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Friday, August 31, 2007

The Eleven Plus and Christmas day

We are in the middle of the wettest summer in recorded history. Floods have devastated the lives of families. Some families will never recover treasured possessions. Children, however, are very resilient. Christmas is around the corner.

What then are the key presents any self respecting eleven plus child would want?

For some children any new offering from `World Wresting Entertainment’ would be gratefully received. The strange looking bodies, the grunts and slams do interest some children – even bright ten year olds.

Other children may be more interested in a game or activity associated with `Animal Hospital on Safari’. A lot of children dream about becoming a vet or working with animals.

It would be interesting to discover how few children would like their own ironing board. I wonder what your child’s reaction would be if you offered a deluxe ironing station. You would be able to point out on Christmas Day the benefits of the rolling wheels, the undergarment shelf and the dual-sided locking arm.

Some may enjoy a book on how to take brilliant digital pictures. (This would be a useful throw-in present for any self respecting ten year old – especially if they had a new phone with a new camera.)

What about a set of Yamaha Digital Drums? This would be a set of drums with eight touch sensitive drums and two touch sensitive foot pedals. You child would be able to drum along to tunes from the ipod (Given last Christmas – and subsequently superseded by newer ipods with more songs and more memory.)

How do the words: “The Eleven Plus and Christmas” fit? You could offer even more downloadable eleven plus papers. I am sure these would be gratefully received on Christmas morning by a majority of eleven plus children.

If there are better suggestions pleas let me know.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Advanced Imaging Processing and the Eleven Plus

The technology that is used for advanced imaging processing might provide the software some of us need to use to be able to interpret some of the eleven plus non verbal reasoning questions.

We know that the Ministry of Defence has software that can recognise and locate specified targets such as military vehicles. So looking at a line of transformations and rotations should be an easy exercise for any self respecting imaging processing software. The process should be easy:

Step One
Photograph the Non Verbal Reasoning line with your mobile phone.
Transfer the image to the AIPS (Advanced Imaging processing Software).
Listen to the explanation and watch the events unfolding on the screen.

Step Two
Explain to all your friends, and any one else who will listen, that the eleven plus examinations are growing easier and easier each year.

But we know that uses of the software will not end there.

We understand that the software can also be used to monitor buildings and issue alerts when human activity is detected. This means that any self respecting parent can leave their child doing an eleven plus paper and rely on the software to report any misdemeanours.

In the event of any histrionics you can remind your child that automatic camera tracking was first used in the film making industry. Explain that any arguments of fights over work will be recorded for posterity.

To buy your copy of AIPS you simply need to place an order. Remember the benefits of AIPS include:

Help with Non Verbal questions.
Checking on your child
Creating photographic evidence of unwelcome behaviour.

P.S. If you do happen to find any software like this please tell me. I am sure we could work together to ……… (We live in hope, don’t we?)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Empowerment and the Eleven Plus

One definition of the word `empowerment’ is having sufficient authority to be able to achieve results.

At the lowest level of empowerment your child will feel the need to involve you in any activity. This could be simply starting on an eleven plus paper or taking the dog for a walk in the garden. Your child will do all he or she can to involve you in the duty or task.

The next level up does not involve you so much. Your child will be able to do most of the work on his or her own – but will feel the need to consult before making a final decision.

At the third level of empowerment your child will be able to carry out the whole duty or task without involving you – and without consulting you. You will only be informed of the results afterwards. This is where your child disappears off to a quiet study area, does a paper, marks the paper and tells you about the results. (Bliss?)

The highest level of authority is where your child does all the work on his or her own. This would include all the eleven plus work for the day. You would only be told about the work if your child thought it was necessary.

Somehow, at one time or another, you and your child will go through each of these processes as you work together towards a common goal.

If you as a parent are experiencing too much of `Empowerment Situation One’ – where you have to be involved with every single step then you may need to educate your child as to what work can be done on his or her own. Naturally you may feel the need to fall back on careful planning and a strict timetable.

You may also feel that a ten year old working towards a competitive examination is not old enough to be able to make decisions about how the quality and quantity of eleven plus work.

So somewhere along the way there will need to be some degrees of compromise between all the parties. Essentially, however, your child does need to be able to feel empowered to make decisions. One recognisable step in the decision making could be allowing discretion over bed time. A very different step would be your child picking up the telephone and asking for help on a particular question.

I do not think that empowering a child is simply letting go. It must be preferable, however, to having to feel that you need to let rip at times.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Environment Friendly Eleven Plus Exams.

One reason why we have eleven plus examinations is that we hope that the examinations will tell us about how our children will be able to do in other test situations.

So we hope then that the eleven plus examinations will predict what it they are supposed to predict. Suppose that the eleven plus examinations are very good at predicting that today’s eleven plus child will make lots of money as an adult. Some parents would then rate this highly in their list of preferences. If, however, the examination was good a t predicting numbers of young adults being successful in degree class examinations – then other parents may find this more desirable.

So if the test questions were based the ability to be able to understand money and how make money then we would please some parents. If the questions in a different test required the ability study, learn and provide appropriate answers then we would certainly find a different set of children.

So when parents look at practice eleven plus papers they must wonder at time about the relevance of questions.

Imagine the reaction if you said that you only wanted green eleven plus questions, The materials would naturally need to be printed on recycled paper. The examinations questions would need to be checked carefully. A question where Car A leaves Spot B and races at a certain speed towards Spot V while Car F leaves Spot G and drives towards the same spot – but a ad different speed, This question would probably be suspect unless there was a rider that the cars would need to be environment friendly.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Eleven Plus in Perspective

Naturally some Bank Holidays are spent clearing excess vegetation from the garden. After filling the compost bins some greenery has to land up at the local recycling centre. The car becomes full of bags and bins of garden waste.

The journey to the centre is straight forward. We travel mainly along an A Road through some road works - with a fifty mile an hour speed limit.

Just as the de-restriction sign came up I felt something crawling up my leg. I looked down and saw a large spider, Driving at about fifty miles an hour on an open three lane highway is not the time to try to capture a spider and let it gently out of the window. This was not a moment for a `touchy feely’ emotion.

The spider must have felt my hand moving but I could see no evidence of crushed spider. There were no little waving legs.

I looked for the spider when the car was empty – but there was no sign. The spider is still in the car. I only really use this car on `re-cycling’ runs – so I won’t be the next one in the driver’s seat.

I just hope……

So you could use an opportunity like this to start discussing fear of the examination. You could explain that it is nothing like the fear a person must have felt as the hangman’s hood was placed over the head. You could wonder at the fear you must feel as an avalanche rumbles towards you. Talk about how the people of Pompeii must have felt as the lava slid remorselessly towards them. Discuss what it must feel like to have to walk the plank towards a circle of waiting sharks.

This may help some children to feel a sense of perspective about the horrors they may feel that could encompass them in the actual examination. An inability not to answer a question is hardly a matter of life and death.

A parent’s reaction to examination results also needs to be put into perspective.

I do wonder, however, about the reaction of the next person to drive our car. I hope that their reaction will be in perspective if the spider returns!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Eleven Plus Food

Our ten year old Carla flew home to her parents today. She travelled as an unaccompanied minor on British Airway from Gatwick to Gibraltar. The staff at the airport were exemplary in their attitude towards her. Carla started travelling on her own to see us over the summer holidays when she was seven.

Carla, you see, is the face of Etc. She is on all our literature and on our website.

She attended two of our eleven plus courses – working on mathematics, verbal and non verbal reasoning and English. After all what can grandparents offer their grand child other than unconditional love and education?

As you can imagine the whole process of booking in is easy. She was ushered to the desk for `Lone Travellers’ where she was issued with her boarding card and then on to Zone F to wait for her escort to the plane. We had some time to kill so asked Carla what she wanted to eat. We were most surprised for her to say McDonalds! (Her first of the holidays.)

The tray was covered with a paper mat. On the reverse was printed the statement that the paper was 00% recycled and chlorine free. There was an icons guide to the calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate and salt in every offering.

We ordered the salad but were told that McDonald no longer offered the dish because there were not enough takers. So while McDonald attempted to offer nutrition and ingredient information in as much detail as possible the general public still wanted McDonald to be a McDonald. You are who you are!

We all survived and enjoyed the treat. The chips were especially tasty and hot.

By now Carla will be with her parents. We hope she shows them all the work she did with us with as much pride as we offered the work to her.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Navigating through the Eleven Plus

Every now and then, as we watch our eleven plus children at work, we must think of time. We go on to high alert when we see them slow down or stop on a hard question or section. We know they need to leave hard questions and press on.

So how can we help them to understand the need to keep driving forward? Well we know that the earth and the sun orbit every twenty four hours. We know too that there are 360 degrees of longitude. So by simple arithmetic every eleven plus child will immediately realise that every four minutes, if we travel from East to West, or West to East, that we are one degree from Greenwich.

So how will this information help our children to be able to time themselves in the examination? We have gadgets that can help us.

Eleven plus children today have so many advantages over eleven plus children fifty years ago. Today’s children can give a full explanation of GPS on the family Sat Nav. These children know that GPS (Global Positioning System) allows us to know our location, speed and direction.

So it should be easy to explain how to time a reasoning paper. Remind your child to think about location. This means your child must be aware of how many questions there are and how many questions need to be covered by half way.

Explain about speed – how it possible to speed up on easy questions and this gives one a little extra time on the harder questions. Explain how this is like traveling along a motor way. At times the traffic slows down to a stand still. At other times the car will be traveling at full speed.

And talk about direction. This means working straight through the paper looking for the easy questions – and then going back to work on the harder questions.

So if your child has been fiddling with the SAT NAV in the car as you have been traveling over the weekend you know that your child will not have been wasting time. They will have been learning about location, speed and direction.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pressure on Teachers

On Tuesday we are running an 11+ course in Dover. This port always has good memories and vibes because this is the port I left on my way back to Zimbabwe many years ago.

I had trained as a teacher in Zimbabwe and came to teach in England. I taught in Burnt Oak in North London. – up the Edgware Road. I taught at a fascinating school. There was no grass on the playground – just brick and concrete. The buildings were very old. The delightful headmistress had been at the school all her working life. I remember clearly how she pointed out that she had a very stable staff.

On my second morning of teaching a father arrived with his little son. He took out a knife and held it to my neck. He explained very quietly that I had told his son, the previous morning, that he could not spend the morning under his desk and that he had to sit down. The dad explained that if his son wanted to sit under his desk that was all right with him. He went on to say that if I did not listen I would be `for it’.

After lunch I took two classes of boys over the road and down a little alley way to the local park. This was for games. It was raining and muddy. Some of the boys changed but most of the class just played in their school clothes.

Two men sat on a bench and watched my efforts to get a football match going. I had arrived in a tracksuit and football boots – along with a whistle. The boys played for their games session and then we gathered together to walk back to school.

We reached the entrance to the alley way and the two men walked briskly over. I recognised `Dad with a knife’ and asked the boys to stand still.

He said, again very quietly, words to the effect that the session had gone all right. He explained that I was first male teacher in about eight years. He commented that the games session had gone all right. He went on to ask me if I wanted to go for a beer with them after school.

I think in his mind the dad represented the frustration parents sometimes have with school and teachers. How could a strange young man with an odd accent – an immigrant – help his son to do well at school? I gained credibility through my knowledge of the laws of football – and not through training to be a teacher.

I left the school at the end of the term to return to Zimbabwe – and passed through the post of Dover.

The children and families I meet in Dover will be judging me on the quality of the service I am able to supply. Their course will cover mathematics, verbal and non verbal reasoning along with a little English.

After the course, before driving back to Gravesend, I intend to walk along the pier and watch the men and boys fishing. To the fisherfolk I will just be yet another interloper – wandering on their patch.

The children on the Dover course will no doubt discuss the work they did in the morning with their parents. Mothers and fathers will look at the work the children have done. The children will explain to their parents that they have done their best. I am sure that no child will even dream of climbing under a table. I am sure too that no dad will be waiting with a knife.

Perhaps, when the course is over, I should take a fishing rod and try to join another community – even if it is only for a few hours.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

All at sea with the Eleven Plus

Those few moments that a sailor spends just before setting off on a sailing trip must be exciting even to the most hardened veteran.

However many times a sailor has set off from a port to sail he or she does not know what lies ahead. Our headquarters are in an industrial park. My window looks out over the Thames. We see large ferries, cargo vessels, container ships, barges – and occasionally yachts. When you leave the Thames in a yacht the ship sails straight into one of busiest sailing areas in the world. The crew have to be especially vigilant in the English Channel.

A picture of Jonathon Drury about to leave harbour.

At sea the sailor is at the mercy of the captain – which is another way of saying the captain has the authority of life and death over the crew. The crew can contribute to decision making but need to leave the final decision to the captain.

When parents are helping their children towards the eleven plus examination they have to be the one in command. When parents employ a teacher or tutor to help their child that can respect the professional competence of the teacher or tutor – but have to continue making decisions on behalf of their children. The eleven plus teacher can suggest books, materials and exercises – but can not insist on the child doing homework, going to bed early and not eating sweets. These are all decisions that lie within the remit of parents.

The eleven plus child can also make decisions. Decisions can be made on the amount and scope of work to be done, when and where work is done and on how assiduously the project is embraced.

The simple message is that however uneasy a parent is about taking control of the whole eleven plus experience someone has to have ultimate responsibility. What better person than you?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Eleven Plus Tables

When your child comes home with work he or she does not understand you naturally want to do all can to help your child. One of the problems you will face is interpreting exactly what help your child needs.

You may sometimes faced with the rather solemn and unsmiling face. This is the face your child shows when life is obviously unfair.

“My teacher told me to leave the hard questions and then come back to them at the end. I did leave the hard questions out and I did come back to them and I still could not do them. What do I do?”

“I was told to leave the proportion questions as we had not done them at school or at home. I am not sure how to do: ‘If 8 men dig a ditch in 6 days, how long does it take 16 men?’ Anyway my teacher told me that it was unlikely that a question like this would come up in the examination.”

So here we have a situation where your child is able to blame someone else for not learning how to do a topic. This could be a fair reaction if your child has been given incorrect information – but not if the teacher has deferred coving the topic until a more opportune moment. So in a case like this all you can do is to reassure your child that you will not forget to initiate a follow up.

If your child has not covered the basics of the topic at school then you are faced with a different set of circumstances. Suppose your child is not very certain of his or her tables. (Especially the eight times table.) Then it becomes very difficult for your child to understand the mechanics of realising why you need to multiply, in the example given above, the 8 times the 6 to work out how long it would take one man to dig the ditch. Your child may find it difficult to multiply 6 times 8 to make 48. There may be an even bigger problem when your child needs to be able to divide the 48 days by 16.

So in this particular set of circumstances your child’s frustration may not be with you, or the teacher, or the tutor – but may not understand the topic because of poor tables.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A love for learning.

On my way back this morning from our big course in Sidcup I started thinking jobs where a person could see the finished result. There was a gang of five men laying tarmac. One of the men was obviously the driver but the other men were checking and measuring and working together in a highly professional manner. At the end of the day, when they get into their cars and drive past the fresh, clean tarmac they have just laid, they can say, “I did that. I am pleased with my work.” The men know that thousands of cars will be driving over their work every day.

I should imagine the team who prepare cakes for birthday parties must feel the same sort of pride in their work. The customer comes in, orders a cake, specifies the shape, colour, decoration and working and then pays. The member of the team who actually finishes off the cake and applies the final blob of colour must be able to step back and think: “I did that. I am pleased with my work.”

The barrister who wins a case against HM Revenue and Customs must feel an equal sense of pride. There will have been lots of preparation, discussion, arguments, and deliberation. The verdict is delivered. The case makes legal history. The barrister can drive home and think: “I did that. I am pleased with my work.”

The teachers have achieved the wonderful `A’ level results will be able to say: “I did that. I am pleased with my work.” Yesterday evening I spoke to a wonderfully effervescent girl from Newstead Wood School in Kent. This is a school that is always in the top ten in the country. She has just completed her Lower Sixth Year with five `A’ subjects with four `A’ grades and a `B’. She has one year left to go at school. She described some of her teachers.

English – a wonderful teacher with three degrees. She is so kind to us but pushes us very hard to read and think about what we are reading.

Civics – an amazing teacher who thinks in quotes. He keeps firing quotes at us and expects us to read every thing he talks about. He makes me want to learn and read and study.

She went on to say that she loves her school and has never felt that she has had a bad lesson from a teacher. She felt that all her teachers were very well qualified and that the teachers were interested in their subjects – and in the girls they taught.

So I wonder if these teachers think that the finished result is the number of `A’ levels their girls get or if it is the number of girls they help to get into Oxford and Cambridge. I like to think they are more concerned that they have contributed towards instilling and building a love for learning.

A love for learning seems to mean that the finished article is not the smooth road or the tasty cake. It is not beating HM Customs and Revenue and making legal history. A love for learning seems to mean that learning goes on for a life time.

If our eleven plus children gain a little glimpse of a love for learning then as teachers we can feel that we have done out bit.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Jumping and the Eleven Plus

Many years ago a boy could escape the poverty of life on a farm or within an inner city by becoming a cabin boy. A cabin boy’s job was to look after the officers and senior petty officers on a ship. The boy would have to be on call twenty four hours a day. Cabin boys could be a young as eight years old.

When you look at your son today it must be hard to imagine the feeling of the parents as they allowed their son to go off to see at a young age – perhaps never to be seen again.

With a good captain a cabin boy would live a reasonably comfortable life. If the captain was a rascal and a drunkard then the child’s life must have been really miserable at times.

We have all heard of stories of success (real or otherwise) where a cabin boy went on to become an admiral of the fleet. To achieve this great success the boy must have had certain characteristics:

Great determination and vision
A refusal to allow life to get him down
A strong sense of survival
The ability to keep out of trouble
Learning at an early age not to answer back or sulk
Learning to read and write and use a sextant and other navigational equipment
A love of the sea and water
Courage and fortitude
Being able to stand up to bullies
Luck and opportunity
The dream of being a winner

We hope all our young boys show all or most of these characteristics as they work towards their eleven plus examinations. All those years ago a boy must have need considerable drive to move from being a cabin boy to a midshipman. So when you discuss the eleven plus with your son you can easily draw on history to make the point that at certain times when you say: “Jump!”

Your child automatically answers: “Yes Mum, how high?”

Texting and the Eleven Plus

We went to Legoland today. As usual there were huge crowds and huge prices. Those `guests’ who have been to Legoland before know that there is a short train ride from the large open area where we walk in to the lower slopes where the action starts.

We waited for the train ad slid into seats opposite a family of five. The girl, aged thirteen was on her mobile phone. Now it is not unusual for a thirteen year old girl to be on a mobile phone – and certainly not unusual to see a girl texting.

We were astounded, however, to see the speed of her fingers. She had the phone cradled in both hands. She used both of her thumbs to strike the keys. She texted without looking at the keys. She must have gone to text school to learn this skill.

We think she was using predictive texting at times – but she did not even look to check that the words she had typed were correct. The screen filled in seconds and off went her text. The reply came back before the train had gone round the corner.

Her fingers flew again – and she smiled at our comments on her speed and proficiency. Her mother explained that the girl spent a lot of time on her phone. When the girl heard this she smiled and continued texting.

Many years ago the Pitman organisation grew to cope with a demand for proficient typists. Typists had to learn new skills. A good Pitman typist would, however, be horrified to use just his or her thumbs.

So if texting is the new typing then school and colleges will need to react and teach the new skills.

If children can learn to text then why can’t some of our eleven plus examination be based on skills that out children really might want to learn?

An eleven year old boy or girl may feel that it is vitally important to be able to text at speed. So let us add text speak and texting to the eleven plus syllabus and help our children move into the real digital world.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Saturday at Etc

The great thing about being a teacher is being able to work with children.

Children have a view of life that is very different to that of their parents. However, and their is always a `however', we have sets of the Maxamec toy in our waiting room. One wonderful dad, while he was waiting for his son to complete an assessment session built an wonderful machine with wheels and gears and sides.

My grandson came into the office by chance, as our server needed some attention, and started playing with this wonderful machine.

So thank you to all the dads out there that build things for their own children - and for the children of other people too.

Case Study - Bhaduri

Tania and Mahua Bhaduri were mentioned in a Daily Telegraph article. They both achieved 5 `A' grades at `A' level. One won a place at university and the other was forced to take a gap year. (Daily Telegraph Friday, 17th, 2007 Page 5)

Tania and Mahua did eleven plus work with us. They went on to Tonbridge Grammar School. When they started their `A' year they began to work for us on a Saturday morning at our centre in Maidstone.

We thank them very much for all their enthusiasm and input into our eleven plus children. We know that the children they worked with benefited from their expertise and ability.

Good luck to Tania on her year out.

Good luck to Mahua on her university place.

Many thank too to Dr. Bhaduri, a consultant paediatrician at Maidstone Hospital. He drove his children to eleven plus lessons. He drove his children to teach for us. Parents really do have to work hard for their children!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Congratulations on 'A' Level Results

All day long we have been hearing `A’ level results. We have had over a hundred young men and women who have been waiting anxiously for their results. As we hear the results the voices on the telephone seem to have changed. The relief is there – and so too is the knowledge that what is done is done.

We have heard of a few who obtained a lower than predicted grade and still got into the university and course of their choice. No one has phoned us yet who has had to make do with second best.

We can just say congratulations and well done to everyone. We wish you well in the future – and thank you very much for working with us. We know that you have contributed so much to our children who are working on eleven plus courses and other work.

I was teaching on one of our eleven plus courses today and looked at the bright young ten year olds and wondered about their results would be in the future. We know that the psychologists have worked out that results on verbal reasoning tests correlate most highly with success in future GCSE and `A’ level examinations. The better you can do Eleven Plus Verbal reasoning papers the better you will do at the end of secondary school. There must be some form of statistical relationship between the ability to score highly on a verbal reasoning test and the ability to be able to make lots of money later on in life.

When your eleven year old reaches eighteen you will only be able to listen to their thoughts and ideas. I am sure they will still listen to your advice but you know full well that they will what they want to do. A ten year old is a lot more malleable. As parents you still have power.

Another bit of information has just come through about one of our girls who has won 4 Grade A levels. She is friends with `Sam’ who is doing a mathematics degree – and obtained a first class pass in the end of year examinations. Sam will complete a M.A. at the end of her Fourth Year. She will then need to spend a further three years on her doctorate. This gives her seven years of dedicated study. In her mind her future is mapped out – and she knows what she wants to do well into the future.

Hard work coupled with ability make a potent combination.

Once again, well done to everyone on their 'A' level results. Once again - thank you for all your hard work.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Healthy Minds and Healthy Bodies.

I was sitting outside a leisure centre some years ago waiting for Sarah, I looked at the leisure centre and thought `educational consent’. Education consent, in planning terms, means that a lesson can be offered. This could be lessons in swimming, fencing, badminton, dance, bowls – and even education.

This would be a safe environment for parents to be able to leave their children. Parents could even bribe their children with a swim or some other coveted activity or past time. So there are a large number of parents and children who every now and again should spare a thought for Sarah. I know I do. Thank you Sarah.

Leisure centres come in all shape and sizes. We work in a range of centres from those run by Local Authorities to private chains. Some of the centres have had the benefit of the lottery and others `PFI funding’ – which is where the private sector put up the money to develop the centre. Other centres seem to be waiting for something to happen.

Our lessons also take place in a wide range of facilities. In some centres we work in the board room with leather chairs. In others we are offered the crèche. Our staff is expert at folding tables and collapsible chairs.

We meet a wide range of staff. There always seem to be many changes of reception staff. Duty managers come and go. We have most contact with the recreation assistants who prepare the room for us and then put all the equipment away.

Some of our teachers use the leisure centre facilities – indeed we have recruited some first class staff who deliver the lessons to our children and then go off to the gym.

We are also very aware of parents leaving their children with us while they disappear to do an hour of step or have a swim or work out in the gym.

You know they say there is a connection between healthy minds and healthy bodies.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Eleven Plus Traffic

I hope that some of our very bright eleven plus children will become involved with the Highways industry.

I went from Gravesend to Chelmsford this morning. This is a distance off just under 40 miles. It took an hour and forty minutes but it was the road works that held us up. When we see the scale, however, of the construction that is going on we can understand why there are delays. So now to the jobs our eleven plus children could do:

Travelling Entertainer
There comes a time when the incar ipod and DVD become redundant. Even the humble book can be thrown to one side as the car inches forward.

The travelling entertainer, who would have passed an eleven plus examination in entertaining, would be able to make up, and perform, the: `Are we nearly there?’ refrain.

Over and Under Specialist
This must be the best job in the whole of the network system. The person who plans the large and complex routes over and under major road systems must wake up every morning with a large smile.

Think about the control the over and under specialist has to be able to move cars and lorries in large sweeps over the earth.

What a job!

Traffic Light Controller
This is another key and important post. Our eleven plus child could learn how to control traffic. We met a set of traffic lights that allowed three cars to pass on green – but about thirty to come through while we waited on red. To be able to manage this must give so much pleasure and feelings of power.

“Bring it on!”

The Actual Workers
We also need to consider the poor men and women who have to continue to do the actual work in the driving rain. They must have been soaked and cold. One of our eleven plus children may land up as a leader of men and women. He or she may be able to improve the working conditions and pay of these outside workers.

I think we passed through five sets of road works. I know that future generations will be able to have smoother and quieter journeys so we can’t really complain.

Perhaps tomorrow will be better.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Understanding Tests

If you were told that your child is achieving two years ahead of her actual age does that mean that you are sure you know what the test is measuring? You will need to make additional assumptions before you can state that you understand what the test is actually measuring.

So if your ten year child is two years ahead of her actual age does this really mean that she is more intelligent than an average child who is two years older?

Suppose you go to the gym and you take a gym test and you are told that you are achieving as well as a person two years older than you. You give your personal trainer a big smile, and book another ten sessions. After all you did a variety of tests on a range of machines – and machines can not lie.

What the test results may have shown that you may have lived a more active lifestyle than the average person. You my never have smoked so your lung capacity could be greater than normal. You may have decided to save the planet and walk everywhere. You could even be a tri-athlete and be used to running, cycling and swimming.

So if your child has done well on a test and has achieved at a level two years ahead you will need to ask some questions about the test. Suppose your child has a high reading age and is good at comprehension then you would naturally hope that he or she would do well on a paper with lots of problems. If the test is a rather mechanical looking test with few problems then a high reading age may not be as important as confidence in what we now call `old mathematics’.

You may have a test where the early easy questions are worth one mark – but the later questions could have multiple marks. A bright, but careless child, could make mistakes on the `easy’ questions but do well on the more challenging questions towards the end of the paper. (A mathematics teacher at our local grammar school used to encourage her girls to start at the end of a mathematics paper and work backwards.)

So while you are working through a wide range of eleven plus papers take a little time to talk to your child about the way in which the questions are set out on the paper. Explain why there is a need to read even the very easy questions carefully. Talk through why your child may feel fatigued half way through a paper. Explain and demonstrate how and why timing is important.

Then you need to take all your earnest and well meant words back to the gym. Question your trainer about how you were assessed. Find out what you can do to improve – you want want to work on your flexibility or even your strength. Remember that a fit and healthy mum or dad is better able to withstand the trials and pressures of an eleven plus year.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Studying to Music

Many years the Greeks used the Chorus to hold a story line together. There would be a few actors on stage in some enormous amphitheatre – along with the chorus. When the story line seemed to be flagging or needed embellishing the chorus would break into verse and give the actors a break.

We have naturally carried this forward into pantomime. A narrator gives the story line. Some famous character then swans onto the stage and sings a song as loudly as possible – only to be followed by the chorus line of scantily clad girls and a line up of boys in Lycra.

Many television shows today that are aimed at children must contain elements of what we now call: `canned laughter’. It is hard to believe that a half hour show going out on national television really can have an audience of boys and girls who could be primed to laugh at the right time. It must be much easier for a sound engineer to be able to use a range of laughter tracks. I wonder if the same sound bytes are used in a number of shows. Surely re-using canned laughter would save considerable time and effort.

So all those parents who `don’t mind’ their children sitting near to a T.V. while they are working through eleven plus papers must feel that in the actual examination their children are being grossly treated as third class citizens. There must be some loophole that these parents should be able to exploit. Within a Local Authority’s examination regulations there should be a section covering `Providing fair access to children who have studied while watching television’.

There must be a case for these `deprived’ children to be able to collect a previously prepared ipod into the examination. The children would be distinguished because they would have to wear headphones. Every few minutes the ipod would emit bursts of canned laughter. The ipod laughter would stimulate all the multitasking children to greater heights.

We all know that some people insist that listening to music helps them to work better. We hear too of children who swear that listening to music or having the T.V. on in the back ground helps them to concentrate and think. So if the children who study in this manner and have their music or back ground noise removed in the actual examination they would be seriously disadvantaged.

In the next month or so this year’s specially prepared `Eleven Plus Background Noises’ will be available. All the parents that will find this a little sad can take heart that they will be able to pop the CD into their car’s player and hear bursts of laughter every few minutes. That should make the journey to school a little easier to bear.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Taking the Eleven Plus test again.

Most of take for granted that we will need help before we do our driving examination.

Many of us will need to spend ages studying the theory we need to learn before we take the theory test.

If there are around 35 questions in the theory test we need to be sure that the questions in the theory test are able to establish just how well we know the Highway Code.

The theory test is taken on a computer. The test is marked and a person should be offered the results within around thirty minutes.

If you fail the test you have the opportunity of taking the test again. It just costs money!

Lots of eleven plus children may love to have the opportunity of taking the test – or sections of the full test - again.

Being allowed to take the eleven plus test again would certainly make life easier for all concerned.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Best Eleven Plus Tutor in the World.

I heard an apparently apocryphal story about a mother who devoted her life and every spare penny in the family budget in her quest to find the best possible eleven plus tutor. You see she wanted her child to pass the eleven plus examinations and go onto to grammar school.

The strain and tension became too much for her. She had asked her friends’ opinions, the teachers at school and even consulted her family doctor. She had looked at all the web sites and read all the pages of information. She had bought over £200.00 worth of eleven plus papers and worked through all the papers herself to make sure she knew how to answer all the questions. To cover the more advanced mathematical topics she had even found herself a GCSE tutor.

We can only praise and admire her for her preparation and effort.

One day it all got too much for her. She keeled over very quietly and as she lay there on the floor she called her children to her and told them to work hard and do their best.

When she arrived at the gates of Heaven she asked Saint Peter to tell her who was the best eleven plus tutor in the whole world.

Saint Peter pointed at a photograph in a familiar room. He said, “There is the teacher who you are seeking. There is the best teacher in the world for your children.”

The perplexed woman said, “But that is me! How can I be the best eleven plus tutor in the world? I am only a mother.”

Saint Peter said: “Yes, my dear, you are the chosen one. For your own children you really are the best eleven plus tutor in the world.”

Thursday, August 09, 2007

October Half Term Holiday

Breathing is a process very similar to burning. Just as burning uses oxygen, so does breathing.

A burning candle produces heat because of the oxidation reaction which takes place. We have a saying with variations on: `Burning the candle at both ends.’. This could apply to people who have been out all night partying instead of working. It could also mean a person who has been working very hard and is making himself ill with all the extra work.

We breathe oxygen – and oxygen oxidises the food we eat – and the reaction gives us energy.

Carbohydrates contain carbon and hydrogen and also oxygen. This becomes oxidised to carbon dioxide and water. So we breathe these out. We also breathe out un-reactive gases and excess oxygen.

So when we tell our eleven plus child to take deep breaths in a stressful situation we are hoping that that lots of oxygen fizzes around the blood stream and supplies energy.

We know that lots of records were broken when the Olympics were held in Mexico City back in 1968. The thin air made it easier to run and jump. The altitude in Mexico City was around 7 400 feet. At a high altitude the body needs to take in more air – and more oxygen.

Would any one like me to organise an eleven plus trip to Mexico City over the approaching October school holidays? Rest assured the children would not be allowed to burn the candle at both ends. The children would be taught good breathing techniques. They should learn a lot too – and the trip would allow great pre examination conditioning.

I have always liked the idea of Mexico City!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Poor Farmers

I thought about my grand father today. He arrived in Rhodesia many years ago (1892) as a young boy. The family farmed on a farm called Mooifontein.

During the mid 1890s a disease called the Rinderpest swept through the country. This was a terrible disease because it simply killed the cattle. Many farmers lost all their herds. The virus swept through the country and impoverished many, many farmers. There was no recourse in those days for farmers to be able to complain about the speed of the government’s actions or have access to a prime minister who could promise swift and speedy action.

I thought of my grandfather, William George Hamman, when I saw the poor farmers who have had their herds wiped out. The farmers are under real pressure with the unrelenting exposure to the media. To watch one’s livelihood being killed off must be real agony for the farmers.

In the late 1890s my grand father, then aged eleven years old, along with a fifteen year old African companion, set off to walk from Rhodesia down into South Africa. The journey on foot was just over 1300 miles. Their task was to bring back disease free cattle to help build the herd up. The two boys walked down into the Free State and returned months later with a small herd.

Why were the boys sent off on their own? Quite simply there was no one else to go. Cattle in those days, just as today, represented income. Without income a farmer’s hard work is wiped out.

It was easy for me to respect my grand father.

Equally I am sure that in years to come the grand children of many of our eleven year olds will be just as proud of their grand parents.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Parents and the Eleven Plus

Our world continues to change very quickly. One of the reasons for change is the ability that we have to be able to automate production. Automation is used for a wide variety of processes – from filling bottles of wine to making pairs of shoes. Automation in education seems to imply that the teacher is going to produce lesson after lesson – all of the same standard. Automation also seems to suggest that lots of little robots unable to think – but able to produce results.

At first glance automation appears to imply there will be more uniformity, less flexibility and less choice. But automation on a small scale allows small concerns to be able to supply goods and services that the large companies can not afford to produce in a cost effective manner.

A parent working with a child from a range of eleven plus papers is doing far more than simply automating the act of examination preparation. As parents they are employing a wide range of skills as they try to motivate their child and provide the best possible preparation.

This blog, therefore, is a tribute to all those mums and dads who work with their children towards an examination. They know that are not part of a big production line. They know that they not providing automatic responses. They know that their responses will be genuine. We wish them well.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Flo has arrived!

Our Grand daughter, Flo Busfield, arrived today just after seven. Mum and daughter doing very well - so is Flo's dad.

Seven pounds six ounces.

We are very proud and pleased.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Food and the Eleven Plus

We know about how body builders have to go onto strict diets just before championships to make sure all their muscles are perfectly defined. What a body builder is trying to do is to lose fat while gaining some muscle. So what body builders do is watch calories very carefully – if they want to gain muscle or lose fat they simply adjust their number of daily calories.

So if calorie control works for body builders then surely we can take some of these attitudes to food into the preparations for the eleven plus examination. We know we need carbohydrates for energy, we certainly need protein for building up the body and we need fats because fats are good for oiling the body’s joints and lubricating the brain.

Naturally every good eleven plus mother will want to start a special eleven plus garden to make sure that the eleven plus child has the best possible diet. You want your child to have access to crisp food, which is fresh and full of flavour. So you want to be able to feed strawberries, apples, grapes, peaches, lettuces, potatoes, peas and courgettes.

Naturally it will be a little bit easier to supply fresh food from your own locality if the eleven plus examination is in October. It will be much harder for the parents of children who are taking their examination in January. The ground will be that little bit colder. There could even be a little snow around.

So it looks as if many parents are going to have to be a little bit realistic about growing their own food and will need to rely on supermarkets and greengrocers. If you want to be able to supply two or three fresh strawberries for breakfast on the day of the examination then you will need a little careful planning. Of course you can preserve or freeze strawberries for that most important day. If, however, you are a parent determined to give your child the best possible chance you will need some careful preparation:

Buy your strawberry plants from a reputable source – you do want your strawberry to be disease free.

Strawberries need sun – preferable in a garden sloping towards the south.

Give your strawberries a rich loam – with a high humus content.

Plant early – the earlier the plants are planted out the stronger the plants will be.

Where then is the parallel with eleven plus preparation?

You can not have perfection all the time. You can do your best but you can not manipulate the seasons or the dates and times of the examinations.

Gather as much information about the examination as possible – from as many sources as possible. Sift through all the information and use what you want for yourself.

Start early in your eleven plus preparations. You do want your child to land up with a strong finish.

If you feel you can not do everything yourself – then shop around.

Good luck and healthy eating – but don’t forget to count the calories.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Saving a Life

NEVER-NEVER LAND is an island in an unknown location. No female visitors are allowed. Access to Never-Never Land is obtained by three means.

It is sometimes seen by children as they hover on the edge of sleep.
It can be reached by baby boys who fall out of their prams. (Apparently girls are too intelligent to fall out of prams.)
The final way of entering Never-Never Land is by being invited by Peter Pan.

Only one girl ever entered Never-Never Land and that was Wendy Darling.

Pirates used to frequent the island. Their leader was Captain Hook. Peter Pan cut off his hand and fed it to the crocodile.

Tinker Bell was Peter Pan’s beautiful companion.

Children love to be terrified by stories about ghosts and strange happenings. But in the story of Peter Pan and Wendy children are introduced to a range of emotions. They learn about:

Magic Dust
Never Trees
Eating pigs
Cruel Indians
Hands being hacked off
Crocodiles eating hands
Predators and man eaters

The most important thing that children learn about life from Peter Pan and Wendy is that if you clap your hands you restore the life of a fairy.

So when you applaud your child and give praise for work well done – you will not only make your child very happy but you will also save a life. So many of us have the opportunity to be pleasant and give praise when it is due – and it is a great relief to know that we can also save lives at the same time.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Good lessons

There was a lot of activity in the main pool at our local leisure centre this morning. A dozen or so young men and women were on a life saving course. We watched the trainees pretending in turn to be in need of help and then being rescued.

We then watched how a board was used to support a swimmer in trouble. The head had to be secured carefully while straps tied the body to the board. This whole exercise was done with great dignity - as if the youngsters understood the need to be watchful and focused. I wonder how many hoped they would never have to use this information and practical demonstration.

On the other side of the pool swimming lessons were taking place. The teachers were walking up and down beside their charges. Sometimes the teachers jumped into the water to demonstrate a stroke and on other occasions a helping hand was used for support and comfort.

It must be quite a strain on the teachers. The lessons were on a one to one basis. The teachers had to be in and out of the water for long periods. Swimming pools are noisy areas anyway with lots shrieks and shouts. The pool area is hot and there is a strong smell of chlorine.

I watched the teachers with interest. They sometimes had to shout to make themselves heard. They had to be sympathetic, they had to be patient and teach the same stroke over and over. They had to revise and go over areas that they must have covered before.

The teachers seemed to have brief chats with the parents before and after the lessons.

The children appeared to be happy and smiling. It looked as if they were enjoying the exercise and their communication with their teachers. All the ingredients of a good lesson:

Well prepared teachers
A safe environment
Structured lessons
Happy children
Well briefed parents.

We hope for the same or even better, for our eleven plus children!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

School Holidays

School Holidays

It can be hard work at times when you have to spend a lot of time with your child over the school holidays. You may need just as much as space as your offspring!
When you child is at school you have a routine. You know what you are going to do and when you want to do it. Having to listen to your child’s needs can cause either freiction or resignation.

Simply coping with the extra work can also be a problem.


If your child wants to do something one day – and you have a different agenda - then both sides need to be flexible and listen.
If the discussion is to do with work it could be that your child is simply feeling a little tired and may want a break. He or she may have had a late night and be feeling a little weary and not feel like working. It is not worth picking a fight – so negotiate a settlement.

Listening can mean understanding your child point of view. It does not, however, mean giving in if you are sure you are right.


It is not always easy to be organised when you feel you have to take into account the wishes of your ten year old. You are trying to build your child up and encourage sensible well planned work.

If you prefer to shop before you drop the children off somewhere – well that is your prerogative You don’t have to throw away all your powers.


Try to be friendly. When next year’s holidays come around your child will be thinking about senior school. Between the period of the Sats tests in May and going to secondary school you child will grow socially, emotionally and physically.
So over this holiday period before the eleven plus examinations gives the family an opportunity to work together, peacefully, towards the eleven plus.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Learing and Studying

We chatted recently with a girl and her mother about mathematics. The girl in question is bright – and has just been accepted by her local grammar school. She achieved amazing scores on her verbal and non verbal reasoning papers.

She has always found mathematics difficult. Her school kept her in the middle mathematics set because they felt that she could not cope with the mathematics in the top group.

Listening to the mother and her daughter it seemed that the girl understood the mathematics while she was being taught – but could not remember the work when she took it home for homework. In tests she found it difficult to remember how to do a wide variety of examples.

Her school had given her a projected 5C in the recent SATs tests – but she only achieved a 4A.

I took out a range of KS3 Sats papers. These are offered to children in the bands 3-5, 4-6 and 5-7. The same Level 5 question can appear in all three papers. We started with the Level 5 – 7 paper. The girl went orally through the first five questions – explaining what she had to do and what which processes she had to follow. She spoke confidently and was pleased to demonstrate the extent of her mathematics.

So if she knew how to do Level 5 questions, why did she only achieve a Level 4? Perhaps she had difficulty with doing calculations. Perhaps she needed to read the questions aloud before she could understand what was expected of her. Perhaps she gave up towards the end of the Sats paper she did at school and did not try hard enough with all the questions. Perhaps she liked being in the middle set for mathematics so that other children in the class would not tease her about her obvious ability. Perhaps if she sat in the middle mathematics group her parents would take the pressure off her. We are not sure.

When she enters grammar school she needs to have cast off her previous attitude to mathematics. She needs to be confident that she can do her homework and do well in tests.

Part of the solution may to try to give her the tools to be able learn the rules and key topics of her mathematics. She needs to be able to make notes and then study and understand her notes Most of important of all she needs to be able to recall the key points when she is faced with questions in tests and examinations. This is called `studying mathematics’.

I wonder if she had been able to reach the end of her primary school education without really having to learn and study something.

She went off with her mother to learn the examples and notes within a few pages of a KS2 mathematics text book. I hope it works!