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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mothers and the Eleven Plus

When I was studying to be a teacher, many years ago, we were naturally encouraged to read as widely as possible. All second year students were given the `Child Care and the Growth of Love’ by Bowlby. Our lecturer was a Miss Northcroft. She was an extraordinary woman who influenced generations of teachers. Many of us found some of her observations rather hard to understand – but her name lives on when her past students happen to meet up.

Bowlby’s thesis was that there is a very special relationship between a mother and her child. Bowlby felt that a mother had to be very careful in the early years to have a close relationship with her child – otherwise her child would suffer emotional deprivation. The argument went that if a mother did not devote herself to her child then her child would emerge with personality problems.

I thought back to her lectures when I was listening to a mother agonizing about the amount of time she had to spend with her son doing the occasional full Eleven Plus reasoning papers. The most loved one wanted mum to sit beside him while he was doing the papers. This therefore pinned mum to his side for the entire duration of the paper and into the marking and the follow up.

I think that most mums must have better things to do that watch their child work through a paper. (Now Miss Northcroft, God rest her soul, would burn me for that statement.)

A mother has only so much time in the day to be able to devote to the trials and tribulations of the Eleven Plus. The examination can not take over family life – there must be a question of balance. The children have to demonstrate some considerable maturity and responsibility. At times a mother’s role must include love, warmth, attention, affection, support and encouragement. At other times she has to be a teacher, a task master and psychologist. She has to be hard and soft as the occasion demands.

But she is allowed to leave her child to work on his or her own at carefully selected times. She can’t always sit there and give the answer as soon as her child is starting to feel stuck. After all she won’t be there while the actual examination taking place.

I wonder what Bowlby and Miss Northcroft would have thought about mothers who enter their children for potentially stressful eleven plus examinations. I like to think that Miss Northcroft would give me a D- for even thinking such thoughts.

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