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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Home Safely

Sheena brought us all the gear to blow up balloons today. A box of balloons with an Etc label, a large helium canister and detailed instructions on how to release the helium into the balloon.

It rained today. And it rained. Very few people wandered around the show. This was the Danson Show in Bexleyheath, Kent.

We gave most early balloons to little ones. The small children had them tied to their arms and to their prams. There were lots of smiles and thank yous. Occasionally there was a loud shout and people pointed to the sky. The balloons had floated away. We were revisited on three occasions by families with tearful children who wanted another balloon.

There were big smiles from one mother and her son. She’d popped in to say thank you. Her son you, see was in the top 180 children in Bexley. This authority published the names of the top 180 children. This makes for very proud parents and children. Mum left with a balloon and a hug.

Around 5.30, as the show was starting to settle for the evening, a laughing, smiling group of about nine youngsters arrived at our stand. Two girls, around thirteen, smiled and asked for two balloons. On of the boys tore a balloon from the display on the stand, pulled the valve out, and started sniffing the helium in the balloon.

We asked the children to leave and explained that it was not a good idea to sniff helium under any circumstances. One boy, a good head and shoulders above the other children, said that he wanted a balloon for his little brother. The other children stopped drifting away and came back to listen.

I told him that I did not want to give him a balloon for his brother and that I would prefer if he, and his friends, left. He then told me that I was not listening and that he wanted a balloon for his brother. The other children stopped smiling and laughing and gathered around – and crept closer and closer.

He was then told, in my best teacher’s voice, to leave immediately and that neither he nor his brother was to have a balloon.

The mood had changed in seconds from smiles to attempted intimidation. The big boy, around the thirteen year old mark, did not want to back down in front of his friends. We did not want provide him with any helium.

We all know that sniffing helium makes the voice go funny. It may be that this group of pleasant looking children were after no more than a bit of fun, nevertheless rapid sniffing of helium from a balloon can, in a very few cases, cause problems.

But what was interesting was the way the mood of the group changed from laughter to attempted intimidation in seconds. Their mood changed yet again as I started on the `inhalant drug lecture’. The group dispersed and ran off in high spirits – they lost their scowls and `attitude’ within two strides.

I wrote yesterday about how sorry I felt for the family of the boy who had been stabbed in Beckenham.

Today’s youngsters were no more than a group of high spirited children. In spite of their posturing there was very little real menace. I just hope that they got home safely.

Friday, June 29, 2007

So Sad.

I drove to our centre in Beckenham from Gravesend this afternoon. I had been aware of the deaths of young people over the past few days – but had no idea where the killings had taken place.

I came around a corner and saw a number of people standing in front of a bank of flowers. I realised at once why the flowers and people were there. To my horror a few yards further on there was another bank of flowers.

Another poor child.

I do not know much about what happened and what triggered the violence but my heart goes out to the youngster involved. How sad.

I feel very sorry for the parents and relatives too. To have a loved one taken away must be devastating.

I also feel for the teachers and head teacher of the school involved.

I mentioned the flowers to one of our pupils. He told me that he was at school with one of the boys. He said that he had heard that the fight was about attending a party. Some boys had been refused admission to a party – and had tried to gatecrash the event.

I just hope all the families of our communities are kept safe from violence of this kind.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Eleven Plus Rumours

The way rumours are sweeping the eleven plus world these days is alarming. We had a number of calls yesterday from parents who wanted to see if we could help their child towards the eleven plus. They had heard about the new program `Eleven Plus Space’.

The European Space Agency, you see, is seeking volunteers for a simulated trip to Mars. The chosen children will be isolated in a large chamber. Naturally beds, desks and other facilities will be provided at great expense. The children just won’t have much room to move around.

The benefits of `Eleven Plus Space’ are numerous. First of all there is no T.V. This means that the children have to either work on their eleven plus papers or they have to read. Naturally the children will be able to broadcast messages to their parents and tutors but they just won’t be able to watch any of their favourite T.V. shows.

The next important element of `Eleven Plus Space’ is that all of the books are uplifting in nature. The books have been specially chosen by a team of eminent eleven plus specialists. Many of the books will have a strong moral message: “Success comes through hard work” will become a mantra for the children during their period if isolation and incarceration.

All food will be carefully selected to try to ensure that the children have the best possible opportunity of living healthily. To reassure the mothers of prospective candidates the children are offered lots of greens and vegetables. The children are only allowed red meat once a week – and even then the potions sizes are carefully controlled.

Sleep is carefully regulated too. Children are not allowed to nap during the day. They have to keep bright and alive until bed time. Researchers have found that taking naps can reduce intelligence.

Naturally every child will have to follow a carefully prepared program of studies while the simulated flight takes place. Every free down load paper, every epaper, every single eleven plus publisher will represented. The one relieving factor for the children is that they will be able to alternate between doing traditional papers and multiple choice papers. This should help the boredom and test fatigue.

At this stage parents must be asking why European Community money is involved. It is simple. A Professor has found that children from selected Independent schools have a better chance of winning places in grammar school. The research also found out that the more parents paid tutors for lessons the better the chance. These two facts were brought before the attention of a commissioner of the European Union who decreed that a pilot study should be set up to investigate the effects of concentrated study on children.

Children from five other European countries will be included in the pilot study to ensure that one nation is not favoured over another. Translators from all over Europe are rubbing their hands at the idea of all those papers being translated.

And now to the entry requirements.

To wine one of the coveted places all children have to do is to complete the following statement:

“I want to pass my Eleven Plus …….. “

Judging is done by a panel drawn from all the represented countries. Late entries are not allowed. Children are only allowed to write three entries – and have to place their entries in order of importance.

Oh, one final requirement. Children will have to prove that they will be able to do complex calculations while they are weightless. Constant trips to amusement parks are both essential and recommended. Parents can apply to the European Community for a `Pre Eleven Plus Space’ grant. Details of this special offer are in all the major supermarkets.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Eleven Plus Children Fingerprinted!

The need for `end point’ security is growing within the narrow world of the eleven plus. It has become a growing concern to more and more parents that stories about `proxy’ children winning places for less able candidates are true. Well off parents are paying for look alike eleven plus children. The actual transaction is simple.

The `proxy’ child submits a photo and a c.v. to the central website `’. Parents upload their child’s particulars to the site including a photo and their own child’s c.v.

Key elements on both c.v.’s are SATs results from previous years. A minimum requirement of a `proxy’ child is to have passed Level 2 in Reception, Level 3 in Year 1, Level 4 in Year 2 and Level 5 in Year 3. This will have left the proxy pupil time to do a certified one thousand two hundred and thirty four 11+ papers with an average of over 92%.

The `’ software looks first of all for gender. It matches girls to girls and boys to boys. The next match is made on size. If a six foot eight `proxy’ candidate wandered into an eleven plus examination then suspicions would be raised. The computer then looks for other physical similarities including colour of eyes.

Once the match has been made all parents have to do is to supply the time and day of the examination. The computer will know what the eleven plus syllabus is and will brief the `proxy’ student. The parent hands over a large amount of money. Job done. No stress. Money back guarantee. Place in a Grammar School a cinch.

Thankfully Local Authorities are aware of this new trend. Eleven plus children in the week before the examination are fitted with a SECURE ID holder on their belts. This uses an electronic token which changes the pin every thirty seconds. Only children wearing the special belt are allowed into the eleven plus examination rooms. (The belts change place on ebay for around three thousand pounds. Look for eleven plus security.)

Authorities have one further use of technology. Naturally they use finger print technology. Every Eleven Plus examination room will have a finger print reader just inside the door. This is an important back up because some children may forget their belts or even send them through the wash.

So if your child arrives at an eleven plus examining centre this year and finger print technology is not in place then make sure you register an official complaint to the `Eleven Plus Ombudsman’.

We heard that good drivers can charge around five hundred pounds to take a driving test. To arrange for a `proxy’ eleven plus child is a lot more than that! You certainly don’t want to miss out!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Should we try for the eleven plus?

We are often asked the question: “How ready is my child to pass the eleven plus?”

Well we can draw from far more than test results or the school’s assessment. We can draw on an every day happening in the home.

The mail comes in at breakfast time. The obvious circulars are easy to spot. The recycling bin gets a workout. Bills are naturally scanned very quickly to be dealt with later on as are the mountains of correspondence from the bank and credit card companies. Personal letters, birthday cards could all flow in on a particular day. For one reason or another you have no time to sort off the paper work out as it comes in. You may land up with a conscious decision to leave everything that is not urgent until it suits you – rather than when mail has arrived.

You now come to Sunday afternoon. You have a huge pile – at least six inches high - of unsorted paper work stuck tidily in a drawer.

You hand the job of sorting to your ten year old child and explain that he or she has just twenty minutes to do the job. As well asking for the pile to be sorted you demand that there is system to prioritise the items that you need to act on.

This will give you a picture of how well your child will be able to cope. As the mail is jumbled you will be able to see how you child will cope. Will he or she sort the mail into neat common piles? Will all the bills be placed in one pile? Are any letters sorted into another? Does your child simply throw away unwanted circulars or place them into a pile so that you can go though them to see if anything catches your attention?

Halfway through the exercise start organising tension in the room where all the work is being done. Make sure the dog starts eating the curtains so that you can yell at the dog and inject some noise and disruption. Does your child join in the condemnation of the dog or just keep working steadily?

Ask a favourite aunt or family friend to telephone just after the dog has been ejected and invite your child for trip to the cinema. You child will need to leave the sorting task and prepare to go out. Does your child dump everything and rush off to prepare for a visit or does he or she explain that a visit to the cinema is out because there is work to be done?

When the work has been completed ask for a five point written assessment of the problem of mail. Ask too for verbal feedback on the nature and scope of the problem. In the middle of the feedback remind your child that the cat has not been fed – and that there had been a promise that the cat would be fed every day.

We can see where this is leading. To do well in grammar school you must hope that your child has the ability to follow instructions. You child must be able to cope with conflicting instructions from a variety of sources.

It is essential that noise, confusion and disorder are coped with calmly. There is a lot of homework and extra study coming up at the grammar school. Your child must be able to focus on the task in hand.

Decisions have to make. Your child will at times have to make unpopular choices. Work or play? Study or chill? Some decision you will be able to help your child with. Other decisions will simply have to be made by your child.

The grammar school will expect your child to be able to prioritise assignments. This is all part of growing up.

If you can feel that you and your child can cope with at least some of this mayhem then do not hesitate - just go for it. Go for the eleven plus!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Positive Eleven Plus Thoughts

One aim when working with your child towards the eleven plus is to try to help your child to feel better about him or her self. You want your child to have a positive self image and feel as good and as happy as you can. When you tell your child: “Of course you will pass,” you could be putting unnecessary pressure on your child. This extra pressure in turn could turn to stress.

Make sure that you get your proper sleep every night. If you have a heavy workload it will not do your children much good if you are tired and irritable. In the same way try to help your child to have a much regular sleep as possible. Remember that sleep deprivation is used to try to break suspects down – so don’t allow yourself, or your child, to fall victim to lack of sleep.

Another thing is try to have at least some time in the week where neither you nor your child mention the words eleven plus and examination. If your child has a sensible study schedule you will have built breaks into the system. You will also have built time for yourself. We have seen situations where parents put themselves under a lot of pressure and stop thinking about them selves.

If you set out to build an `out of school’ lifestyle for your child around that revolves around work, exercise and hobbies then try to take your own advice. This is not a plea for every aspiring eleven plus mother to take up marathon running, but is a suggestion that you try to build a life for yourself where you do not sacrifice yourself for your children. We met a mum last year who was taking the whole family to Disney Land, in America, for a month. She mapped out eleven plus work for her son to do every day – Jet Lag days included. She took papers, answer books and exercises. Every day before the family went to the park she sat with her son doing papers. A truly inspiring mother. Poor child!

Some parents start putting extra pressure on them selves and their children as the examinations approach. They appear to be demanding extra papers and extra work. We had a mother last year you did a NFER mathematics paper with her son – and the poor boy only reached 58% on the paper. In the very next lesson she wanted us to go over at least twenty topics. The actual examination was still around eight weeks away – and it was his first timed NFER paper – but the mum wanted results – and she wanted them NOW!

For the duration of the eleven plus be very careful with any friends who send out negative vibes. You don’t need negative thoughts in your head that you want transfer to your child. Think about some positive words you could employ.

Use words like: “Let us see what we can do together.”

Try not to use the words: “I told you how to do that last week. How will you every pass your examination if keep making mistakes like that?”

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Eleven Plus Blogs

I should imagine that that some of you have children who are already writing their personal eleven plus blogs. If your child is still thinking about writing a blog then you may care to help with a little background to blogging.

A blog is a website that has software that enables almost anyone to make frequent updates. The content is usually presented in date order.

A key word in blogging is blogapathy – because this is when you, or your child, become apathetic about posting to a blog.

Another important term is blogstipation – because this blog writers bloc. Sometimes it is caused by not being able to find something to talk about – and sometimes blogstipation is caused by too much blogging.

So with this as background we can now start developing our own blog language and vocabulary.

Top of the list must be `blogseleven’. This is an accumulation of bogs about the eleven plus. Some blogseleven will be serious, others will flow from the heart and others will be drawn from the depths of despair.

A `blogverb’ is the ability to think up new ways to test verbal reasoning. This is essential. Imagine another fifty years of measuring ability by virtue of the skill in finding two words that are in the wrong order: “Some pointless reasoning questions seem verbal.”

A `blognon’ is a blog where there are no words. There are just pictures, patterns and lots of shapes to rotate and transform. Some ten years old can cope with a blognon quicker that his or her parents.

Finally we meet the term `blogversation’. This is when parents forget to have any conversation with their eleven plus child other than reminding them about the importance of the eleven plus. “The honour of the family is in your hands.”

If you do `get into your blog’ you are very welcome to link to this site. To have a blog link is one of the most important things that can happen in the life of a blogger. If you want your children to have happy lives try to find them some links.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Success for Children

We went to Rochester Castle to day.

I wonder how many of our eleven plus children will have the ability and opportunity to be able to create and build a castle one day?

The whole history of the castle is that of fighting off attackers, being rebuilt and of religion and wars.

Please email me with what jobs you would like your children to do.

This could make interesting reading.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Eleven Plus Entrepreneur

So what are you going to do now? You have identified, yet again, in your own mind that you have an exceptionally bright child. You know that in a few years time your child will be going to university. You know that is going to cost `lots of money’. How are you going to cope?

It is quite simple you are going to work hard to ensure that you turn your child into a budding entrepreneur. You will need a business plan. You will need an idea or a product. You need to raise around £30 000.00, (You may need an inflation blanket – so probably trying to raise £45 000.00 may be more helpful.

The big problem for you and your child is that what ever your product or idea you will need a market. How much will you charge? How many do you need? Will you try to sell a lot very quickly so that you and your child will be able to retire from raising money?

Most of all you need a team.

You need an M.D. with vision and drive -preferably one with a Harvard MBA – but failing that a warm loving person.

You need a Finance Director with links to the city. You may need to raise lots of cash very quickly. Some grandparents, however, are able to act as guarantors for collateral. This keeps it neatly in the family. In any event the Finance Director should help you to build your business plan.

You will need a Production Manager. On some day your production manager will be doing no more than producing meals – but on other days the production manager will play a vital role.

The one person all entrepreneurs are likely to rate very strongly is the cleaning services. This role will involve washing clothes, cleaning floors and dusting. `Cleaning Services’ are expected to act 24 hours a day. (A bit like the staff at a big airport.)

Because your entrepreneur will be under age for driving you must build in a chauffeur. The chauffeur will be expected to work all the hours of the day – from school trips and sporting event to social activities like parties.

So as you work with your child on eleven plus papers at home think of all the different roles you have had to play to be a mum or a dad. Think about what academic success has done for you and your family. Think about the drive and ambition you have had to display to get you and your child to where you are today.

All you can hope is that when you are old and infirm your eleven plus child, now a successful man or a woman, will be able to keep you in some degree of comfort. Pray too that they will not nag you as much as you are nagging your child at the moment.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Eleven Plus Help - Don't Panic

There are thousands of cookery books. We have hundreds of cookery books. My wife, Susan, enjoys the challenge of cooking sumptuous meals.

We have a copy of the 1942 “Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book.” There are 2600 recipes. We have eaten on some of them. The method that is used is to have a basic recipe and then use your basic knowledge with simple variations. The idea is that if you know and can cook one recipe then you can make a number of easy changes or substitutions.

The book, naturally, goes into service with and without a maid, proper arrangement of silver and centrepieces for Christmas and other occasions. The Food Editor ends her introduction with the words: “Let it be your friend. It will see you through the unending rounds of three meals a day.”

These words must be music to any busy mother’s day. Where to get the car washed. How can you as a mum find time get the children to school, lessons, swimming, dance and friends? Washing machine liquid, bread, mild cheese, cannelloni – the lists are endless. The days are busy.

Compare this with the opening remarks of a book called: Cooking for Blokes (ISBN 0-7515-1563-9) This introduction starts with the words: “The First Rule of this book is don’t panic.”

The introduction goes on to tell us that men do not need to know anything about cooking to be able to use the book. “Millions of people have been doing it for years and most have survived.”

So in these two books we have all the ingredients of the recipe for preparing a child for the eleven plus examinations.

You have 2600 opportunities to help your child – even if it is simple hug.

Once you have some basic knowledge, use it to be able to solve a multitude of variations.

If you do have a maid then use her to help you to prepare.

If you do have to cook three meals a day – day after day – then build in time for yourself.

If you have a partner, then be confident and share the problem.

Remember too that teachers have been preparing millions of children for examinations for hundreds of years. You can ask for help and advice.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Eleven Plus Effort

There are two little beaches on either side of the St Andrews Arts Centre on the River Thames in Gravesend.

Even though men and women gave up smoking clay pipes many years ago it is still possible to pick up sections of the stems of the pipes. The tides and the rise and fall of the river – along with the movement between the stones and sand of the little beaches - have rubbed the stems smooth and shiny. We have collected a wide variety of stems over the years – and one day will think of something to do with them.

All those years ago the beach would have been covered with little discarded clay pipe stems – from the tides, passers by and ships going up and down the river.

The building was originally a tavern but then became a school for poor children. I should imagine that facilities were limited and books and paper much in demand. One to one or small group tuition was the preserve of the very rich.

Think of the opportunity available to our eleven plus children today. Our children have access to eleven plus books and papers. The children can ask their teachers at school, pick up the telephone and phone a friend, look answers up on the internet and refer to their parents or tutors.

Our libraries are readily available with knowledgeable and well trained staff to try to help to answer every question.

One hundred and sixty years ago, well before the eleven plus, there will have been able children with a thirst for education. These children will have seen education as a way out of poverty and lack of opportunity.

So the next time you detect an element of dissatisfaction with the `lot of an eleven plus child’ take the opportunity of reminding your child of the effort that bright children one hundred and sixty years ago had to make to learn.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

11 Plus Needs

There is a small group of men and women at this very moment who are feeling very smug. They are the chief executives of the toy manufacturers who have just set the Christmas production targets. They are feeling happy and secure because they hope that the marketing and promotion elements will have created such a demand for their products that they will be able to reach all sales targets.

We know that there are a select few `must have’ Christmas presents. We know that the factories will not produce enough to be able to satisfy the demand. We know that the toy buyers will not have placed enough orders. We know that warehouses will not be stocked with sufficient toys to be able to satisfy the needs of all the children.

Parents can not always be quite sure what makes a one toy into a dead cert for a top Christmas ratings. We know the parents who buy toys in the January sales for next Christmas are likely to be able to disappoint their children in the most spectacular fashion. Telephone and DVD manufacturers have, however, had it easy for past year as they have appeared on the Christmas wish list of every ten year old.

Revision for examinations works much the same way. We have no way of knowing what will be on the pages of the final eleven plus examinations. We can have practised elements of the examination through the medium of different exercises taken from different sources. We know that working in short bursts is often less boring than struggling with eleven plus papers. We also know that our children must do full papers in moderation as the examination approaches. “You can not pass a marathon examination by practising in sprints. You have to put the miles in.”

So how are we going to ensure that we have guided our children to do just the right amount of work?

1. Work backwards from the examination. Work out when you are going to do the full papers in the build up to the examination. We heard of girl who does a full verbal reasoning paper and a full non verbal reasoning paper every night. I wonder if at some stage she will feel some element of test fatigue.

2. Try to build in a little rest before the examination. Perhaps a weekend away? If you can not take the children you could always rationalise a break for yourself!

3. Change the type of papers you are working on. If you know that your child is going to be writing a multiple choice NFER test then try a complete change of paper to relieve potential boredom and stress.

4. Involve the family in mind games. This is not the mind games directed towards a suspect but the mind games that would encourage your child to show animation and interest. Remember that being `cool’ is vital to any self respecting ten year old. Try to find a series of stimulating and interesting games directed towards solving problems.

5. Continue with exercises on timing. Encourage the wearing and the use of a watch. As Lewis Hamilton, the rising Formula One star, prepares for his appearance on the rostrum after gaining more Formula One points he is shown strapping on his watch. We presume he is paid to do that – so negotiate some form of inducement with your child.

So as you prepare for this Christmas put yourself in the shoes of a toy buyer. Create a demand for work. Do not allow your child to do too much work. Allow for production breaks over key periods. Reward yourself excessively if you meet your targets.

Monday, June 18, 2007

11 Plus Stress

Yesterday morning was taken up with a visit to the Royal Dockyard at Chatham. We went to visit the HMS Ocelot. This was the last submarine built for the Royal Navy at Chatham Dockyard.

When we arrived at the submarine lying in dry dock we were told that the lights were not working. While we waited for fuses to be replaced we met a number of pleasant and helpful men and women who assured that all would be well in due course.

Sixty seven men worked on this submarine. The bunks are very small and close together. You needed to be a well balanced individual to be able to survive a number of tours of duty without having differences of opinion with fellow submariners. Two cooks manned the galley. It is difficult to see how they could have turned out food for over sixty people in such a small working space. The heat and the smell must have been overpowering at times.

To keep the men focused and directed during their time on duty – and their time for rest and recreation - must have taken extraordinary powers of leadership. We are often told that when we get stressed we need to take exercise. In a submarine the size of HMS Ocelot there is simply no room for any one to be able to take a long walk. The bunks are too low to be able to do sit ups. Yoga would be very difficult. Pilates may have been popular – but pilates also requires an amount of room – even if it is a mat on the floor.

So when your ten year old complains about noise while he or she is working – remind him or her about the noise that submariners had to endure. How they had to be absolutely silent while they were being hunted down by a ship on the surface. Put the thought in their minds too of the sound of the water on the hull, the noise of the engines and the ping of the radar. It must have been hard to concentrate at times.

When your ten year old refuse a `nice brisk walk’ to get work off a little steam – remind him or her about having to work in an environment where there is simply no room to be able walk without putting someone else out.

Your ten year old might want to promote an argument about work. Draw the parallel of men under water for periods of time – who could not possible enjoy the luxury of a good argument without putting lives at risk. There is no room for a door to be slammed in anger.

So when it looks as if you and your child are reaching towards a `stressful moment’ consider a trip to a submarine, a potholing experience or a crawl through a cave. All concerned should feel calmer and more able to listen to each other.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

11 Plus Champions

I have just finished watching Lewis Hamilton winning the Indianapolis Grand Prix. I gave up watching Grand Prix races from start to finish when Michael Schumacher kept winning year after year. I did not mind Michael winning – I just could not stand the repetition by the commentators of how great a winner he was.

Apparently a Formula One driver needs:

Fast Reactions
Understanding the car
Plenty of natural ability

A ten year old child doing an eleven plus examination needs:

Fast Reactions
Understanding the subject
Plenty of natural ability

I sincerely hope your child also has the opportunity to become a champion. Good luck!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Comments on a Correspondent

Graeme Paton, the Education Correspondent of the Telegraph wrote about parents `buying’ places at grammar schools.

The article consisted of a number of quotes from different sources. One was that up to a third of children admitted to grammars in some parts of the country have received tuition at fee-paying preparatory schools.

Many parents would like to be able to send their children to fee paying school – and not just so that their child would win a place in a grammar school. Many parents would like to be able to pay for their child to be able to go to a tutor.

In our work we also meet parents who prefer to let heir child attempt to earn a place in a grammar school on sheer ability. We have met parents who refuse to coach or prepare their children for the eleven plus.

Graeme Paton did bring out the point that 81 of the top 100 schools were grammars – according to league tables published earlier this year.

Well done to the teachers and head teachers in the grammar schools. They have good `raw material' be it from the state or private sectors. It is the teachers and the parents who educate our children to reach the heights.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Fame and the Eleven Plus

A number of eleven plus children love to be stimulated. I worked with a charming eleven plus boy yesterday who was trying to master division of fractions. He learnt very quickly why he had to change the sign and invert. What he loved about the exercise was that he was learning something that very few in his class would know how to do. He was not in the least preoccupied with the fact that he would not expect to meet a division of fractions question in the eleven plus examinations.

He simply wanted to know more than any other child in his class about a particular mathematics topic. He thought that he would take one of the questions to school and see if any one would be able to work out the answer. He left his lesson with a spring in his step and a smile. He sits on the top mathematics table so he knows more or less what other children on the table are able to do.

There is a rule which it is as well to remember. When dividing a fraction change the dividing sign to a multiplying sign and invert the divisor.

To invert means turn upside down.

Once he had mastered the technique I asked him why he thought he had to change the sign and invert. He said that he would think about the `problem’ and ask at home. I asked him if he wanted me to try to explain and he told me that his father was good at mathematics and would know.

This type of dialogue makes education into a continuous process. This showed a confident child who enjoyed a challenge – and had every confidence in his parents.

I am sure he will have the answer. He should enjoy his few minutes of fame with the other children in his group at school.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hot Tips for the Eleven Plus

We are often asked about hot tips for the 11 Plus examinations. Two key areas spring to mind immediately – working through papers and reading.


Naturally doing a variety of eleven plus selection papers must help your son or daughter. It is also important to have some one to explain any problem areas. You will have watched your child working very happily on a section – and then meet something unfamiliar – and then everything slows down.


We have started a blog about `Bindon and Bertie’ by the author Magnus McLeod. Parents often ask about what sort of books should be read by children at the eleven plus stage. The blog is presented by the author on our web site. Magnus explains how the plot builds and his reasons for the development and presentation of the story.

We are obviously trying to stimulate children to read – but want to try to help our eleven plus children to feel that reading is more than writing a review or turning over pages. The Bindon and Bertie blog invites comments from children and tries to stimulate discussion.

This is how the author saw the development of the story.

Section 1

In this scene Pandora is persuaded to allow Tilly and the boys to visit strangers in Guernsey. There is information here about all the characters, with clues about the future.

Section 2

In this scene the reader finds out why the killer was waiting. The reader also finds out a great deal about Tilly - some things easy to understand, others more difficult.

The reader also learns about Wilson, her bodyguard, who reveals more about Tilly.

Section 3

Here the kidnap plan is developed and more details revealed. Again, some clues are given which will be picked up later."

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This type of interaction through blogging represents a new departure for all of us in Etc. We hope you enjoy the experience.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Thank You

I had the pleasure of taking my 4 year old grandson to school today.

We walked into the classroom hand in hand.

He stopped and waited for his teacher to finish talking to her support staff.

She held out her arms to him. She picked him up and hugged him.

She said, with a big smile, “My favourite boy!”

What a wonderful gesture. What a kind teacher.

Thank you so much.

(There isn’t really much wrong with our education system is there?)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Many years ago public school boys were beaten – sometimes even in public. We all remember the beatings and bullying in Tom Browns Schooldays. The idea was: “I was beaten every day at school and it never did me any harm.”

I should imagine that there are very few parents today who would subscribe to their children being physically beaten for poor marks on a non verbal reasoning test. The idea that physical pain promotes learning is not very attractive.

What about the children who a not physically abused but are feel continually pressured about school work and passing examinations? In the year leading up to the eleven plus their lives are so conditioned to be responsible, hard working and dedicated that they can forget to leave time to be children.

The pressure may not come from the school and teacher.

The pressure may not come from the parents and other relations.

The pressure may not come from other children.

The pressure may simply be building up inside each child.

This is where we need to try to help to take the pressure off. We need to encourage methods of helping children to express their feelings and talk to their parents.

1. We could try to keep everything in its time and place. We could try to avoid any discussion on the eleven plus outside of `eleven plus work time’.
2. Help to develop a quiet zone where your child can not see piles of eleven plus files and work books.
3. Provide opportunities for lots of physical exercise.
4. Feed on lots of fruits and fish.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Personalised and Positive 11 Plus Work

The very next time you are standing in the playground discussing the eleven plus you must bring up the name `Skinner’. In case you are asked any questions a little background about him may be useful.

Skinner was a psychologist who lived many years ago in America. One of his ideas was about the need for some types of learning to be broken down into small steps.
On some verbal reasoning papers, for example, we are given a set of instructions, an example and then a number of questions. If we work through the questions and answers with our children we hope that they will remember how to do similar questions in the examination.

One of the important things we have to do is deliver some form of continuous reinforcement. In eleven plus terms this means that every time your child given the correct answer you must give some form of reward. Traditionally the reward is offered by providing a tick beside the answer. The problem is that if you walk away to do something else then the continuous element suffers and the effects of the reward decrease. (Being a parent is not easy!)

The next type of reinforcement is when you set an interval before you mark and work though the answers. In simple terms it means that your child knows that you will return at 5.15 to mark the work. In other words the reward is offered at preset times – and your child becomes conditioned to expecting you to walk in with a smile to go over the work that has been done.

The third type Skinner talked about was when a ratio of reinforcement is set up. This is where your child will have a set amount of work to be completed before there is any reinforcement. (If you do the first part of this paper we will go to the cinema.)
So in any one eleven plus session you may be exposing your child to at least three different types of reinforcement. We see examples of different kinds of conditioning in many films to day, especially in the `good cop bad cop’ variety. The `bad cop’ wears the suspect down through negative reinforcement then the `good cop’ offers a solution – and the case is solved.

Naturally you want to offer positive reinforcement to your child when ever possible. You do not want to have to go back into the `eleven plus’ room at 5.15 and find that only two questions have been answered – when you were expecting at least 20. Then you could potentially change from a: `good mum to a bad mum’.

It is perfectly possible to say:” Well let us leave the marking of this until dad gets home.” The continuous element of the reinforcement may need to be abandoned until a different solution can be offered.

So the goal now is personalized and positive reinforcement. When you stand at the entrance to the ball dressed in all your finery – long dress, hair done and wearing your best jewels you hope for some positive reinforcement.

“Oh, you do look good.”

“You really do scrub up very well.”

“That outfit has taken years off your age.”

Any one of the above will do as long as you feel the remark is personalized and positive.

Your eleven plus child doing an eleven plus verbal reasoning paper will wish for much of the same.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Saturday Team

Thank you so much! We are very grateful! The Headquarters team in action.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Driving and the Eleven PLus

As drivers we take driving for granted most of the time. Lots of mothers have to endure the chore of driving children to school in term time. The sight of fathers delivering children brings tears to the eyes. Dads don’t deliver children and help in quite the same way. The school gate ‘chat’ is couched in different language. The topics are the same. The attitude to learning and school is sometimes quite different.

Every single person driving their children to school thinks that they are a good driver. They know that they must not park on double yellow lines. They know that they must not park near the school gates. The parents are very aware of their precious cargoes.

To explain to someone how to become a good and purposeful driver takes time and patience. At one time the Institute of Advanced Drivers called upon drivers to give a running commentary as part of the assessment.

Your ten year old could become a most valuable crew member in the car. A combination of Advanced Driving Awareness and Sat Nav directions could revolutionise the school journey.

“After two hundred metres cross the roundabout at the third exit.”

“A car door is opening. Watch out Mum – a child may be stepping out of the car.”

“Oh dear, I forgot to tell you. We have games today and I forgot my games bag.”

“After four hundred metres, take the next right.

After two hundred metres take the next right.”

“Mum it does not look as if the car ahead has a brake light. Watch out and give the car ahead some room.”

“We are doing a practice verbal reasoning paper today at school. I did not mention it last night because I thought you would make me do an extra Eleven Plus Verbal Reasoning Paper.”

“Mum you can’t stop here. It is too near a corner.”

“Mum don’t push me out of the car. I will always tell you when a test is coming up in future. I PROMISE. I PROMISE.”

Let us swiftly move on to the conversation at the school gates. We now have to work out who is speaking.

“You will never guess what happened to me on the way to school. I was told about the verbal reasoning test. I don’t know why I wasn’t told last night.”

“Did you do the little so and so some harm?”

“No I was driving at the time and had to multi-task. I had directions coming at me, a commentary on the other road users and news about the eleven plus. Anyway I was thinking about our friends coming to dinner tonight. One is a vegetarian.”

“Oh dear. The eleven plus is such a worry. I have another year to go.”

“Well first of all don’t allow any back seat driving from anyone at all. Secondly, start making sure your child uses a little book to write notes down. What are you going to serve? That lovely chocolate pudding?”

“Don’t waste time with a note book. Go straight to a Blackberry. You will have a full communication system – telephone, connection to the net, sat nav directions, email, note taking – and you have the ability to communicate. Every eleven plus child needs one.”

Friday, June 08, 2007

11+ Interview

Archie has attended the same school for all his school life. Most of the children in his class have been his friends since they were three and four years old. In the early days around twenty children used to go to his birthday parties. Now he prefers to spend the time with one or two of his close friends.

His parents try to take him away on holiday at least twice a year. He has been on holiday in Europe, Asia and America. The family will be going to spend a month in Australia next year – but after the eleven plus examinations.

Like any normal boy he likes Star Trek and films about adventure. He reads a little but prefers to play on his lap top.

He is athletic and plays for a local football team every Sunday morning. He has had trials at one of the major clubs – but is waiting to hear the result. He swims very well and plays U13 cricket for a local team. He is a bowler – but thinks that he would prefer to be a batsman.

Archie really likes school. He has always found mathematics easy and sits on the top table. He writes good stories and quite enjoys planning them.

He was interviewed recently by Julie Stone.

What did you feel when your parents told you that they were thinking of the eleven plus examinations?

I have always known that one day I would be writing eleven plus examinations. My grandparents live just over the road from the local grammar school for boys. My granddad used to take me for walks on the school playing fields and tell me that one day I would be able to go to that school. I don’t want to let him down.

You play a lot of sport. How will you be able to find time to fit all the work in?

It is quite easy really. I try to concentrate on one activity at a time. My mind does wander sometimes when my swimming coach makes me swim backwards and forwards. He makes me look at the clock so that my lengths do not get too slow. This keeps me focused.

I don’t have much time to read books – even though my mother keeps nagging me. I can read OK – but I only really reading books about sport. I have started to collect autobiographies – especially one about cricket.

Do your parents nag you much about work?

Sometimes. I don’t really want to have to work every day. When I have been playing cricket all afternoon and evening I am sometimes quite tired – especially if I have been swimming before school on the same day.

My mother keeps telling me to keep a balance in my life. This is very difficult when I like sport so much. I would like to be a sportsman one day. It looks as if it is good life. But I do want to go to university as well. My granddad keeps saying: “Get a good job first.”

Do you have any advice for other children writing their eleven plus examinations?

Well I have not passed mine yet. I think I will pass. I will certainly try hard. My advice to other children is to be organised. I try to do my homework when it is time to do homework. I do bits of eleven plus all the time. I very seldom sit down to do an actual paper.

I am lucky – I like school and my teachers at school. If I was going to make one big suggestion I think that some children should try harder at school.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Eleven Plus Decisions

At some time in your life you may decide that you quite simply would like to start your own school for your children. You sit there with some friends over a couple of bottles and a good meal and make a life changing statement: “I am going to start my own school.”

Your friends agree and ask to meet again in the near future with an outline plan. Your competitive juices start flowing. Nothing, but nothing will allow you to fail in this new project.

You ask for two weeks leave. No, you demand two weeks leave. You agree to two days unpaid because the H.R. department are simply being difficult.

You start with your feasibility project. You begin your initial research. You start thinking of land, premises, management structure and staff recruitment. Your dreams take you into furniture and teaching materials.

You decide you want huge classrooms capable of taking sixty or seventy children an hour. You want the best possible suite of wi-fi enabled laptops.

You demand that your school should have the best possible teachers. You decide that you are going to pay for the best. You are going to set out the best possible terms and conditions of employment.

Your folders become thicker and thicker. The `Report Back’ to friends date grows closer and closer.

Two days before the meeting you meet an Educational Consultant to give a professional evaluation of areas in your plan that may need further development and to point out any possible areas of weakness. You walk away from the consultant with stirring words and thoughts on the financial position, a view on the general management of the enterprise and ideas of the overall potential.

You meet with your friends. You have prepared six copies of the report. Your Bank Manager has promised qualified support. You all decide to eat first. Wine and alcohol is banned until after the meeting. You drink lots of water very nervously. In a mere two weeks you will have developed and delivered a plan that will change not only your life but the lives of thousands of children in years to come.

Just as the last plates and cutlery are cleared away you receive a phone call from your daughter. “Mum, I have decided that I do not want to do the eleven plus. I really want to go to boarding school. Your new school does not have any place for boarders. I really want to go to that boarding school that will allow me to take my horses. Remember – you did say that I could choose. Thanks Mum.”

Your heart sinks. Losing your daughter to boarding school and horses is a calamity. There will be no eleven plus success for the family to enjoy. What on earth are you going to say to your friends? Your six copies of the report are lying beside you. You don’t want to be a failure in their eyes. The plea from your daughter is strong in your ears.

You turn to your friends. You rest your hand on the six copies of the report. You open your mouth – still a little undecided. Do you go for the greater glory of starting your own school or do you follow your daughter’s plans. And what on earth are you going to be doing about the eleven plus?

Your best friend turns to you: “Well, what do you think?”

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Eleven Plus Phishing

We have been phished at one time or another. This, as you well know, is being a recipient of hundreds of randomly sent out emails. The object of phishing is to try to engage with an unwary potential customer. Once the phishing enterprise has captured your interest – and your email – then the force is directed towards you.

Web developers some years ago worked out a method of calculating how long we had spent on a site – and whether we had visited the site before.

We will all have watched an attack on an eleven plus question by the method of shooting off many different answers. “If a tennis match lasts for 3 hours and 20 minutes, and ends at 18.10, what time did the match start?”

The first round of phished questions could revolve around the make up of the mens final at Wimbledon. This could delay answering the question by some minutes. The second attack could come from the unlikely source of which rackets the men were using. We would now get into the realm of types of medication, remedies for injuries to wrists and elbows, congratulatory telegrams informing us of our winnings and ending up with requests for our bank details from unverified sources.

So many contradictory adverts and pleas for information could flood the mind.

Keep calm and focus. We can empty the contents of the deleted items with one click of the bottom. We can open a new folder to keep information. We can set up safe gateways to ensure that unseemly sites are rebuffed.

What we really have to do is set up a system that filters unwanted demands on our time. The question is not about who, where, when and what was playing tennis, it was about simple manipulation of time. In other words we have to cut out as much phishing as possible.

We simply have to remember that there are sixty minutes in an hour – then the whole problem is easy to solve.

So the next time your child wanders off course remind him or her to: `Stop phishing about and think before you answer.”

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

An Eleven Plus Letter

When Etc sends a report out to parents and children there is always a letter that is addressed to the child. Here is an example:

Dear William

Congratulations on these results. You have tried hard and done well. Continue to ask for help if you do not understand.

Communication with your parents is vitally important. You have to try to understand what they are saying to you. Be patient. Let them finish sentences and try not to interrupt what they are saying. A discussion about work is not the same as being `told off’.

You really do need to try to do some regular revision. You may have heard about some children who say they never do any work or revision. There are some exceptionally bright children who are able to pass examinations with little work – but most of us need to do some work.

Working through eleven plus papers can help. Don’t worry about timing in the early stages. When you are confident that you have covered most of the different types of question then you can put pressure on yourself and do some timed work.

Naturally you should wear and use your watch while you are working. If you use your watch while you are revising then you may decide to use your watch in the actual examination.

There some useful revision aids that you can purchase from a supplier or a local bookshop. Have a look, with your parents, at the various websites for information and availability.

This is a useful book. It is the Revision Guide called `Maths Key Stage 2’. The guide gives clear explanations of topics at the Key Stage 2 level.
There are:
* Worked examples
* A summary of key points to remember
* A test yourself section
* Illustrations and diagrams that help to make revision simple
* Tips for tests
ISBN 0-7217-0953-2 Price £3.95.

This is a very different approach from doing papers. This is a more deliberate preparation for the basics of the eleven plus examination. To use this book effectively you will need to read the examples. There are valuable clues on how to remember key points. You could work through the book systematically or cover each topic in turn.

Some topics that you meet on papers will not be in this book. If you do come across a topic that is not in the Revision Guide try to make sure you have notes that you can refer to. You will find it very difficult to revise a topic unless you have full notes and a worked example.

Sit quietly for a few minutes each day reading over the Revision Guide examples. Use the `Test Yourself’ section when you are confident.

Above all be patient with yourself and with your parents. When it looks as if your mother or father is getting worked up, try to set out to be pleasant. If you snarl at them they will need to respond.

This is not telling you to stop arguing. This letter is suggesting that you argue when you are sure that you are aright – and when you can back your argument up.

Enjoy this time. You are on a great adventure trail. Sometimes you will be right. Sometimes you will make mistakes. Just do your best when it counts. Good luck!

Yours sincerely


Monday, June 04, 2007

New Eleven Plus Trends

I was fascinated to read today about the Metyktire tribe who live in Brazil about 1200 miles north-west of Rio Janeiro. The tribe has about 87 members. We are not quite sure how many children there are.

I immediately started wondering when the major publishers of eleven plus papers would try to make contact with the tribe. What a coup it would be if the children who worked on the Bond papers did better than the children on the nferNELSON papers. I wonder if the children on the free download papers would be able to score higher marks than those children on the more expensive papers.

Information of this kind could change our approach to the eleven plus examinations for ever.

Here we have a group of children who have survived without having to learn to read or even learn tables. Very few of the children living in the Metyktire tribe will have heard about grammar schools. The great `Grammar School’ debate will have passed the families by.

Who knows – this tribe may, in time, force a change of fashion amongst mothers. The women of the tribe, we believe, shave the top of their heads.

It will be easy to see in the future which women have children of eleven plus age. If all the Metyktire children pass the eleven plus examination a new trend will emerge.

The eleven plus mothers will stand out in the playground by virtue of their shaven heads. What a pretty sight!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Uniting A Family

When the eleven plus examinations were first promoted England was a very different land. The country was recovering from the war and many families had become disposed or were forced to move.

England was an industrialised country in those days. Agriculture was also important. Children writing eleven plus examinations today are living in an England where agriculture and industry have declined. For some families the land they once depended on was worth more as a housing estate.

Some families and communities have become so fragmented that the state has had to take on roles that the community would have traditionally performed.

It does seem that the eleven plus examinations, however, bring out the very best in people. When parents are working with a child towards the eleven plus they can not say: “We didn’t do it like that in my day.” Mum or Dad has to settle down and find out how it is done – and then help their child.

We have grandparents who routinely pay the fees for lessons. Grandparents drop child off at lessons and pick them up. They do their best to help their grandchildren – and their own children.

It s not just the immediate family who become involved in the preparation for the eleven plus examinations. Aunts and uncles deliver children to lessons – and collect them afterwards. They are the rocks that other members of the family can rely on.

Neighbours also bring children to lessons – so this is the community working at its very best.

So all is not lost. England has not become completely fragmented. We can safely regard the eleven plus as a positive force for good. I can think of no other activity that would unite the family so much as an impossible verbal reasoning question or a stinker of a mathematics topic.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Tricky Questions

How literally can you take some verbal reasoning questions?

Suppose we are faced with:

Tomato is to red as pea is to …….

Now any good convergent thinker would be able to work out that the first term is talking about food and the second about colour. Peas are, of course, green. So the answer is green. But what happens when your bright nine year old argues that you can have green tomatoes or even yellow tomatoes? Then the logic of the question tends to collapse.

A more divergent thinker, however, would argue that we know that a tomato is a fruit but it is eaten as a vegetable. A pea, however, is a small, edible round green bean. So neither the tomato nor the pea are what they appear to be – unless we categorise them both as food.

So your nine year old is not arguing with you to stop the two of you doing any work – there may be a genuine concern that their point of view is not taken into account. These then are the questions that you need to enjoy and spend time on. Enjoy the discussion!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Eleven Plus Questions

We had a science teacher at school. We thought that he was a really pleasant man. He never shouted at us or got angry. The experiments were always ready when we walked into his lab. He always wore a clean white coat. His coat never seemed to look dirty – and his coat did not have the little acid holes so beloved by science teachers.

He always seemed to start the day in a good mood. If our class was first period he was happy and he made lots of jokes. The lessons seemed to fly by.

He did have one characteristic; he used to disappear into the equipment room behind his raised desk. We knew that he was conducting experiments because sometimes we were very aware of sweet smells.

Over the course of the morning his sentences seemed to be a little disconnected and he appeared to lose his place at times. When he was walking round his laboratory looking at our work he would occasionally stumble. We were also aware of a faint but unfamiliar smell.

One morning, alas not in our period, he did not return from the little room behind his desk. The boys called a teacher from the second science room who found the teacher lying on the floor.

Our teacher had set up a still and was using distillation to make alcoholic drinks. We understand that in the early days he used starch and sugar to turn into ethanol through the process called fermentation. This was carried out by the micro organism yeast. He met a problem when he tried to develop stronger alcohol because it is impossible to achieve an ethanol concentration over 15% by fermentation. For the strong stuff he needed to ferment the liquid using distillation.

Now we all know that an excise licence is needed for commercial production. Our science teacher, however, was producing for his own consumption. I am sure the whole school benefited from his dedication to the act of brewing.

We can now buy a range of equipment that will allow us to measure the amount of alcohol in our blood. We know that the police force have campaigns about safe driving. The majority of adults are very knowledgeable about units. Some may even know more about units than calories.

So if this is the sort of content that will excite children’s interest then we need to change some of the element of eleven plus examination questions. A typical Eleven Plus question – aimed at the more able child – would be:

“Henry is three years older than Tom, and in four years Henry will be three times as old as Tom was five years ago. Find their present ages.”

I know there is a very good reason to include questions of this nature in examinations. I suppose a question like this identifies children who can think and reason. Surely our eleven plus children would also benefit from questions relating to calories and units of consumption? I urge the next generation of eleven plus test writers to think carefully about the children and adults who will be using their books. This is not a plea for topical eleven plus questions that will become less relevant over the years – but a demand for questions and topics that children may actually use in their daily life.

Do we need to feel sorry for the teacher on the floor? I hope so because most teachers at one time or another will have felt the need for a little `pick me up’. If there are any teachers or parents out there with suggestions on interesting flavours to share …….