will our ten to eleven year olds have to pay for a house in another seventy five years?

If we round it all up our £290 500 house becomes £300 000. Our 581 becomes 600 so the cost of a house in 75 years time will be £180 000 000! )

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Just a bit of Padding

My great grandmother, on my mother’s side, was a `van Tonder’. She was quite simply an indomitable woman. She was very proud of her pumpkin pies – and she loved to sit in the calm of the afternoon working on her quilts.

Quilting is a form of needlework which dates back to the eleventh century. The word quilt means sticking things together. A quilt is a cover for a bed It is made of two layers of fabric. There is often a soft substance such as wool or down, between them. The quilt is often stitched in patterns.

We presume the quilt originally came into existence before the eiderdown was invented. There is evidence of wooden forms or templates that early English workers arranged on the material and then sewed round.

Naturally the padding between the outer coverings is important – and if the top cover was often made from the finest linen or silk the backing could be a coarse material.

We now come to the nub of the question. With many 11+ examination boards now opting for an essay or an account, how much padding can be allowed in a written answer? It is simple. If your child is answering the question then fewer words will be needed. If there is a brain storm and the answer gets longer and longer then no doubt there would be more padding.

I can not believe that over the centuries – and in England quilting goes back to the eleventh century – that there have been mothers who have not complained about the amount of padding.

`Be careful of that padding, dear.’

`Too much padding and your work becomes unwieldy.’

Just as with a properly planned quilt you will have a template to work around – so in an essay your child will need a plan.

Sit down with your child and practice planning. Planning has not changed since you were at school. Plan all sorts of topics. Here are three examples:

`Write a letter complaining about loud music.’

`How do you make a pumpkin pie?’

``Explain how you can fix two bits of material together to help you to keep warm.’

Saturday, October 07, 2006

How can we find time in an examination?

A mother sent us a note today:

My child, Samantha, has an examination coming up in mid to late November of this year. Please give her some examination tips.

The dialogue in the lesson went as follows:

`Please thank your mother Samantha for this note. What techniques do you, and your mother, feel you need?’

`I am struggling with timing. I never finish the papers.’

`Please could I see your watch?’

`I don’t have one. I have never had one.’

`How do you time yourself on papers at home?’

`My mum tells me the time.’

Suggestion 1

Samantha needs to buy a watch. It should have a large clear face that is easy to read. She should get used to wearing the watch to school.

Suggestion 2

Samantha needs to do a wide range of timing exercises – from watching and timing of the boiling of an egg to how long it takes to drive from home to school every weekday. She needs to be able to work out just how long five minutes is. Samantha also needs to know when 35 minutes has gone past.

Suggestion 3

She should time herself on sections of verbal and non verbal reasoning papers.

Suggestion 4

She must make sure she is very confident about reading the time.

Suggestion 5

It was Benjamin Franklin who reminded us:

“Lost time is never found again.”

Friday, October 06, 2006

It is just not fair!

It must be a great relief to the souls of the men and women who build and develop our 11+ tests that parents are not allowed to see the actual 11+ test papers. It is conceivable that the test makers could come under considerable pressure from parents about the content of the tests.

It is all a question of what is fair. Is it fair to include a question that a loving parent or a diligent tutor has not covered in the examination preparations? Can you imagine the fuss and furore if parents were able to pick over individual questions?

`Oh no! That did not come up in the papers we did. There was nothing about that in the lessons.’

Suppose, that by design, questions of the following type were included. You see at a glance that these questions measure how well you can cope with applied ideas, such as understanding of technical drawings. How will we encourage girls into engineering if we do not look for strengths in the field when the children are ten and eleven years old?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ten Tips to Eleven Plus Examinations

1. Talk to your eleven plus child - discuss your expectations - and understand your child’s position. Discuss the rules of engagement - the time for study, homework, games, school, family and friends. Develop the point that `both sides’ are working within the framework of a family.

2. Listen to, and try to understand, your child’s teachers and tutors. If you hear the words: `Border Line’ interpret the words as such - do not think that this means your child will pass with flying colours. Be realistic about what your school can offer. Your child’s school has far wider and very different responsibilities to high marks on a test paper.

3. Make a point of your child maintaining relationships with friends. Do not allow the week to be so cluttered that friends have to be ignored `until the examination is over’. In any event your child’s best friend’s mother may know more about what your child is up to a school than you will ever need to know. But don’t ask the questions if you don’t want to hear the answers.

4. Both sides - parents and children - must understand that the nerves of both parties may be on edge. Tolerance is essential. Encourage your child to make allowances.

5. Avoid any discussion that may end with one side being the `winner’. It is just over one hundred years since England and France signed the `Entente Cordiale’ - bringing peace to both countries. Develop your own negotiating positions - and work within those bounds. Use the term `Entente Cordiale’ to set up a mediating framework.

6. Try to develop a dialogue about school. Discuss how you would like to hear after:

`How did it go at school today?’


`What did you learn that was new and interesting?’


Help to develop the three sentence answer to every question. (`Yes thank you because ….’, `And then I …’ and `I think …..’.

7. Work together to understand the concept of the generation gap. You and your child may have different values and aspirations. Look at the gap between you and your parents. Ask your parents how they, and you, resolved the gap.

8. Help all concerned in the household to understand the fears, anxieties and pressures - along with the ten year old’s desire and need for independence. Younger siblings must respect privacy and the need to be quiet. Older siblings must learn to curb the cutting remark. Grand parents must continue to be supportive and accepting.

9. Think seriously about food and exercise. If the day and the diet are not balanced then it becomes hard to study and prepare.

10. Devise policies on the rules of the house - the tidy bedroom, the help in the home, walking the dog, feeding the parrot. The ten year old must understand that he or she is part of the family and can not simply move from 11+ practice papers to lie on the couch with the remote control while asking for sustenance, use of the telephone and ignoring the pleas of the dog. He or she has to get up to let the dog out. Explain how this selfless humility may actually help in the examination.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Building Excitement

We must all often wonder what goes through the mind of people who build reasoning and ability papers. We know that the test builder must be literate, imaginative and creative. We hope that at the 11+ stage the questions stimulate and interest our children.

Some `candidates’ will be able to see their way through a test question like this in seconds. Others will remain mystified and puzzled.

Some drilchne love iwrognk through blavre reasoning papers. They enjoy the elhaclneg and the excitement of the tsonseuiq.

Think, however, of the reasoning steps involved in a question like:

Here are a group of five whole numbers; one is missing.

3 17 11 .. 18

Half of the missing number is double another. The missing number is not the largest in the group, nor is it an odd one. What is the number that is missing?

We know that our children will have around 40 seconds to solve this problem. Surely there must be some type of mind that solves a problem like this quicker than others?

Does it mean that a child with an extraordinary ability with languages and a genuine love of subjects like history, geography and the arts should be denied a place in a grammar school? The steps to solving a problem of this kind can be taught – and there will certainly be some children who will revel in the opportunity of trying to decode the answer.

Ninety nine per cent of parents will have been able to work out that the answer to the missing number is twelve within twenty seconds! Some brave parents will try to explain their working out – only to have their explanation roundly rejected. There may be one or two of us who would have to phone a friend for help.

We can not choose which types of questions will come up in a test. We can say which ones are more likely. But we must all thank the selection test builders for the excitement they bring to our lives.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Two Little Words

When we run our 11+ courses we deliver a series of `pep talk’. The talks range from `The Night Before’ to `How to be pleasant to your parents.’ One message we try to put across is to remember to say thank you to your parents.

`Thank you mother, I really enjoyed that lesson. We went over some verbal reasoning exercises that I enjoyed. The maths was stimulating as we revised division of decimals and then went over proportion again. I can’t wait to go back.’ Familiar words?

We always watch the parents and the children as they meet during and after the course. Naturally some conversations go:

`Hello Dear, did you have a good time?


`Did you learn anything new?’

`Mum. What is for supper?’

Now as a mother you have just forked out a fortune for your child’s education. The immortal words: `I am only doing it for you,’ spring to mind. What you would really like to hear is an in depth analysis of the day – culminating in your child’s success after adversity – and going on to win the prize of the best student of the day.

In some of the sessions we rehearse what parents really want to her – but if our efforts are not to your liking why not adopt a purposeful approach to the conversation? Before your child leaves to go to a lesson, or attend a course, hand him, or her, a small card. On the card write the three questions and the three answers you want to hear. We will do our part – we will whisper a reminder. You child should then approach you with a big smile and say:

`Mum, guess what?’

`Yes Dear?’

`It was the best …… ever.’

(Then you know you will have had your money’s worth.)

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Time To Work and A Time To Watch

I was eighteen years old when television first came to Zimbabwe. It is difficult to put a figure on how much time today’s children spend watching television. We know that fifteen to eighteen year olds seem to watch less TV than younger children.

A quick eleven plus question.

If we watch an average of 2 hours of TV a day, how much will we have watched by the time we are eighteen?

If the same question had been posed as: (365 x (18 x 2)) then it is possible that more children will not have had to hesitate.

An even easier question would have been 365 x 36.

In the great spirit of research into television, studying and children it was found that watching a simple quiz show before an examination helps to stimulate the mind.

Perhaps parents need to start watching and recording quiz shows to ensure the television viewing before an examination is appropriate.

Naturally there will be a rush on the book shops with anxious parents asking for quiz books suitable for the eleven plus. If you do decide to make up your own questions, please send some sample questions to us.

My questions is: If there was no TV until a child was eighteen - how on earth would children spend the time?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Fruits of the Vine

Summer is drawing to an end. Autumn is growing closer. The grapes on our vine at home in Kent are growing sweeter and blacker. All this means that the Eleven Plus examinations are growing closer for another year. In Bexley the children will be writing in early November.

This is the time of year that parents are most likely to show concern about what their most loved one knows and does not know. Every single question is analysed and worried over. Children bring little lists of three or four questions to their tutors to go over. Most parents, however, are hot stuff on questions like:

How many grapes make a bottle of wine?

As adults we all know that while it varies, it usually takes between 600 to 800 grapes per bottle. This could be around ten bunches of grapes.

Please make sure that you do not try to fill your child with too much trivia with a month to go. Think of your poor child. Why not concentrate on trying to help him or her to do as well as possible on the topics already covered at school and in any extra lessons or work at home. The very hard questions on practice papers are there to stretch and stimulate the very bright.

It is much more important to know how to find ten per cent of a number or how many degrees there are in a triangle than spend precious time on some rather obscure question that may or may not come up.