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Saturday, March 31, 2007


I watched various classes of eleven plus children leaving their lessons today. Almost every child handed his or file to their mother or father. This was the clue to open the file and marvel at the work the children had been doing in the lesson.

Most of the children focused on what they had done well – the good marks for verbal or non verbal reasoning exercises. The mastery of a new topic in mathematics also called for an excited response.

It must be hard for a mum or a dad to remain cool when other parents are watching the interchange.

Five Things To Say When Looking At Your Child’s Work

1. Well done. I am so proud of what you have achieved.
2. You worked really hard today. Good on you!
3. I am pleased that you can now cancel fractions to lowest terms. You can show me how you did it.
4. Your work is so neat. Try to keep this up when we are working together at home.
5. Hurry up. We have to pick your sister up.

Five Things a Child can Say After a Lesson

1. Thank you for sending me to my lesson. I worked hard and enjoyed myself.
2. I am more confident of my reasoning now.
3. I never knew that percentages were so easy.
4. I’m hungry. Have you anything to eat?
5. Oh please mum, you promised.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Counting Legs

I started emptying bins – ready for the weekend today. There were fifteen. I carried seven black sacks to the big blue bin.

I then started counting chairs:

15 Reception
5 Interview Office 1
5 Interview Office 2
17 Assessment Room
20 Teaching Room 1
24 Teaching Room 2
8 Administration Room.

At some time or other over the course of Saturday morning we expect that every one of those chairs will have someone sitting on them.

I then started thinking about Napoleon who liked to work standing at a high table. He went on to try to conquer Europe and Russia. I wonder if he did all this without sitting down.

The eleven plus question for today is that if over the course of the morning we expect at least six legs to sit on each of the chairs – how many legs will there be in each of the rooms? (Don’t forget to take into account the legs of the two receptionists, the team of four in the assessment room the eight in one teaching room and the four in the other room.) That is a lot of legs.

We expect one boy to come in straight from football and drop a little mud under his seat. There will several bits of glitter and at least one hair tie or scrunchie.

People will be booking appointments; there will be calls from outside centres. The telephones will ring and ring. Children will breeze in happily. Those being assessed will be contemplating why they have to be here. The legs will keep walking.

Yet with all this action it is unlikely that any child will be forgotten and left behind. I am always in awe of a mother who can drop one child at an extra lesson, take another to dance, purchase the evening meal, collect the one from dance – enjoy a slight detour to drop one of the daughter’s friends off a home and still arrive in time to collect the loved one from the extra lesson.

I bet if Napoleon had taken a little more notice of Josephine he would have had much less difficulty in conquering the known world. She would have told him about the impact of all that standing on his spine. She would have marshalled his marshals and sent them off on different routes.

So this blog is about the ability of mothers to be able to generate action and excitement. These are two healthy ingredients of any eleven plus lesson. So when any mother has that precious few seconds of `just sitting’ – forget the bins. Forget the legs. Just dream of your child conquering unknown horizons. But don’t forget to remind your child that there is no use standing around when there is work to be done.

Sit down.

Settle down.

Do the work!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Easter 11+ Courses

I found this advert for the Richest Boat. It only needs one more crew member. If you have the name of your child’s favourite teacher or tutor please let us know. If not I would be happy to give up a few days of my life to help your child prepare for the Eleven Plus.

The Richest Boat

Perfect for world cruising in comfort, RICHEST BOAT offers a blend of outdoor entertaining areas with the no-compromise amenities found on the finest of yachts. Two double guest staterooms, a twin stateroom and a gym complement a palatial on-deck master suite. For the active unlimited enjoyment can be held with the array of water toys on board.

A professional crew of eight, including your personal private chef to cater for your every whim.

Length 141’
Beam 28’
Staterooms 4
Crew 8 (Plus a personal eleven plus tutor.)

We have children attending Easter Eleven Plus courses – but, I am sorry to say, we are not able to offer facilities like these. Can you just imagine how willing your son or daughter would be to do a little work each day. He or she just need a few friends. It would be easy to balance a little work with lots of fun in the gym and on the water.

If you are able to source the boat please think of me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Reading and the 11+

We are often asked about what children need to read to ‘improve’ their minds. The ‘classics’ spring to mind.

‘The Story of Hiawatha’ by Longfellow is a real story – and the theme applies to today. Poor Hiawatha as Minnehaha fell to famine and fever. He then left his village, climbed into his canoe and whispered: “Westward! Westward!” So Hiawatha departed to the land of the hereafter.

What about ‘The Swiss Family Robinson’ by Johann Wyss? The boat gets stuck between rocks. The captain cries, “All is lost; lower the boats away!”

“Lost!” sob the children.

“Be calm my boys,” said I, “keep up your courage. Land is in sight.”

With a dad like that the family deserves to stay together.

The closing thought of this book is: “Learn, learn! Knowledge is power, freedom, happiness. If you want to enjoy life to the full you must work, and every day try to make the world better for your living in it.”

So if your child does not read at least some of the classics, how is he or she going to be able to be able to contribute to discussions about the hereafter or how to enjoy life to the full?

We are all waiting for Harry Potter and the Deathly Harrows. We know that J.K. Rowling will leave us in a state of limbo. Her books must be classics now – and will still be classics in 50 years time. The books will have stimulated both children and adults to read. If any of you know the ending now, when the book is only published on July 27th, we would all be grateful.

So now you know. Even if you can not urge your child to read the story of Hiawatha and that of the Swiss Family Robinson you do know that you will b able to provide the material for a good read on the 27th of July.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Promoting Comprehension

“Mum, I have read the question, but I still don’t know what I am expected to do.”

“I know that I have to look for key words. You have told me that before. I am just not sure what the words mean.”

If you sometimes hear words like there it may be a good idea to look at general comprehension.

Try to make sure that the books and other reading materials cover as wide a range of topics as possible. If one member of the family is interested in restoring VWs – and has piles of magazines – then you can not really expect your daughter to become enthusiastic about the subject – unless she likes working on old cars. Look for books and topics that not only reflect her interest – but also extend and enrich her reading.

On occasions read the article or a page from a book with your son or daughter and discuss how the author has put the paragraphs together. Work out how the author writes the opening sentence. Discuss the final sentence in the paragraph. Go back to the days when your English teacher did that sort of work with you. Try to remember those lessons all those years ago and school. You are now the adult who can read with comprehension. Try to give your child as much insight as possible into the construction of different types of paragraphs.

We all know this – and you have mentioned it one hundred times already – but highlight the key words. Key words on 11+ papers are different in context to those appearing in general literature. In literature you will be looking for themes, characters and plots. On an eleven plus paper you will be looking for words like `discuss’ or `product’.

The most useful tool you can give your child for eleven plus papers and for general reading is a wide vocabulary. Try to do this systematically. Using dictionaries, build lists of useful words will help. You may get quicker results if you build the vocabulary from your daily speech, the books your child is reading and the needs of the eleven plus papers.

The one area you will need to work on is trying to motivate your child to read in a different manner. By all means encourage reading for pleasure – but also try to you’re your child to read for information and answers. To do well on comprehension passages at school and at home your child will have to want to find the answers to questions. You will need to build your child’s confidence. The motivation will come with confidence.

An adaptation from a saying is: “The better I get the more I practice.”

We can add: “I feel more motivated when I feel more confident.”

The one step before bribery is paired reading. You read a page, your child reads a page, you read a page and your child reads a page. Page by page the chapters build up. Discuss what has been read. Talk about events, themes, happenings and what you think will happen in the future.

Any now onto the step that many parents have found a highly effective way of promoting good comprehension and reading habits. It is called bribery. You can pay by the word, the page or the book. It all comes to the same thing. A few pounds a month on encouraging good reading and comprehension habits may pay dividends.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Finding a Bargain

Why is that we like demonstrating our skill in obtaining a bargain? At times our £35.00 shirt bought for £4.99 is far more attractive proposition than one bought at full price. I wonder if there is a sliding scale that people apply to bargains.

Does a £500.00 dress bought for £300.00 give as much pleasure as a £50.00 skirt bought for £30.00? Who would you be able to tell about your £500.00 dress?

Do you get pleasure by being able to demonstrate that you are able to recognise a bargain when it is presented to you? Do you feel more superior because you were able to snap the bargain up against all the competition?

I have just asked the opinion of Gerry, Pinar and Tracy – all ladies working in Etc’s administration and research. Their collected thoughts on the question of bargains include:

• Saving money
• A bargain brings a smile to your face.
• It brings a sense of achievement.
• It is very fulfilling.
• You like to think that you have put one over the shopkeeper.

I thank them for their comments. It is always useful to have some insight!

Sometimes you are allowed to return sale bargains. You may not like the colour, the shape or the fit. You may already have one – but could not resist the thrill of a bargain. All you need is the receipt and proof of purchase.

How are you going to be able to return your eleven plus child if he or she does not live up to your expectations? You won’t have much proof of purchase – other than the birth certificate. You may have significant bills accumulated along the way – for example a trip to America – but I am not sure how authentic this type of proof of purchase would be in an appeal situation.

You are in a very tricky position because you can not blame your child for not doing well in the examination. It can not be your child’s fault. It must be that `they’ changed the paper. It can’t be your child’s school at fault because eight other children from the same class did pass. It certainly can’t be your fault because you did your best. You provided the papers, the tutors, the holiday courses and the support when necessary.

Anyway to whom would you return an eleven plus child? When you look at your child’s face you may simply feel that you have been blessed with a bargain. Remember those vows - `in sickness and in health’?

So you have to keep your child. You have to build him or her up as much as possible. You have to bolster your own confidence. You have to believe in yourself again.

Talk positively about the opportunities and benefits of the new school. Do not leave league tables lying around – especially where you have ringed the position of you local non grammar school. Just because you are a child who has not passed the eleven plus it does not mean that you can not read a league table.

Just think of three nice – and different things you can say to your child every day:

We are proud of you.
You have worked hard.
You did your best.
You will have another opportunity to do well in the SATs tests.

Surely you can build a positive list? In the end you may find that you really do have a bargain child!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Watching the waves

Thank goodness that the clocks have gone forward. We can now quite safely think about visits to the sea side. Even those of you who live by the sea need to spend some time looking at the ebb and flow of the tide.

Watching waves breaking on the beach for twenty minutes is where your eleven plus child will come to realise how remorseless the forces of nature actually are.

It is very difficult for your eleven plus child to be able to look ahead and visualise the future. Before you started work you will have discussed the events leading up to the examination, you will have picked out key selection papers, and you will have sorted out the tuition side. Surely you will also have discussed the events of actual examination?

If you have looked that little bit extra ahead you will have commented on the consequences of passing and failing the examination. You will have talked about what changes will need to take place if the examination is passed.

One thing, I hope you are never tempted to do, is to say, in front of your child, that if her or she does not pass you will never allow him or her to go to that `horrible’ school.

What ever your feelings you must not let your child take that feeling of failure into the proposed new school. By all means appeal – and fight very hard. Borrow the money, if you can, to go private. Move house in the hope of gaining a place at a better school.

We had a family last year that did just that. They were given just on three months to make up their minds – and they had to sell, find a new house, offer on a new house, cope with the chain and move in – all to satisfy the entry requirements. I can not tell you how much I admired their fortitude and inner strength.

So now we need to get back to the waves. The grammar schools have only so many places. Some years a pass mark at a certain level will gain automatic eleven plus entry. In another year the same mark will not be good enough. There may be a shortage of suitable candidates – but the grammar schools still need to fill their places. These different scenarios represent forces over which you have no control.

You can push as hard as you like against the waves but when the tide is coming in you are powerless. But this does not mean that you have to give up your dream of a grammar school education.

You have to look very realistically at the strengths and weakness within the family. Perhaps a favourite aunt may be an ideal role model who can offer a monthly chat about progress. There may be a grandmother or grandfather who will be able to explain algebra to your son or daughter. Some member of the family or a friend may be able to offer advice on which activities to keep and which to give up. (We met a girl last week who was a talented gymnast – and a dancer. She had after school activities every evening of the week and on Saturday and Sunday mornings. There was not much time for a peaceful hour of contemplative study!)

Equally there may be members of the family who will urge you to leave your child to develop naturally – and not do much work on papers before the examination. This will not necessarily be a much loved grandmother who will urge you to let your child develop and not to push too much. It may be your partner you will suggest that you leave what happens to your child to the school and not to put too much pressure on your ten year old.

So over Easter try to make some time to sit quietly on the beach with your eleven plus child. Wait for when the tide starts coming in. Build a little sand castle. Watch the waves demolish the castle and discuss the eleven plus pensively and warmly. Chat about strong and weak forces. Talk about aims and dreams and desires. Don’t make any promises. Have a good old `heart to heart’. You will all feel better for it.

Watching Breaking Waves

Thank goodness that the clocks have gone forward. We can now quite safely think about visits to the sea side. Even those of you who live by the sea need to spend some time looking at the ebb and flow of the tide.

Watching waves breaking on the beach for twenty minutes is where your eleven plus child will come to realise how remorseless the forces of nature actually are.

It is very difficult for your eleven plus child to be able to look ahead and visualise the future. Before you started work you will have discussed the events leading up to the examination, you will have picked out key selection papers, and you will have sorted out the tuition side. Surely you will also have discussed the events of actual examination?

If you have looked that little bit extra ahead you will have commented on the consequences of passing and failing the examination. You will have talked about what changes will need to take place if the examination is passed.

One thing, I hope you are never tempted to do, is to say, in front of your child, that if her or she does not pass you will never allow him or her to go to that `horrible’ school.

What ever your feelings you must not let your child take that feeling of failure into the proposed new school. By all means appeal – and fight very hard. Borrow the money, if you can, to go private. Move house in the hope of gaining a place at a better school.

We had a family last year that did just that. They were given just on three months to make up their minds – and they had to sell, find a new house, offer on a new house, cope with the chain and move in – all to satisfy the entry requirements. I can not tell you how much I admired their fortitude and inner strength.

So now we need to get back to the waves. The grammar schools have only so many places. Some years a pass mark at a certain level will gain automatic eleven plus entry. In another year the same mark will not be good enough. There may be a shortage of suitable candidates – but the grammar schools still need to fill their places. These different scenarios represent forces over which you have no control.

You can push as hard as you like against the waves but when the tide is coming in you are powerless. But this does not mean that you have to give up your dream of a grammar school education.

You have to look very realistically at the strengths and weakness within the family. Perhaps a favourite aunt may be an ideal role model who can offer a monthly chat about progress. There may be a grandmother or grandfather who will be able to explain algebra to your son or daughter. Some member of the family or a friend may be able to offer advice on which activities to keep and which to give up. (We met a girl last week who was a talented gymnast – and a dancer. She had after school activities every evening of the week and on Saturday and Sunday mornings. There was not much time for a peaceful hour of contemplative study!)

Equally there may be members of the family who will urge you to leave your child to develop naturally – and not do much work on papers before the examination. This will not necessarily be a much loved grandmother who will urge you to let your child develop and not to push too much. It may be your partner you will suggest that you leave what happens to your child to the school and not to put too much pressure on your ten year old.

So over Easter try to make some time to sit quietly on the beach with your eleven plus child. Wait for when the tide starts coming in. Build a little sand castle. Watch the waves demolish the castle and discuss the eleven plus pensively and warmly. Chat about strong and weak forces. Talk about aims and dreams and desires. Don’t make any promises. Have a good old `heart to heart’. You will all feel better for it.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Eleven Plus Values

Every parent hopes that their children will become heroes one day. For some children to be regarded as a hero it would take a act of heroic bravery. For other children a fight against a terrible disease changes an ordinary child into becoming a hero. For most of us our children are simply our heroes.

When I was at junior school we were `invited’ to learn the famous poem `Vitae Lampada’ by Sir Henry Newbolt. The invitation was simply that we were to know the poem by Friday. The poem is about the values we learn at school and how we carry what we learnt at school into later life.

Play up! Play up! And play the game!
There's a breathless hush in the close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red-
Red with the wreck of the square that broke
The gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed its banks,
And England's far and Honor a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks-
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

So when you feel that all is against you in your quest for good marks in the eleven plus examinations – let the whisper of these words run through your mind. You are not being faced by a gatling gun. What ever you feel blood is not being shed – even though you might feel the need for it at times. You are still in England and there is no river of death.

You just hope that your son or daughter, one day, will rally the ranks with the words: `Play up! Play up! And play the game!” This is the fighting spirit that will take you and your eleven plus child through the examinations. A fierce determination to do as well as possible is necessary.

Be brave! Fight hard!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Over to You

We added a forum to our Extra Tuition Centre site today. When I was growing up I used to read about forums in Ancient Rome. My reading was all to do with gladiators and lions and fights to the death.

In one way it is heartening to think that our forum will not cover topics about fighting and death. We are offering topics related to children, parents and how children learn. Our gladiators are Mauro – a computer genius. He listens carefully, speaks little and delivers the goods. He understood all about the languages behind the forum. What an eleven plus candidate he must have been! There was also Jonathon who has put our new web site together. Jonathon explained that our new website now covered over 90 pages. He designed the site and basically told us what to do. Then we are lucky to have Pinar. It is quite clear that she is a forum guru. She mentioned that she has made over 5000 posts to forums that interest her. Surely all those years ago Pinar must have been a super gladiator.

I must confess that I have never made a posting to a forum before today. I know that a blog is one form of a forum. But this blog is different – it is simply personal thoughts. It looks as if a forum engages in more than a chat. There are all sorts of forums to do with personal interests. There are also forums set up to promote awareness of issues.

Our forum has a moderator – in our case Pinar. She will monitor the threads that develop. At this stage we have no idea of the way our forum will develop because the content is not prescribed by us. As I understand it, the nature and intent of a forum is that conversations and discussions develop according to the users.

Anyone can start a new discussion or thread – or comment on an existing thread. As an organisation we have been established around 30 years. In that time we have been aware of many changes in education. We have been asked an extraordinarily wide range of questions. It is quite remarkable how few parents have felt the need to criticise their schools and teachers. Parents are remarkably resilient – and in the end all parents want is the best possible for their child. We are looking forward to seeing what develops.

All we can hope is that the hard work by Mauro, Jonathon and Pinar serve to stimulate and enrich. If we can achieve this we will have satisfied a major objective.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Executive Search and Selection

Wanted a Hard Working Child

The Role
• You will report directly to your parents.
• You will demonstrate full responsibility to your teachers and school.
• You need to `Lead, Motivate and Develop’ a team culture of working hard at school and at home.
• You will direct and motivate your family to try to make sure that you deliver an Eleven Plus result that all the family can be proud of.

• As a key member of the Eleven Plus team you will have budgetary responsibility for buying a wide range of eleven plus papers. You will make sure that you work through the papers and ask for help when you get stuck.

The Requirements
• Ideally a calm, hardworking child with lots of outside interests.
• A desire to `get though’ life without arguing too often with your parents.
• You will be enthusiastic about working towards a goal. You may waver at times but you are expected to keep focused.
• You will be capable of settling down to work willingly and happily.
• It is essential that you are passionate and dynamic. `Laid back’ individuals should not apply.

About The Examination

The Eleven Plus examination demands a degree of commitment and self sacrifice. You will not be able to do everything you want – but will need to learn to budget your time and effort. Be careful in your relationship with your parents – after all you might need them one day for more than food and a roof over your head. You may feel grumpy at times but greet your parents and teachers kindly and with compassion. Everyone just wants you to do the best you can.

Apply To

Forward your CV by email – and include details of your current pocket money remuneration package. Quote `hardwork'.
Executive Search and Selection
56 Hope and Prayer Lane

Salary – To be negotiated

Generous Benefits Package – Including chauffeured car, Food on the table, Protection from siblings.

The package also includes holidays to foreign countries, personal servants to tidy your bedroom – and clean up after you.

You will be issued with a clothing allowance for school work, relaxation and special holiday gear.

Most important of all you will provide your parents with the material for a long drawn out dream. They will love you whatever the result.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

New 11+ Tests

Why do we have eleven plus tests if all they do is tell us scores after our children have written a battery of tests?

Why can’t we have a test that measures industry? Surely an able, hardworking and loyal child is going to be far more use to a school than a child who only works sporadically? The ability to work hard over a sustained period confirms the child as an asset to the family, the school and society in general.

We all hope that the brainy but lazy or indolent child will eventually grow up – and thankfully they do the end.

What about sensitivity? Don’t schools need sensitive and caring children? Surely a family will do the best it can to bring up a son or a daughter to be well mannered and thoughtful?

Some children are always going to be rather rude and boorish. Is there a place for children like that in a traditional grammar school? In many schools children are accepted only on scores on tests - without an interview. Perhaps a more enlightened vetting procedure would help some children. Not all children are suited to grammar school. Some children could well be happier in the grammar stream of a comprehensive school.

So what happens when you have a child who is obviously very intelligent, rather introspective and does not always like work? At school a child like this may have very high marks in subjects that are of interest – but will neglect areas that are of no significance.

So does it matter if the child does not really want to be a leader? So what if games and the play activities of other children are boring. Not every child has to be a good mixer and highly socially acceptable. Some children do not feel the need to be sociable and pleasant to all concerned.

Later on in life this child is going to try to find a job with an employer who is able to acknowledge intellectual development and sheer brains. In some jobs a key area of concern may be the ability to mix with colleagues. There are lots of other jobs, however, where it does not matter if there is little social contact.

So do we really want the eleven plus tests to identify a child who is kind, caring, hardworking, not prone to arguing and academically able? If we do then we need think about changing the tests. We need to think about other methods of assessment. We want our teachers of years five and six to be able to have time to stretch and extend their bright children.

Above all we want our primary schools to be able to deliver to the grammar schools, children who are ready for a grammar school education. We want children who are happy and content with their lot. Happy children could make happy parents. Happy children could ensure happy teachers. What more could a child want?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Food for Thought

What happens when you are offered food that you simply do not enjoy? My great grandmother lived on a farm. She was a Van Tonder. The family history, on her side of the family, was recorded in the family Bible. This was a large and very heavy book - or so it seemed to me when I was seven years old.

We went to visit my mother’s grandmother twice a year. There was a long sandy drive up to the farmhouse. There were about six gates to open and close. The journey was broken - and certainly not fast.

My great grandfather used to sit on the veranda and look out over a slight valley and enjoy the sight of his cattle. My great grandmother wore very formal clothes. She was also a formidable cook. My father, a kind and thoughtful man, used to fear our visits. On one occasion he had remarked that had enjoyed the pumpkin. Great grandmother duly delivered large bowlfuls of pumpkin twice a day on all subsequent visits.

This was no ordinary pumpkin. It was naturally fresh from the fields. It had the `secret’ ingredient of pepper.

As we drove up to the farm house my mother would hand to my father a brown paper bag. In today’s world we call the bag a `doggy’ bag. In those days it was referred to rather more inelegantly. It was our job as children to try to distract great grandmother while our father shovelled pepper flavoured pumpkin into the bag.

Now we all know the saying `the cat was let out of the bag’. This refers to a secret that is exposed. Can you imagine great grandmother’s feelings when the pumpkin was let out of the bag inadvertently?

So warn your dear eleven plus child to be very careful about grandparents - and even more careful about great grandparents. It has nothing to do with inheritance. It has nothing to do with family secrets. It is all to do with being very careful about what words are used.

We sometimes meet exercises in English where we have to complete or explain a range of sayings. For example:

If music be the food of love play on.

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

The first quote comes from Shakespeare - from Twelfth Night. The second from Mark Twain. How will we expect our Eleven Plus children to be able to complete quotes like the two above if they do not read? But - do we really expect a ten year old to sit down with the collected works of Twain and Shakespeare? That is too much to contemplate. Do we buy DVDs and hope the words will stick? Perhaps computer games where mad cooks chase customers around restaurants.

I suppose in the end we know that the responsibility is partly ours as parents, partly the schools as educators and partly our childrens’ drive to educate themselves. Without that final drive the dream of the Eleven Plus will remain elusive.

Oh yes - the words `Family Bible’ were mentioned earlier. Our Family Bible, on one side of the family, was in Dutch. I suppose that if your child has trouble with quotations you can simply say that it is all `Double Dutch’.

Monday, March 19, 2007

An Open Letter

An Open Letter to all 11+ Children.

Dear Children,

Your parents will have told you never to talk to strangers. There is, however, one man that you should be able to talk to and that is Mr. Andrew Bailey. Mr. Bailey is the Chief Cashier of the Bank of England.

He issued the new £20 note for the `Governor and Company of the Bank of England'.

On the reverse of the notes is a picture of Mr. Adam Smith. Mr. Smith raised questions like:

‘Why do we regard certain actions or intentions with approval and condemn others?’

As you know every eleven plus child has to put up with approval and condemnation at certain times. On one paper that you write a score of 56% is highly regarded. On a different paper, under different conditions, that same score will be roundly condemned.

Naturally you will want to please your parents most of the time. Doing your homework and sitting down to do Eleven Plus work will please your parents - most of the time. But not always. You might choose the wrong time of day, the wrong work or the wrong working conditions. You may be able to argue to your parents that starting on an eleven plus paper at 9.30 on a school night is a laudable action. Your parents, however, may feel that you should be in bed. This could condemn you to a short and sharp discussion. The moral side of the question could be: If you are engaged in serious and wholesome activity should you be castigated and made to feel unwelcome?

There is a picture on the £20 note drawn in great detail. The drawing shows men working on a machine making pins. Men had to do certain jobs on this great machine. There were about eighteen different jobs. One man had to straighten the wire, another had to grind the end and yet another had to make the head. You, being a modern child, have always known about machinery – but think of those men all those years ago. Some will have come to work in a factory from being on a farm Other men will have had little education but will have had to learn new skills.

So when you sit down to your eleven plus papers think of two things. The first is that what you do will be regarded by different people at different times as being either worthy of approval or condemnation. The second is that at some time your life you will have to learn new things. Sometimes you may not enjoy what you have to learn but in the end you have to do the work.

So tonight, before you go to bed, talk about Mr. Bailey and Mr. Smith. Mr. Bailey helped to buy your evening meal. Mr. Smith helped you to understand right and wrong – and the dignity of hard work.

Sweet dreams.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sweetening The Pill

I thought that it would be useful to include some information on the infectious diseases of childhood. We need to start with the diseases that are common to most children - before attempting to comment on the specific diseases of the eleven plus child.

Chicken Pox

We know there is a pimply rash, headache and a fever.
The incubation period is 11 to 23 days.
Chicken Pox is infectious until two days after new spots have stopped appearing.


Swollen glands in the neck and pain.
The incubation period is between 12 and 26 days - usually around 18 days.
Mumps is infectious from a few days before to until about one week after the onset of the swollen glands.


Slight headache, grumpy answers, no eye contact.
Duration Wednesdays in term time.
Wednesday is infectious unless a worthwhile family treat is suggested. By worthwhile we don’t mean Disneyland Paris - we are just talking about a takeaway or similar priced treat.

Verbal Reasoning

“Oh do I really have to do those questions. You know full well that I hate them. Anyway Dad can’t even do them.”
The incubation period lasts for a full three minutes.
Verbal reasoning is infectious only if the questions are hard.

Full Paper

Uneasiness, slight discomfort in the abdomen, a need for new glasses and a feeling of general fatigue.
The duration is usually for the four minutes preceding the paper, the fifty minutes of the paper and the dreaded minutes to do with the paper being marked and `gone over’.
A Full Paper is infectious only on a Sunday morning at around 8.30.

Parents have to be able to diagnose and treat all types of illness - be they real or psychosomatic. We all know the words: “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Spelling and the 11+

We have known for many years about shorthand. The Ancient Greeks and the Roman used shorthand. The first official inventor was Marcus Tiro in about 63 BC - and his system had 13000 symbols. Think of the outcry amongst parents of Eleven Plus children if they, and their children, had to learn so much new material.

The Pitman system is used in England - and this has 26 strokes with a range of dots and dashes to represent vowels and diphthongs. The problem with the Pitman system is that you have to be a reasonably good speller.

Today’s executives are expected to be able use their own computers and word processors. This is not to say that the day of the shorthand typist is over. The traditional picture of a shorthand typist is a woman invited into a room. With a hitch of her skirt she settles down to take dictated letters and reports. Those days, thank goodness, are gone for ever.

So how is this going to leave our eleven plus child who can not spell? Spelling checkers are only useful if you can spell at least part of the word.

Part of the answer is to help your child to collect and learn all spelling mistakes from school and home. Collect the spelling mistakes as they are made. Set up a system of learning the errors.

I worked today with a serious eleven year old. Her next goal is the SATs tests in May of this year. She could have felt satisfied after passing her eleven plus examinations - but she wanted to keep feeling stretched. Communicating in writing is a big part of the SATs tests. She passed her eleven plus examinations by working through multiple choice papers - just making a series of little pencil marks. She has, however, problems with sounds within words. She continues to need to work at her spelling.

If only she could be offered a secretary. This would take a lot of stress out of her life. She would not have to feel concerned if she could not spell a word - because she could employ someone to spell for her.

Why should she be able to employ someone? Quite simply she is very bright. Her spelling will continue to cause her concern in the years ahead. Naturally she will be given help with her spelling at different stages of her life. If spelling does prove to be a problem in the years ahead it is probable that she will simply invent her own system.

So in years to come, when your grandchildren are contemplating the eleven plus, you will be able to say confidently that you once read about the famous woman who developed a new system of shorthand.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Praise and 11+ Desire

How do you deliver your child to the eleven plus examination in full working order? You will have covered and revised as many mathematics topics as possible. The whole family will have enjoyed the challenge of the verbal and non verbal reasoning papers.

You still have the problem of making sure that you maintain a balance between your desire for an academically inspired child and a happy and contented child. These two positions are not mutually exclusive.

This is how one family have tried to inspire their daughter and grand daughter to take an established interest in cooking to a higher level..

Find a superb location high in the hills. Kit the child out with all the proper equipment.

Engage the services of a five star chef. (A family friend.) Start preparing a paella.

Cook the paella with the aid of helpful advice from the rest of the family.

Enjoy the praise and bask in reflected glory.

A little wine, some tasty bread - and forget the eleven plus for a few hours.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Reasoning Question

Some years ago I had the privilege of refereeing a rugby match at Hadlow College in Kent. This is top Agricultural College - with a range of courses from a Certificate in Land Based Studies - with no entry qualifications - to BA Hons and BSC Hons degrees.

The men who made up the rugby team were hardy types - they were used to being outside in all weathers. Some of the men were working the land and others with animals.

I left home to set out for the game on a cold afternoon - without a cloud in the sky. There was a pleasant and reserved welcome from the home captain. The opposition team arrived just after I had had a welcome cup of hot tea,

We ran out onto the field on time. There were about 70 spectators - after all this was a college event. Fifteen minutes into the game the conditions changed. The sky darkened - and about five minutes later snow began to fall.

In a very short time there was so much snow on the field that the white lines had disappeared. As the flurries of snow grew stronger the spectators drifted away. A scrum collapsed. A front row forward had his face pushed into a lump of snow. He rose from the ground, cold and wet, and used a string of colourful language to describe the conditions.

I blew the whistle for half time - even though we had only just reached quarter time. The linesmen had already left for the security and warmth of the common room. We never went out again. I do remember that a senior member of staff managed to develop a lethal alcoholic punch.

The students took it all in their stride. I am sure they simply chalked the events up as experience.

So when you dream of your child entering university, and you picture your most loved offspring curled up in a chair in the common room or snug in the library, think of the young men and women who would hate to carve a life in an office. Think of hardy young people who relish the idea of leaving their warm beds at five o’clock every day of the year to milk the cows and muck out the stables.

You are aiming at a grammar school. You want the best possible academic education for your child. But in the end your child will make up his or her mind.

You can study at Hadlow from two hours a week to three years full time.

The full time courses range over Animal Management, Agriculture and Machinery as well as Fisheries and Equine.

There are short courses in gardening, chainsaw operation, tractor maintenance and stable management.

So now you know, if you child does decide to do a course at Hadlow you can be confident that answers so some questions will come easily. After all it does take a special type of brain to be able to answer some reasoning questions. For example:

A Hadlow College student had to look after three horses called Jock, Windy and Sandy. The white horse was not called Jock. Jock was not brown. Sandy was not brown.

The brown horse was called ..

The white horse was called ..

The black horse was called …

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sixty Seconds to Exam Success

What can you do in 60 seconds?

You can mix yourself a tranquilliser smoothie. This is easy to invent. If you are mixing one early in the morning you will need vastly different ingredients to the `late at night slurp‘.

Write a list of five positive and nice things your child would like to hear. Give yourself extra points if you can think of something original.

Deliver a pep talk on the value of sustained learning. A pep talk is uplifting and is meant to be fun for all concerned. When you deliver your pep talk you try to have a laugh in your voice and a smile on your face. You are not discussing a sad and dismal subject. You may need to explain to the rest of the family that this is not a `telling off’.

Send a text message to your best friend inviting your friend to share a moment of your time. Simply text about your joy of being alive. After all when you work with your child towards a goal you are allowed to enjoy yourself.

Explain an 11+ question where you : ‘Express as a simple ratio 5 : 15 and 5a : 15a.

Spend 60 seconds talking about the ancient Babylonians. Babylonian children had a lot to learn as there was a different name for every number up to 60. The Babylonians invented sixty minutes and sixty seconds for measuring angles - and described a straight line as 180 degrees. We need these facts for eleven plus questions.

Ancient mathematicians and astronomers went on to use sixty minutes in an hour and then sixty seconds for a minute.

So when you say to your child, “This will only take a minute,” you are really travelling back in time. If your child forgets that there are 90 degrees in a right angle and there are 360 degrees in a circle just whisper that this has been known to mankind for around five thousand years.

Recipe for Success

Tomato juice
Half a small onion.

Whizz for 60 seconds.

Before breakfast add a touch of sauce.

Before bed add a glass of champagne. Sweet dreams!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The World Rugby Cup is growing closer.

Rugby referees from all over the world will be studying their `Laws of the Game”. I presume it means that American referees will have their Law Book with American spellings.

All the rugby referees have to referee the game in English. I wonder, however, in which language the South African referees learn their laws. Do they learn the Laws in English or Afrikaans?

There is one basic law for an offside at a ruck. The term `offside line’ means a line parallel to the goal lines through the hindmost foot of the players’ team. In Afrikaans this reads:

Losskum anders as by ‘n Lynstaan

Terwyl ‘n losskum plassvind, is ‘n speler onkant as hy:

a) van sy teenstanders se kant af daarby aansluit, of

b) voor die bal daarby aansluit.

Now the Football World cup takes place in South Africa in June of 2010. (The Football World Cup is not the same as the Rugby World cup.) This gives the football referees time to learn the rules of football in another language. I am not sure how often a football referee from Equador would have heard a game refereed in Afrikaans. There would need to be a lot of studying and learning of new terms in order to be able to referee football in Afrikaans in South Africa. This is why all games will be refereed in English. The universal language!

Much the same thing happens in our preparations for the eleven plus examinations. We have pleasant and intelligent children who have to learn a new language. Our children have to learn to use words like:


If your child at school has been exposed to these words as part of the National Curriculum, and also by being in the presence of a gifted teacher, then he or she will have an advantage. If these words are part of your vocabulary at home, and your child is used to hearing and using these words, then you will also gift a good advantage.

If, however, you need to make sure your child understands the words and can use them then effectively you will need to develop a program to help your child. You really do want to give your child the best possible advantage.

Look over a wide range of selection papers and pick out key words and terms. Copy the words into a list - and also take the time to write down the context in which the words are used. As the year develops keep adding to your vocabulary list.

When your child has to take centre stage in the eleven plus examinations, and beat off the challenge of other children, you will want to have provided the best possible tools.

At a pinch you could also offer the reward of a trip to South Africa fir the World Cup for doing as well as possible in the eleven plus examinations. I could come with the family to try to help to translate at key moments. Please give me a ring. I would love to go.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Heads or Tails

Sometime we feel the need to demonstrate a practical solution to a problem. When we were at school the key point in the term was seeing the dissecting tools laid out in a science lesson. Our heart beats would rise. Would we be offered a worm or a rat? What was in the teacher’s mind? The smell of formaldehyde would precede the white coated science teacher. He would walk out with a tray covered by a white cloth.

We would be given the `sermon’ for the need for respect for death, the importance of taking care with sharp instruments and the necessity of not flicking or throwing the more unsavoury parts of the dissection around.

Generations of children must be delighted that the barbaric practice was stopped some years ago. It is highly unlikely that any thing like this will ever be allowed to happen again. But teachers sometimes do feel the need to do practical exercise.

Take, for example, an exercise covering probability and graphs.

Each child in a group of 4 spins a coin 100 times and counts how many times it comes down `Tails”. This is repeated twice.

The question is, “Does the coin usually come down tails or heads?”

We drew attention to a question like this to a boy attending one of our lessons. He was offered the exercise just before the end of the lesson. We encouraged him to write down an estimate of his answer before he started on the practical exercise. We found him a little section of carpet so that the noise of the falling coin would not distract the other children. The whole exercise would hopefully take not more than a few minutes.

Twenty minutes after the lesson ended there was a little group of children and adults on their knees in the corner of the waiting room. They were flicking coins. This enterprising boy had enlisted not only his parents but others waiting for their children.

As teachers we have to careful of so many things. Suppose the group had been seen by a member of the public who reported us for running a gambling den? Suppose one of the granddads taking part slipped in a little side bet? Suppose, by chance, that tails had actually come up more often than heads?

The boy must have left his lesson bursting with excitement. His parents must have fallen in with his wishes. The other parents and grandparents must have been caught up in the natural curiosity of the child to solve a problem.

Thank goodness that we had not been teaching dissection in KS2 Science. We would have been in court by now.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Counting Blessings

“What mathematics books should we use? My son is writing his eleven plus examinations later this year. I know how to work the examples out but my son does not always understand my methods. Please help.”

Oh dear! We all have that problem. Some times it could be that your son does not understand the method you have used. On other occasions he simply does not understand how to approach the question. He may not have been taught the basics of the question. This is not a failure by the school – it is simply that the requirements of the eleven plus examinations are sometimes different to those of the school. The school may simply want to introduce the topic you are trying to cope with at a different time.

Let us take the scenario of a girl living in London and she is trying to win a place at a Grammar School. She and her mother decide to try the route out before pinning their hopes on entry to the new school.

She will need to walk 2 km to a bus stop and then travel by bus to the nearest train station. She will then go by train three times as far as she has already travelled. The total journey is 24km. How long is the bus journey?

Mum: “What are we trying to find?”

Girl: “The length of the bus journey.”

Mum: “Which unit will we need to use?”

Girl: “Oh Mum. It tells you in the question. We need to find the bus journey in kilometres.”

Mum: “How far is the total journey?”

Girl: “Well Mum, the total journey is 24 kilometres. We walk 2 kilometres and then go by bus and then train.”

Mum: “What can we call the length of the bus ride?”

Girl: “We call it “x”. Why do we always call numbers x?”

Mum: “So if you have already walked 2 km you will have travelled 2x km. The bus journey is three times as long as this so you will have travelled 3(x + 2).

The whole journey is then: x + 2 + 3(x+2) and this is equal to 24 km.

x + 2 + 3(x + 2) = 24 km
x + 2 + 3x + 6 = 24 (Brackets first.)
4x + 8 = 24
4x = 16
x = 4

So the bus journey is 4 km."

If this all seems a little far fetched with a girl having to walk, catch a bus and then a train before she reached the school of her choice – we actually discussed a very similar situation with a mother last week.

The lengths some parents will need to go to in order to try to help their children reach the school of their choice always astounds me. We checked the route on one of the journey planners. We are simply in awe of the determination of the mother and the ambition of her daughter.

So to return to the question, “What mathematics books do we need?” You are going to need far more than selection papers. Look at KS2 and KS3 study aid books. They will present the examples logically and clearly. Read through the examples together.

Occasionally think of the mother and daughter we mentioned earlier and be grateful for what you have.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Last Word

A dolphin in danger or distress will emit a short, sharp, high pitched whistle that acts as an SOS. Its companions will nose it to the surface if it needs air, and there are cases of dolphins being supported in this way for four days.

So dolphins have the ability to show compassion and feeling.

They also have large brains, around the size of man’s. The problem dolphins have is that they do not have vocal cords. This means that they can not talk. This is important because it means that they can not talk back! Dolphins have a vocabulary of at least thirty two sounds. These include clicks, whistle, barks, rasps, squeals and groans.

A ten year old human will make very similar sounds when they are encouraged to work through an eleven plus exercise when they would rather be doing something else.

Parent: “I know you want to watch the end of the film. I know there are only fifteen minutes left to go. I know you did extra yesterday, but don’t you think it is time for some extra work?”

Dolphin: “Bark, bark!”

11+ Candidate: “Oh Dad. Bark, bark! Oh please, Dad. I just want to see the end of the film.”

Parent: “We had an agreement. You said that you would do some work five days a week. You said that even if you had done something extra on one day you would still do some work every day. Now I have been patient with you. I have explained my position. Please would you reconsider and do some work?”

Dolphin: “Squeal and Groan.”

11+ Candidate: “Yes but. Squeal, squeal. Groan, groan.”

Parent: “We worked out yesterday what you were going to do today. You know exactly what to do. Please do not try my patience. You have done very well so far for the whole of this month. I have kept to my side of the agreement. I have never done any rasps and whistles. So please keep your side of the bargain.”

Dolphin: “Rasp, rasp, rasp!”

11+ Candidate: “Oh, all right then. I will just this time. But you have made me miss the end of the film. I think it is unfair. Rasp. Rasp. Any way, I am off to my room.”

Parent: “Thank you dear. I knew you would do your work in the end. You really are a very good rasp rasp. I am very proud of you. You really are growing up and doing your best.”

The dolphin, naturally a friendly and sympathetic friend of the whole world, really has the last word with a softly spoken and gently whispered, “Click, click, click!”

Friday, March 09, 2007


One of the problems some parents have is motivating their son to want to do well academically. Some ten and eleven year old boys appear to be a little unfocused at times. This is where a little work on bonding could help.

We know that the New Zealand rugby squad have been away on a three month training and development course. The emphasis, we believe, has been on physical and mental development. The World Cup is approaching and the New Zealand team want to be winners.

A huge and fearsome man lived on a farm about ten miles from where I went to school. He played rugby for the Springboks. He did not have access to the training facilities that are available to today’s rugby professionals. He trained by running across ploughed fields. He did not have training partners but he did maintain a large herd of donkeys. To practice his tackling he would tackle a donkey. We were all in awe of this mountain of a man. Every year our first rugby team were taken to his farm to watch his incredibly demanding and unusual training schedule.

I few years ago I had the privilege of taking a three week trip on the `Lord Nelson’. This is a ship designed to allow people with disabilities to enjoy the challenge of the sea. It was an incredible experience to share the excitement of people in wheelchairs being hauled up the mast. A trip like that, where the able bodied have to share the emotions and lives of the less physically able, is illuminating.

So how then does this leave our ten year old boy? Sending him away on a three month `toughening’ course is not all that attractive. (I bet, however, at times it is!) Learning to tackle donkeys is equally repulsive.

But thinking about others – learning to care and share - might be the answer. So develop a pragmatic `Five Step’ routine:

Step One: Clean the interior of the family car on a regular basis.

Step Two: Organise at least two cups of tea a day.

Step Three: Pick up all clothes - without being asked.

Step Four: Vow to do at least fifteen minutes a day on papers – without being reminded.

Step Five: Take a weekly apple to the teacher at school to show appreciation.

As a parent rejoice in your kind and thoughtful child.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Problem Solving

Sometimes we are going to meet questions that exercise our minds. We can but hope that similar questions will not be asked in the real eleven plus examinations.

Seven years ago a man was three times as old as his son was then. The father is 37 years old. How old is the son?

Ask your child, “What are you trying to find?”

Answer: “The age of the son.”

“What unit of time do you need?”

Answer: “Years.”

“Do you know any facts?”

Answer: “Yes, we know that the father is 37 years old now.”

“Do you know any more information?”

Answer: “Well the question did say that the seven years ago the father was three times as old as his son was then.”

We now come to your completely logical solution. This will astound your child. Your partner will look at you completely differently from now on. You will have proved to the world your intelligence and aptitude. (And so on and so forth!)

“Let the “x” years be the son’s age now.

Seven years ago he was (x – 7) years old.

Seven years ago his father was three times as old as this.

So we need 3(x – 7)

So now his father is 3(x – 7) + 7 years old.

So now we back in the realm of easy eleven plus work.

3(x – 7) + 7 = 37
3x – 21 + 7 = 37
3x – 14 = 37
3x = 51
x = 17

So the son must be 17 years old!

If your can apply this sort of reasoning to the more complicated eleven plus questions then the whole family will sleep easier at night.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Reading Together

One of the problems with encouraging your child to read a book is that you may feel the need to read the book yourself. How can you entertain a stimulating discussion with your child if you know nothing about the book?

“Well dear, did you enjoy it?”


“Which part did you find the most interesting?"

“The middle.”

It would be so much easier if you were able to discuss the author’s interests – and reference your discussion to other similar books. Many years ago an author called Enid Blyton developed the reading habits of thousands of children. She had several series of books. Once you had read one then everything was predictable in the others.

If you were to start reading the same book at the same time as your child you could discuss what could happen next in the story. You could talk about the style of writing and the development of the characters.

But what happens if you just hate the type of book your child enjoys? If you both enjoy fast moving adventure stories then you would share common interests. What on earth are you going to talk about if your child simply loves science fiction – and you can not stand that type of book? Can you force yourself to read a whole book just to be able to take an interest in what your child is reading?

Of course you can look at the cover, page through some illustrations and read the `blurb’ on the cover. This will give you some insight. What do you do if you feel you have to censor the book without reading it? Of course contemporary children’s books from reputable publishers should be completely acceptable. You know too that classic children’s literature may appeal to some children – and this too will have been looked at closely by generations of parents. You should also be able to rely on good quality non fiction books.

Your librarian will be able to give you and your child advice – and should take an interest in your dilemma. The big book shops will all have well stocked children’s sections. Some children may enjoy plays – others poetry. You may find that the only thing your child will read is a specialist magazine.

This is all very well – but how can you review and discuss a book with your child if you have not read the same material? You know the title and the author. You won’t, however, know the favourite character or the best part. If I knew how to solve this problem I would try to present a solution – but nothings springs to mind.

“Mum, did you enjoy the book?”

“Oh yes!”

“What was the best part?”

“I’m not sure. What do you think?”

“Oh Mum. You never did read it. Did You?"

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Emergency Measures

We live down in Kent. We often see boys with an earring in a pierced ear. The boys are never quite certain if they are being told the truth when they are told about the different use sailors make of earrings.

I like to explain to the boys how the influence of the River Thames with all the docks and ships and the ship building along the River Medway drew men and boys to the sea. The story goes that the `Men of Kent’ wore an earring so that if they fell from the top of the mast and died their shipmates would have enough money to bury them at sea. If a sailor was killed in a foreign port then the earring would also provide enough money to cover their burial.

Sailors also used to have a tattoo for more than decoration. Men have had tattoos since early history. Some tattoos are to make the man more warlike. Others are for decoration – and some for protection.

Some sailors used to believe that if they had a tattoo across their back the tattoo would save them from being flogged. I am not sure how effective those tattoos were because surely if a sailor had done something wrong they would still be punished. Naturally most sailors thought about sharks at one time or another. The remedy was to have a cross tattooed onto the soles of their feet to save them from sharks. I suppose we need to wonder about how the sharks felt as they saw a pair of twinkling feet ahead of them in the water.

This brings us to the lengths some parents will need to go to in order to ensure good luck and careful protection. There are tattoo parlours all over the country. If there was enough parent power we could build a case a series of eleven plus tattoos.

. the watch – to remind boys to think about time

. the book – to remind your child to read the question – and then read the question again

. the scales – so that your son remembers to weigh up different alternatives

. the running machine – to remind your son to keep on exercising

. the smiling face – to ward off any cross words

. the £50 note – to remind you to keep paying pocket money

With these tattoos we won’t need mermaids or dragons. Your son will be able to remain pure of mind and spirit.

There is, however, one ring that you will need to retain. That is the ring through the nose. You use this ring to tie a cord through and then to drag your son to his desk to work. You may only need to use this nose ring once or twice a year – but it is there for any emergencies.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Two Sundays ago we went for a walk in Shorne Wood Country Park. The park, in Kent, has recently opened a new Visitors Centre. The car parks have been made more accessible and it is now a remarkably pleasant place to visit.

There are well signposted walks through the park along with a large fishing area. As we walked around the lake we saw fathers and sons fishing – as a well as a scattering of enthusiasts on their own. In a little bay we came across a family of about eleven people. I think there were eleven because there was so much movement that it was difficult to count.

This was three generations of the same family. Naturally Grandfather and Dad had the top gear. They were dressed in their leggings and suits. The family stretched over two platforms with fishing chairs, three `bivvies’ and countless bags of gear.

There were six rods in the water. All the rods had alarms. This total investment in the sport of fishing showed a lifetime of achievement and an incredible interest in fishing.

Sitting, snug in a large fishing chair beside one of the rods was a nine year old girl. Naturally she wore a bright outfit. The large bowl of wriggling worms was right beside her. Every now and then one of the family walked across and threw a handful of bait into the water. She never looked up. Her head was buried in a book. Suddenly we saw and heard her alarm go off as the float dipped.

Grandfather ran across and shook her arm. She looked up into his face – but returned to her book. She never glanced at the rod or the line. Grandfather told her that there was a fish on her line. She nodded but continued reading. I think that this was the first bite anyone had had that day. The girl’s mother ran over and shook her daughter’s arm and implored her to catch the fish. The girl shook her head and continued reading. One of the brothers reeled the line in while another brother stood on the edge of the water with a rather large net in his hands.

We were all sure it was a fish. And the girl read on.

Parents who have children who love reading will recognise how sometimes the whole world is reduced to words on a page. Parents who have children who never read can only hope that one day their child will find something that interests and excites them. We know that some adults are readers and other never `have time’ to pick up a book. Some adults, for example, only read on holiday. Some children just hate reading and would rather do almost anything than settle comfortably with a book.

It does seem likely that children who love reading and like words and books will do better on verbal reasoning exercises. If your child does not like reading then you have a problem.

What about organising a fishing day? Beside every chair place a pile of fishing magazines, books and articles on how to catch fish. Advise all adults to withdraw fifteen feet from the fishing area. Your child will then have to learn to fish from the printed word. I wonder if this would stimulate a desire to pick up a book and read? You can only try.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Taking Part

I used to teach a boy called Graham Bowker. Graham was slightly larger than most of the other children in the class. A lot of other children could read better than Graham. He also found most of mathematics very difficult.

Graham was not very good at games. He had a rather strange way of running. He could run but the gait was rather uncoordinated. His feet sort of turned out and his arms waved all over the place.

Every one liked Graham. His smile was friendly and he would never say any thing offensive. Some of the little girls in his class used to mother him. They would check that he had eaten his midmorning sandwiches. When we changed after games some of the other boys would even help him tie his shoes because he found `left over right, and under’ rather hard to do.

The school had 680 children from Years 3 - 6. Every single child in the school took part on sports day. Every child did two events. The timing was immaculate.

Graham had always come last in every event. He had never won a prize. One of the events he was involved in was the sack race.

We bought Graham his own sack. We showed him how to stick his feet into the corners and run on his toes. This `training’ was started just over three months before sports day. Graham was expected to walk and then run every single afternoon in his sack. Of his own accord he started using his sack at break time.

At first there were jeers and laughter - but Graham kept smiling and kept `training’ Other children wanted to be able to use sacks during play time - but it was explained to them that as it was Graham’s sack he was the only child allowed to use a sack in play time.

Naturally there were several `pre sports day simulations‘. We ran the practice times at exactly the same day of day as the proper sports day. At any given time there were usually three events taking place simultaneously. All the children and all the teachers were aware of the effort Graham had put into the sack race.

On sports day, without any collusion, and simply by chance the whole busy field stopped to watch Graham in his race.

The children had to lie on their sacks and then jump in and run. Graham knew how to put his feet into the corners. He could also run the course without falling over. Well, I will leave it to you to guess what happened.

He didn’t get the first prize. The second prize was also beyond his capability. He did, however, win the third prize.

Every child in the school was given a certificate on the day of attendance. The winners were also given certificates.

Every single child and parent in the school stood and cheered when Graham stepped up for his third prize.

I wonder what happened to Graham. This was many years ago in another country.

You may have some dark moments of worry and concern as the eleven plus examinations come closer. All you can do is provide the tools and the equipment your child will need. A whole lot of the effort in passing the eleven plus is up to your child. He or she has to make a big effort too. Somehow, however laid back your child is, he or she has to do the work. If winning is coming third - good luck to all the Graham’s of this world.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Something has eaten our fish!

I remember the name Tommy Bailey with great pleasure. Many years ago he was in my class at school. The class had a great debate lasting well over a week and decided that they wanted a fish tank.

The tank arrived in due course. All the children then poured over books on tropical fish. We raided the local library and borrowed every book on tropical fish the librarians would allow out.

Orders were placed in local pet shops and one by one the fish arrived. Every child had the opportunity of bringing his or her own fish.

The tank looked wonderful. Children came from other classes. Even the teachers stooped over the tank and made encouraging noises. It was a great success.

Little Tommy was a border. He lived on a farm many miles away. He did not have the opportunity of going to the shops to buy a fish – so he took the matter into his own hands.

One Sunday evening he rushed up to me and asked for the key to the classroom. I was the teacher on duty in the hostel and could see our classroom from the veranda we were standing on. Tommy grabbed the key and ran over the field to the classroom. A few seconds later he locked the door and returned the key to me. The bell for the evening meal rang a few minutes later and we all went in for our food.

I walked across to school the following morning – and saw a group of children crying at the door. The children rushed up to me.

They all yelled at once: “There is a big fish that has eaten all our fish!”

“Something has eaten our fish!”

In the bottom of the tank lay a very large fish. Tommy had caught the fish in the dam on his farm. He had brought the fish to school in a plastic bag. This big bloated fish had simply eaten over thirty tropical fish.

Tommy arrived a little later. It took some time to calm the children down. Little Tommy grew quieter and quieter. We said a few prayers for the fish – because I had provided one too.

After break the children discussed the tank and the fish. The talking revolved around the feasibility of buying replacement fish or abandoning the project. Almost every child wanted the `big bad fish’ to pay.

The class decided to abandon the fish element of the tank. They appointed Tommy to look for lizards.

The tank lay empty for three weeks. Then one Sunday evening Tommy arrived at my hostel door clutching a paper bag and asked for the key to the classroom.

He was in the classroom very early on Monday morning. All was forgiven – but not forgotten.

One of the girls pointed out very strongly that there was a big difference between watching three lizards and over thirty brightly coloured fish.

The whole point behind this story is that it is very important to listen to not only what children are saying – but what they really mean. If on that Sunday evening I had asked Tommy why he wanted access to the fish tank we may have had a different story. Tommy, you see, was the boy appointed by the class to feed the fish every Sunday evening. So I was accustomed to giving him the key on Sunday evenings.

So for all the new parents setting off on the eleven plus journey – every now and then question your child’s motives – and don’t take too much for granted.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Thinking About You

“I would like to say to this House, as I have said to those who have joined this Government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Little did Churchill know that his words would be echoed by parents all over the country as they embarked on the quest of the eleven plus.

We started getting eleven plus results in Kent yesterday afternoon – an afternoon post had been delivered.

The joy and the excitement in the voices! The realisation that all the hard work had brought success!

Quite simply, congratulations to all those who have passed.

Commiserations to all those who have not gained their first choice school.

Naturally we will do all we can to help.

In days gone by news was often delivered by telegram. The telegram my grand parents received about the death of Uncle George, back in 1942, was displayed beside his photograph and medals.

In today’s world some families have even been able to access their eleven plus results on line. They did not have to wait for the post.

There is no doubt that technology has changed our lives. Today we send messages of congratulations through emails or text messages. Some of us use Skype to communicate. Blogs are also used now to convey our excitement and pleasure. I wonder how many of us will sit down to write an actual letter. I should imagine that some children will even be given congratulatory cards.

So, on behalf of all of us involved in the eleven plus, we hope that every thing works out in the end. For some families, however, the blood, toil, sweat and tears is just starting again. You too are very much in our thoughts.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Putting up a Fight

Today may be a good day to try to find a joke book. Humour is often used to release tension. When the family sit together this evening, with the sound on the television thankfully turned off, try a few jokes. There are few eleven year olds who would be able to resist a corny joke like:

Why can’t a steam engine sit down?
Because it has a tender behind.

Doctor, doctor, every time I drink a cup of tea I get a sharp pain in my nose.
Have you tried taking the spoon out of the cup?

I chatted to a mother yesterday who explained that her daughter’s school last year had only managed six eleven passes out of just on sixty children. The mum went on to say that she really wanted her daughter to be one of the six next year. Her daughter, completely inconsequentially, made a remark about some types of non verbal reasoning questions being hard.

Questions in eleven plus examinations are tested before they are included in a formal eleven plus test. Naturally, when questions are written, there must be some questions that are efficient – and some that are inefficient. If the right answer is selected more often than is expected on a random basis the question has to be excluded from the test. In eleven plus examinations questions do not have to be designed to contribute towards selecting a wide range of ability. Eleven plus questions can focus on trying to select children for grammar school. To find this information a large sample of children is tested – and the actual eleven plus test is made up of questions that have passed the test.

Naturally an eleven plus test would not try to include questions that every one would get right. In the same way there will be no questions that no one can solve.

So while your mind is swirling around while you are waiting for the results tomorrow – you can’t use the argument that the test was unfair. The items in the test will have been tested ahead of the examination.

You can’t blame illness or nerves without proof from your doctor or a relevant professional.

You can’t blame the school for a low number of children passing the examination. Your child’s school will have done the best they can.

All you can do is think positively. If your child has passed – you need a big party. If your child has not gained the school of your choice – you need a big party. The last thing you want to do at this stage is allow your child to feel a failure.

As a parent too you must not feel a failure if everything has not gone to plan. It is a very hard lesson for a ten year old – but an even harder time for some parents. You would not have entered your child for the examination if you had not thought that your child would have a chance.

Try to be positive. Call for some of the `family favourite’ jokes. Ask grandfather to chat to your child and tell a couple of jokes that usually make all the family groan and smile.

But if you feel that your child had suffered an injustice – then fight at hard as you can. You owe that yourself.