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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Eleven Plus Motivational Speeches (1)

All over the country parents will be honing their pre Eleven Plus speeches. These are the words that parents will issue in ringing tones as their children go forth to enter the fray of the Eleven Plus.

Naturally the words of Henry V will come to mind. `Once more into the breech, dear friends,” will spring to mind. Henry was trying to mobilise his troops before battle.

“Once more into the Eleven Plus,
My dear child.

Make sure the night before ye examination you do go to bed real early,
To allow full rest and repose.
Try to ensure that your faithful chauffeur transports you
To the examination place on time.
Ask mother (or father) to avoid known traffic blackspots.

Bring everything you need to the searching examination,
Including pencils, rubbers and a calm and steady beating heart.
Look not upon the ashen faces of the other children.
Remember their fear is shown on their faces.
You keep your fear well hidden and preserve a reserve that all will envy.

Look carefully at your watch at regular moments in the examination.
Remember that to waste time can cost much.
If you are involved in multiple choice questions,
Complete the answers carefully.
Eliminate answers that can not possibly be true.
Yes – be true to your second reading of the question.
The second reading may give more insight than a hurried first reading.

You hold the family’s hopes with you.
Fight the good fight.
Dream the good dream.
Achieve the impossible.

Our love and thoughts are with you. Go well my child – and believe in yourself.
All you can do is your best.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Eleven Plus Answers

It is easy to suppose that our Eleven Plus children would learn with more interest and attention if the syllabus of the examination was more closely relevant to their everyday life. The knowledge and attitude that the Eleven Plus children have to acquire is greatly different to the knowledge they need outside of the examination.

One key area that could be addressed by educationalists is to allow parts of the examination to be conducted orally. The group mathematics and reasoning examinations rely traditionally on the ability to read and write.

While children are preparing for the Eleven Plus examination they are offered lots of information and explanation. The work is revised and consolidated. As the examination grows closer the children are expected to assimilate a multitude of approaches to different topics and questions. The children work through papers with their parents, teachers and tutors. The whole quest is for the single correct answer that could `tip the balance’.

12 men dig a hole in four days. How long will it take 2 men? This is a typical Eleven Plus question. What happens in one of the men hurts his hand and can not work for an afternoon? Suppose one of the men is a member of a local life boat crew – and is called out at short notice to save a sinking yacht. How is his time allocated? One of the men could have booked a family holiday to France – and will be away part of the time. Does the question allow for any latitude – or is there only one clear answer?

Over the recent Eleven Plus courses we saw two different answers to a story exercise that showed true maturity of thought, a wide vocabulary, impeccable style and a thirsty desire for retribution. By some chance neither child had addressed the question directly but had chosen to write a fanciful answer – rather than the more prosaic `correct’ answer. Both children showed signs of Level 6 English in their use of metaphors and personification. The children came from different schools – one boy and one girl – but both used rhetorical questions. Neither child gave a factual answer. Their work, however, was a delight to read.

If passing the Eleven Plus, however, depended on a formal and clear answer – it is possible that these two extraordinary children could have failed. The children may, however, have been failed by the examination system rather that failing through below par ability. I wonder if they both were too bright for the examination!

Friday, August 29, 2008

An Eleven Plus Genius

When your bright and able Eleven Year old begins a prolonged, and largely unwelcome, `discussion’ with you, then you may feel that you wish your child could be like other children: namely calm and loving.

Yet you need to take heart – all of the following worked against the tide of opinion:

Einstein in mathematics

Hemmingway in literature

Picasso in art

Brunel for engineering

Madam Curie in Science

Louis Pasteur in medicine

Dr Seuss in story telling

These are all men and women who were not prepared to wait for a `group’ decision.

In Eleven Plus terms the `group’ demands that the children have to reach certain standards in areas like mathematics and verbal reasoning. It is impossible for your child to be able to refuse your imperious pursuit of the execution of yet another paper.

If the Eleven Plus examination tried to find children who did not fit a `mold’ and if the examination did demand original thinking then the practice papers, along with the actual papers, would need to change.

Find a gifted and erudite teacher who could become an Eleven Plus examiner. Expect to see papers that stimulated and stretched children. Look for an examination where opinions of art were considered important. Encourage the children to think about alternative methods of transport. It would be wonderful if the examination did require a child to be able to create an impossible story.

Surely our esteemed grammar school deserve children who can think and discuss rather than children who know the trick of how to answer a rather pointless question like:

Abigail has one brother, Robert, and three sisters, Mary, Anita and Helen.

How many children in the family?

So the next time your child argues with you, than please consider – you may be stifling a prospective genius!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Good Luck to Eleven Plus Children

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that always captured my imagination as a boy, was the account of Nebuchadnezzar and the hanging Gardens of Babylon.

He was an administrator, an architect and an engineer. He was also a warlike leader. When one of the provinces revolted in 596 he suppressed the revolt and deported part of the population. There was a further revolt some year later on so he slew the king’s sons before his eyes – in cold blood. He then blinded the king and carried off most of the population into captivity.

The gardens were built on terraces – and rested on great slabs of rocks. An ingenious system of buckets carried water to the different parts of the garden. The beauty of the gardens was so great that they were named as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

I worked with Eleven Plus children today on a large and popular course. The children went out to play in the large grounds of the Hurst Road Community Centre in Sidcup in Kent. There were several large and over hanging trees. Some children were fascinated by the trees – trying to knock down conkers while others played in and around the low vegetation.

Little heads popped out of hiding places as some of the children played an endless game of tag. Football was the predominant game of the boys. Each break time the composition of the teams seemed to change – but the score appeared to start again. While all this frantic activity was going on groups of boys and girls wandered around the grounds.

This could have been a scene from years ago. The games may have changed. The clothes are certainly very different. It is likely, however, that in our group of Eleven Plus children are the future architects, engineers, administrators, doctors, teachers, artists as well as sportsmen and women.

We can but pray that none of them will be drawn to violent acts against man kind but we do hope that at least some of the children will go on to build another wonder of the world.

Our Eleven Plus courses have run this week in Manchester, Southend, Ashford, Gravesend, Sidcup and Salisbury.

Thank you to all our dedicated teachers and assistants.

Thank you to all the parents who have entrusted their children to us.

We wish all the children well in their examinations. Like all their parents we think that they are wonderful.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Eleven Plus Cubes

Way back in palaeolithic times man drew on rocks.

We know that many early drawings were probably to do with magic, the hunter wanted good luck or a little bit of magic to be able to be a successful hunter.

Later drawings may have been used to keep records – or even send messages.

Today’s highway code shows us just how drawings are used to warn or direct traffic. Many of the common place signs are known universally.

To be able to draw a picture it must help if there is a strong artistic presence.

A graphic designer needs a different type of artistic temperament to a painter of landscapes – even though there must be a strong element of crossover. An architect requires different drawing skills to a portrait painter.

But the person who thought that working out cubes was a sign of intelligence (or of one aspect of non verbal ability) must have had a truly masochistic mind.

Moving the cube through 180˚is easy enough. When the cube is rotated as well as transformed, then we know that being able to provide an answer is around 35 seconds is a serious optimist.

I shared the extraordinary lengths that bright eleven years old are prepared to endure – just to solve a cube question.

For the non initiated cubes appear in certain non verbal reasoning papers. Some brains can work the answer out in seconds. Other brains never seem to find the solution.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Eleven Plus Thanks

A bright and bubbly ten year old bounced up to me at around noon today.

“Hello! I am in the top maths group at school.

I have a lovely tutor.

I love school.

This course is the best work I have ever done in my life.

It is so hard.

I love it.

Is there any chance of another course next week?”

With words like these all the hard work and preparation seem worthwhile.


Quod Erat Demonstrandum

In Latin that means that something has been demonstrated.

At school we used to write Q.E.D. after proving a theorem in geometry.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Eleven Plus and the Grammar School

“I want my child to attend `Grammar’ because I want the very best.’ These are words spoken (or dreamt) by many parents. But what is that `little bit extra’ that parents hope that the grammar school will provide?

Many grammar schools have a proud tradition. A number of grammar schools date back hundreds of years. Some are even housed in imposing buildings. Others, however, rely on their `old boys’ to maintain tradition. It is very difficult to quantify the influence of the success of a school’s predecessors. Good role models are possibly a key element in learning to successful.

Some pupils may even be influenced by the fact that they are sitting in the same classroom as an already famous past pupil. Parents are only too happy to be able to say:

“If you open your mind you too can do it.”

“Use your own talents to carve yourself a career of distinction.”

“You too will develop your own already strong character – and you too will become a leader.”

“Try not to abuse your gifts. Do the work to the required standard – and on time.”

“It is vital that you plan ahead. You can not continue living from day to day.”

“You know that school is a stepping stone to the future. Believe in yourself. Be confident in these surroundings. Just do your best.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Eleven Plus Practice Papers

Teaching children towards the Eleven Plus is part art and part science.

The part art comes in because we are not always sure what makes a child learn. The children we work with will have learnt different things from school. The children will also have been offered different support from their parents. Their peers will have different attitudes towards studying and sitting the examination.

If we could work out what enables a child to learn the Eleven Plus syllabus – and how the child will be able to retain and use the information – then teaching towards the Eleven Plus examinations could become more of a science.

At times the parents of Eleven Plus children will want their child’s teacher to be able to wave a wand to excite and stimulate their child. At other times parents may demand a more scientific approach – with clearly defined objectives.

The Eleven Plus examinations are set to try to find children of ability – and who will benefit from a grammar school education. The debate about what constitutes a fair and proper examination needs to continue. Parkinson’s Law reminds us:

“The defect in the intelligence test is that high marks are gained by those who subsequently prove to be practically illiterate. So much time has been spent in studying the art of being tested that the candidate rarely has time for anything else.”

All this is to say that children should feel that working through practice papers is a means to an end – and not the end itself.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beginning the Eleven Plus

When the White Rabbit was presenting evidence at the Knave’s trial, he asked the King for directions. A piece of paper was presented as evidence – but all that was on the paper was a collection of rather odd verses.

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. `Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?' he asked.

“Begin at the beginning, the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Every parent that has read Alice in Wonderland aloud will recognise these words.

The King kept trying to have the Knave proved guilty – while the Queen wanted Alice out of the way:

“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.

Parents approaching Eleven Plus preparation, need to begin at the beginning.

They need to collect information about the examination.

Parents need to ponder if it is possible to do the work at home or whether outside intervention is required.

Is an assessment needed?

Will the much loved child actually do the work or will there be a string of arguments.

Is the candidate in the top set?

If the candidate is in the middle set then is additional help needed with the like of comprehension, reading vocabulary and tables?

Will all the family work together or will one parent or another pull against?

How much co-operation will be offered by the school?

The best part of the whole Eleven Plus process is that there is no Queen shouting:

“Off with your head!” – if, like a pack of cards, it all crumbles.

Friday, August 22, 2008

To understand a little more about multiple choice tests we need to look back to the Army-Alpha tests that were developed in America during the 1914 – 18 war. The American Army needed good leaders. The Army-Alpha test gave grades between A and D. Naturally achieving an `A’ grade suggested good officer material.

It is interesting to look at some test items from all those years ago. We can then try them on Eleven Plus children. I took these items from my1935 book called `Psychology’ by Boring, Langfeld and Weld. (John Wiley and Sons).

Test 1
If six is more than four, then, cross out the five, unless five is more than seven, in which case draw a line under number six.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Test 2
If it takes 8 men 2 days to dig a 160 foot drain, how many men are needed to dig it in half a day?

Test 3

Why are warships painted grey? Because gray paint

--- is cheaper than other colours
--- is more durable than other colours
--- makes ships harder to see

Test 4
Complete the number series.
9 1 7 1 5 1 ___ ___
4 5 8 9 12 13 ___ ___
1 4 9 16 25 36 ___ ___

Test 5
Cold is to ice as heat is to: wet cold steam stars

When we look at the content of these items it is easy to see why I am concerned that the present writers of Eleven Plus tests seem to be stuck in time. The world has moved forward considerably. Why do the authors of Eleven Plus tests still include some pretty silly questions?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Multiple Choice and the Eleven Plus

On a certain day in each county children sit in rows in desks. Outside invigilators prowl up and down the rows.

There is a deep silence – broken only by the sound of pencils falling out of nerveless hands.

There are huge clocks to that the children can monitor the passing of time. Nervous eyes flick sporadically – and calculations are made: “Twenty questions, 12 minutes left. How can I do it? The questions are getting harder. I am becoming anxious now. What is mum going to say if I do not finish?”

. The papers are made by experts. There is a right answer and some wrong answers. All the eleven plus child has to do is recognise the right answer.

In some cases only the correct answers are counted.

In other multiple choice examination the wrong answers are subtracted from the right answers.

We warn the children of `red herrings’ in the answers.

If the question was:

Rearrange the letters of the word to make a word corresponding to the definition.

shore (a four legged animal)

A) horse
B) hotly
C) spider
D) horsu

We hope that the bright Eleven Plus child will choose `A’ for a horse.

If `C’ was chosen then perhaps a mark should be deducted because every child knows that a spider has more than four legs. Deducting marks if a child does not show ability and concentration could seem to be attractive to some.

Losing marks for unstructured guesses could help to focus attention.

A big problem with timed Eleven Plus Multiple choice questions is that a child could pass the examination in the morning when he or she is feeling fresh. The same examination could be failed in the evening when the `candidate’ is tired.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Eleven Plus Nag

David Copperfield ran away after Mr Murdstone beat him.

Mr Murdstone had a `lithe and limber’ cane – which he twitched and swished when ever he could.

He thought that David needed to be more careful in his work.

“Mr. Murdstone! Sir! Don’t! Pray don’t beat me! I have tried to learn sir.”

“Can’t you, indeed, David? We’ll try that.” He had my head in a vice….

David used to be given questions which could possibly daunt some of our Eleven Plus candidates:

“If I go to a cheesemonger’s shop, and buy five thousand double-Gloucester cheeses at fourpence-halfpenny each…. “

David did not do all that well over the course of day and Mr Murdstone became more and more incensed with him. David bit his hand and was severely beaten.

David was then locked up for five days. He was subsequently taken from his mother and sent to school in London.

The Eleven Plus moral to this story? The more some children are berated for not achieving as much as their parents would like the more some children will feel inadequate and unready to learn.

The days of the switch and the stick are long gone – but pressure can also be put on by parents. It does not seem likely that any children working over these holidays will have resorted to biting their parents. If mums and dads have been bitten it is possible that their child was trying to tell them something.

“Mum, Dad, don’t nag me. I have tried to learn.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Exciting Eleven Plus Work

The tutorial system was invented by Socrates. There is a theory about the so called `Socratic Method’ that it sprung from the character of the Greek people, because they loved arguing questioning and dealing with new ideas.

His premise was that it did not make much sense to throw lots of ideas and lessons at people. He thought that it was better to question. The other person had to answer the questions. Socrates did not want to question a person to find out what they did not know – he was attempting to help the person to find their own answers to his questions. His method was to engage a person in a conversation then criticise and discuss the answers and thus lead the person to a positive conclusion.

A number of parents would love to develop elements of the `Socratic’ approach with their own bright Eleven Plus children. Imagine being able to develop a strong relationship with your child that was not dominated by the restraints of a formal pen and paper examination. Imagine being able to spend an hour a week arguing, objecting, defending, counter attacking, discussing and helping your child towards some truth or other.

Surely a full blooded, and carefully prepared, discussion would be of more benefit to our Eleven Plus children than an argument about settling down to complete a full Eleven Plus paper. In an examination we need children who are able to think and reason.

An endless diet of papers – day after day, week after week must surely dull the minds of some children. Other children love the `comfort zone’ of papers. They know what is expected of them. The children know that provided they can reach around 70 – 80% on a paper they can keep their parents motivated and involved.

The next time the major publishers of Eleven Plus papers gather to talk their offerings, I hope they will spare a thought for a paper that demands thinking, discussing, arguing and finding a useful conclusion. It is very difficult to become truly animated about answering a question based on:

One of the (nests, fish, birds) (fell, drove, climbed) out of the (egg, nest, sea).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Eleven Plus Language

It was only a few years ago that your ten to eleven year old was four years old.

A typical exchange could have been:

Mother: `This cup is big.’
Child: `This cup is big.’

Mother: `Show me the cup that is big.’
Child: The child touches the big cup.

Mother: `Tell me about the cup.’
Child: `The cup is big’.

Of course now we are talking about bright pre Eleven Plus children – who at four years old would probably have embellished the conversation.

`Tell me about the cup.’

`The cup was given to the family by Auntie Jean. She said that the big cup was her favourite because she used to be given extra sugar. I like drinking from the big cup because it has so much sugar.’

It is very likely that children who do well in Eleven Plus examinations will have a big vocabulary. It is even more likely that the children will have demonstrated that vocabulary a very young age. Children with big vocabularies are likely to be able to read a wide number of books. The earlier the experience starts the better.

A number of us will recall the experiments of Hebb Williams on animal intelligence in 1946. In one of the tests a dog is brought into the room while hungry. After the dog had smelt and seen the bowl, the dog was able to watch the food put behind a screen at the opposite corner of the room.

Both the pet reared and the cage reared dogs went immediately to the spot where the food disappeared.

After some trials the food was placed in the opposite corner,

The cage reared dog went directly to the spot where the food had been placed originally. The pet reared dog went to the new spot.

For Eleven Plus children to do well their minds will need to be challenged and enriched over and over. If the diet of weekly and daily Eleven Plus selection papers goes on and on then it is possible that some children will stop thinking and simply react to the questions.

Some parents, however, will continue to see the need to offer their children stimulating conversations and prolonged arguments. (All in the cause of good Eleven Plus results!)

After all an argument can start as:


Careful direction could ease the argument into:

“Oh brother dear. I am simply horrified that you thought the answer to number 23 was 8. After all to find 10% of a number simply divide by ten.”

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Eleven Plus and Hard Work

On my way into the Pavilion Leisure Centre in Bromley on Saturday (yesterday) I saw this group of students enjoying a yoga class and thought, “That looks hard! It must feel fantastic!” I went on to think that the rewards of all that disciple and endeavour must be sublime.

If it was easy to pass the Eleven Plus examinations we would not need to reward the children with a grammar school education. It follows that as the examination is hard to pass we need to reward the grammar school children with the best possible education.

If the Eleven Plus examination was considered to be unimportant – and hard to pass - then it is likely that the examination would be dropped altogether.

We know that some children can pass Eleven Plus examinations with inherent ability – and without doing extra papers. Other children, with ability, need the additional benefit of extra training and help. This is our room at Hurst Road in Sidcup set up for last week's Eleven Plus course.

It seems likely that bright children, after grammar school and university, will be able to provide themselves with a livelihood. We also hope that they will also earn a high enough income to be able to have some elements of power and prestige.

A number of us will also hope that our children will look after us in `old age’. It is thus essential that our Eleven Plus children become powerful and prestigious – and earn enough money to be able keep us in our dotage.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Eleven Plus Messages

It is always interesting to think of what words parents could use while trying to motivate their children to do well in the Eleven Plus examinations.

“Well dear, just look back at all your ancestors. They all did well at school. Look at your Uncle, my brother, he is a judge. Your father went to university. You need to work hard too for the honour of the family.”

“No, you do need to read a lot more. We are all readers in our family. Wide reading shows that you have a good character and are well educated. Simply watch less T.V. and do a lot more reading of good books.”

“Your Auntie Cookie sings opera. She started singing very early – even younger that you are now. She worked hard at her singing – and look where she is now. Why can’t you try and be like her?”

“Your father’s brother was a famous swimmer. One day he swam across the Channel. It took him many hours but he never gave up. I never met him but your dad says he was a very nice man. You have to work hard and never give up. Then you will succeed.”

These are all rather lofty aspirations – your child may enjoy something a little more pragmatic.

“If you work hard you will be able to buy a nice car, wear fashionable clothes and go on designer holidays overseas.”

You would not, however, want to tell your children about a horrible man (Tacitus) who lived in Ancient Rome. He said: “To corrupt and be corrupted, is the fashion.”

Without putting your children under too much pressure, you want them to be, at the very least, decent, hard working and un-corruptible.

Mostly, however, you want your child to be normal. So a heartfelt plea to your child to work hard and be good is going to be far more valuable than using contrived and unrealistic motivational words. I am not sure that it will be all that useful to reminding your child about ancestors, character, hard work and not giving up. It is likely that your children will respond more positively to a simpler message.

Friday, August 15, 2008

New Eleven Plus Ideas

It is always interesting to see other people’s thoughts on education. I am not quite sure of the age of this blogger – but it seems that she has strong views on giving up her Friday nights for extra tuition.

The spelling and general syntax is fascinating to read. We can look back at the language of Shakespeare and Chaucer and see how much language has changed over the years. Perhaps the following passage is a glimpse into the present and the future.

hate that my fri nights are eaten up my tuition.. meaning no more fri gatherings till e end of yr when most prob i wont continue with e tuition. argh.. the sacrifice i suffered for money. lol. i kinda of like this new kid.. jus tt i feel tt 2 times a wk eats up too much of my time.. or maybe one of e days are on fri nites, tt's y. havin extra tuition on this sun.. requested by e kid.. she's clever.. jus tt she lacks confident.. and it's understandable when u r in a gd sch with all those fierce competition around us.

Our Eleven Plus children should make perfect sense of the sentiments expressed in the passage – as well as be able to enjoy the spelling and the language. All the children who have the privilege of being able to write an essay or a passage towards the Eleven Plus may enjoy an essay demanding:

Using modern text English, what are your views on the Eleven Plus? Make sure your plan covers:

Your thoughts and feelings on being examined to reach a grammar school.

How you react to competition.

Should you have to give up your Friday nights for extra study?

(Remember enriched text spelling and punctuation earn extra marks.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Eleven Plus Change

It is hard for children to understand what changes they will undergo as they work through an intensive Eleven Plus course. On a day to day basis the outside of the children may look different because of changes of clothes. We hope that inside they gradually realise that they can cope with the examination.

When children come on an intensive course parents hope that their children will benefit from a period of concentrated work. Parents also want their children to do as well as possible. What is certain is that the children will change in one way or another. Some children will have the additional boost of being able to quantify the feeling. “I can do well in a competitive examination.”

The causes of the change in children over three days will be many and varied. Some children will realise that they can answer some questions better than other children. A different cause could be the reaffirmation of words so often said by teachers, family and parents: “You are a clever child. Look how well you have done.”

I watched a boy today who scored a goal at break time. All the players applauded his effort. He returned to work in silence and was highly attentive. The goal had given him praise from his peers. He felt good about himself. His work improved.

Years ago I remember reading the analogy of the iron bar. An iron bar is not simply an iron bar – it has the ability to change. We can bend an iron bar, it will rust and it can be welded. We don’t want to bend our children, or allow then to rust or have a need to weld them. What we want is an individual who is always changing and reacting.

We hope that the children are able to sustain effort and interest right up to the examination. We don’t want children to become tired of doing Eleven Plus practice papers – we do want a sense of freshness and adventure.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eleven Plus Expectations

These holidays I have had the privilege of working with a number of very bright children. It is fun to look ahead and try to suppose how these children will change over the next fifteen years.

We can look round and find evidence of change in all our families. We all know of an archetypal Uncle Fred who left school at sixteen, with no qualifications, and has landed up a construction engineer. (Uncle Fred is the only one who really can afford a holiday.)

We can easily look at some of the eleven year old girls and wonder how they will change by the time they are eighteen years old. Somehow, and in time, the eleven year old girl will change to become a woman. This will bring about multiple changes of behaviour and attitude. It is very likely that becoming a mother, at what ever age, will bring about even more significant change in personality and expectations.

It must be difficult for some parents to appreciate the tremendous demands made on their children by the Eleven Plus. Children have to have the time and energy to do the extra work. We demand that prospective Eleven Plus candidates adopt both the role and the characteristics of the academically able. At school, however, the self same child may not be in the highest groups. He or she may be happy to be in the middle group. The necessary change in attitude to work required by the Eleven Plus may be stressful.

What is exciting is when the child from `the middle group’ suddenly realises that he or she can do the work on the `top group’.

The whole point of doing Eleven Plus work with our children is to try to help the children to be able to choose what expectations to live up to. The alternative of a child trying to live up to a parent’s expectation does not really bear thinking about.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Eleven Plus Examination Methods

There was a vogue at one time of promoting what is called the `Open Book’ or `Prepared Questions’.

The `Open Book’ is when pupils are allowed to take a book into the examination – and are then encouraged to refer to the book. The general idea is that children do not need to learn lots of facts – but they do need to know where to find answers.

Some teachers will be good at helping children assimilate facts. What the teachers then hope is that their Eleven Plus children will go on to understand the relationship between the facts.

Suppose Eleven Plus children were allowed to take a `How to do Verbal Reasoning’ book, into the examination. The prospective Eleven Plus candidates would then have to find the relevant page, understand the notes and then use the book for reference.

It is very likely, however, that the better Eleven Plus candidates will need to rely less on outside books and notes than some less able candidates.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Eleven Plus Cuddle

Back in 1912 Marie Montessori wrote a book called `The Montessori Method’. She was born in 1870 and was the first woman ever to be granted a medical degree by an Italian University. She worked with children who were considered `defective’ and raised their academic standard to the levels reached by normal children. She then went on to raise academic standards in normal children. I have a copy of the 1964 edition.

What would she have made of our Eleven Plus children? We are talking about our bright, well educated children who have been offered every advantage at home and at school.

In Chapter One of `The Montessori Method’ she had the heading:

Stationary Desks and Chairs are proof that slavery still exists in schools.

While she was writing about tables and chairs she wrote: `Here we have striking evidence of the errors of the early materialistic scientific pedagogy which, with mistaken zeal and energy carried the barren stones of science to the rebuilding of the crumbling walls of the school.’

An Eleven Plus parent naturally can say: “Go to your room and do some work!”

An Eleven Plus parents can also say: “Let’s sit on the carpet, turn the T.V. off and work on this together.”

Is this what Marie Montessori was talking about? Should we be able to expect a bright eleven year old child to be able to work quietly on a paper? Is telling your child to do some serious work in the bedroom a form of slavery?

Montessori goes on to talk about the sorry spectacle of a teacher who has to `pour cut and dried facts’ into the heads of scholars. She is concerned with the education of children who have to have the intellectual contents of school programmes `poured into their intellect’.

Our Eleven Plus children do need to learn some cut and dried facts. Our Eleven Plus children do need to have prescribed programmes `poured into their intellect’. Organised programs of work are necessary to help our children pass the examination. But every parent knows that a stolen ten minutes of going over a problem, while lying on the carpet, can be the highlight of the day.

I imagine that every single Eleven Plus parent is really good at the celebrated `Eleven Plus Cuddle’.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Eleven Plus Cross Words

Some time ago psychologists found that ability on crosswords compared favourably with results on IQ tests. Rearranging letters is the staple diet of many crosswords.

We need to wonder sometimes just why some items are included in Eleven Plus tests. A number of verbal reasoning papers seem to have at least one `rearrangement’ exercise. The examiner draws up lists of words that can be rearranged. Suppose the exercise is rearranging letters into names of animals. The examiner could start with a list of easy words – and then possibly offer three or four other lists of words that are increasing difficult to rearrange.

List 1

The 4th List could be:


Children and adults who do well on `Countdown’ are able to unravel and decode words at lightening speed. Other people, who are verbally able, continue to struggle. Eleven Plus children can be helped by being encouraged to read the question carefully. If the topic is to do with animals then it is essential to focus on animals. It is no good offering names of flowers.

A child, however, could win or loose a place at grammar school on the ability to decipher and interpret one word. Lots of reading – and an extensive vocabulary – must help some children. But if some children are more predisposed than others to be able to find answers to some types of `tricky’ questions, then some Eleven Plus children could be penalised unfairly.

In Mary Poppins we find a really useful `panegyric’ word. We know that she intended elaborate praise – and many children of all ages delight in being able to spell the word.

Eleven Plus Question:

`Give a 34 letter adjective with no clear meaning, possibly to do with praise’.

Eleven Plus Answer


Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Eleven Plus and Character Building

Education was easy for some before the French Revolution. The rich, the aristocracy and the clergy were able to impose a strong degree of conformity on the masses. It was perfectly sensible to educate members of the ruling class – because, in time, they would rule.

Along came the industrial revolution. This led to greater social mobility. The rise of cities meant that there was greater diversity of behaviour. People wanted a social situation where they could choose what kind of life they wanted to live.

The two World Wars educated men and women – and showed that there were many other cultures and ways of living. Women were given the confidence that they could hold down demanding jobs. The social dynamics of Britain and the family changed.

The educators who fashioned the early Eleven Plus examinations at the end of the Second World War were pressed to provide a different school system.

The Eleven Plus examinations still invite controversy. Some feel very strongly that society should not attempt to create a class of children who are offered `every advantage’. Naturally thousands of parents will not agree. They want the best possible grammar school education for their children.

We can but hope that the preparation that children do for the Eleven Plus examinations will help to mould thoughtful and hardworking individuals.

George Bernard Shaw in `Man and Superman’ tried to define how an artist saw the world and explained that a true artist would let his wife starve, his children go barefoot and his mother keep working until she was seventy. He then allowed Octavious to say that `it is out of the deadliest struggles we get the noblest characters’.

Perhaps the work done by Eleven Plus children does build character. Perhaps having a goal at a young age – and working towards that goal - makes our Eleven Plus children grow into adults who want more than second best.

In years to come we don’t want starving wives and husbands, barefoot children and over worked grandmothers. Perhaps we simply want children who are prepared to struggle and work hard for what they get. We can also hope that our children will, in time, turn out to be `noble’ characters.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Eleven Plus Thoughts

2nd January 2008 - `I have no chance of passing the Eleven Plus. I don’t want to do it. Just because Uncle Cook went to grammar does not mean that I have to go.’

8th February 2008 - `I have told you one hundred times that I do not want a tutor. I don’t want to do the Eleven Plus.’

14th February 2008 - `I suppose it was all right. She was nice to me and didn’t laugh when I made a mistake.’

23rd March 2008 - `Yes I know I have to do my homework. Just let me finish what I am doing.’

12th April 2008 - `Please can you help me with this verbal reasoning? I think I know what I am doing but I want to make sure.’

2nd May 2008 - `I know it is time for supper – just let me finish what I am doing. I want to do better than last time.’

5th June 2008 - `No thank you. I don’t want to go to the cinema with everyone. The film is so boring. Besides I have finish my Eleven Plus Work.’

`17th July 2008 - `Yes, I am finding it all a little easier. It is much better when Dad can help me. He does not nag as much – but you are good Mum at what you can do.’

19th July 2008 - `Well Dad can’t be home in time so I suppose you will have to help. Oh! I didn’t know that you could do them. Thanks Mum. You are brilliant.’

14th August 2008 - `I am going to phone Uncle Cook. I want to go to the same grammar school as he went to. I like work now. My teacher at school says I’m getting better. I am in the top group for maths now and I really like it.’

2nd September 2008 - `I know the exams are close. I can’t wait. I like doing papers – they are so easy. When I get stuck I know what to do. It is so easy now.’

28th September 2008 - `It was brill. I could do everything. Do you know Uncle Cook; I would like to be in your house at school. I can’t wait.’

Some day in March 2009 - `I can’t believe it!’

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Eleven Plus Gentlemen

Be yer of oure Lord, a pousand prehondred foure score and fyue, of the secunde kyng Richard after pe Concuest nyne, in all pe gramerscoles of Englelond children leuep French, and construep and lurnep an Englysch.

This can be translated into:

In the Year of Our Lord 1385, in the ninth year of Richard 2nd, in all grammar schools in England children are abandoning French, and are construing and learning in English.

Our fixation with Grammar Schools looks as if it goes back a long way. Long ago `civilised’ children were taught in French - as if it was the speaking of French that made a person into a gentleman and a scholar.

At our local Grammar School, Gravesend School for Boys, over eighty boys, who are about to enter Year 7, are on a week long course where they are immersed in French for a week.

I wonder if the reason is to make the boys into gentlemen or if it is to give the boys a good start in French.

When Henry the Fourth seized the throne in 1399 England gained a king whose mother tongue was English. In the fifteenth century very little French was taught because it was no longer the native tongue of England.

If anyone has any firm evidence that boys who enter Grammar School are likely to become Gentlemen – please share it with the rest of us.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Eleven Plus Quick Fix

There are no short cuts to Eleven Plus success.

Every single athlete at the approaching Olympics will have prepared and planned.

Our ten year olds also have to prepare and plan. Some will relish the challenge while others will be a lot more cautious.

Some of the grammar schools in our area require a written exercise. The English is only used for evidence - so there is no pass or fail mark.

We show the children a series of different type of essays and give help with planning. One topic was: Should there be speed cameras near schools?

We were offered a remarkably mature and carefully reasoned answer. It could have been an adult writing. In the penultimate paragraph, however, she appeared to move onto another plane and started writing about congestion charging.

If any one has ever been fined for a late payment of a congestion charge please let me know. This little would be lawyer will be able to out argue the whole of Transport for London. It seems the father paid the enhanced fine in the end.

I hope that this little one does not go to work for Transport for London in future years - otherwise we will all be paying as an super-expensive rate.

We can safely think that her Eleven Plus preparation will be meticulous and carefully planned. I doubt that she will have much to say about the amount of work she does. If she does communicate about her studies it will be to a most trusted person. She, no doubt, will have read Alice in Wonderland at a very early age:

For this ever be
A secret, kept from the rest,
Between yourself and me.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Eleven Plus and the Role of Parents

When your child sits the Eleven Plus you hope that the seat is comfortable, the desk is the right size, there is sufficient light, the room is neither too hot nor too cold and there is a reasonable amount of `quiet’ noise.

Way back in 1924 there was an experiment about lighting in America. The study was to do with the optimum amount of light for workers. The results were difficult to follow. The measured output of the test group went up with changes in light. The problem was that the work of the control group also improved. The control group did not have any changes in lighting but their output still improved.

When the lighting of the test group was lowered – the work output improved – but so did that of the control group. These surprising results were called the `Hawthorne Experiment’.

In Eleven Plus terms if parents take an interest in the Eleven Plus preparation their child’s work will improve.

If a child attends a one to one tutor the work will improve.

If a child takes part in individualised learning – the work will improve.

If a child goes on a course – the work will improve.

With a good report from school the child’s work should also improve.

There are so many different variables affecting a child’s progress towards the Eleven Plus. On our course today the children had three different `pep talks’. The first was from a teacher in a local Grammar school – talking about early days in the grammar system. The next talk came from a widely travelled teacher who stimulated the children by telling them about the need for hard work to be able to earn enough money to be able to travel. The third `pep talk’ was from a young woman who had attended a local grammar school, with wonderful results, and had just completed her first year as a medical student. She described cutting up bodies along with a need for unrelenting work.

The `Hawthorne Experiment’ took place at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company in America.

We want all our children to feel inspired, involved, supported and confident.

We just hope that one day they simply: “See the light.”

Monday, August 04, 2008

Eleven Plus Power Plays

Many of our Eleven Plus children will become leaders one day. There are many definitions of the word `leader’ – but in Eleven Plus terms we could think of a leader as a person with a status that allows him or her to exercise influence over other people.

A clear cut expansion of the word `leader’ can be seen over and over again in politics. Here a leader is offered status by followers who can withdraw the leadership in a variety of ways. A coup seems a popular method these days.

A different example of leadership can be demonstrated by Michael Vaughan. He will be remembered as the captain who led England to their greatest triumph in modern day cricket, when he won the Ashes back in 2005 in one of the best Test series ever played. Here he showed leadership and was a fine example to all in the land. He was rewarded with an OBE.

As a child I was fascinated by the story of Madame Curie. She overcame so much misfortune to become a revered Nobel Prize winner for her work on radium. She was so selfless that she gave away the money she received for her prize. She was a leader – but did not live in the limelight in early years. She simply worked and focused on the task in hand. The rewards and publicity came later in life.

So a leader collects followers because he or she is superior in some way. It could be financial – in the way that men with money have taken over so many football clubs in the Premier League. In spite of their financial clout the owners have had to find leaders to manage their football clubs.

A child has to listen to parents. The parents are still the leaders of the family because they are the adults. A child can not initiate a coup. They can’t go out and buy new parents. Eleven Plus children, however, do need to be focused and have a clear picture of what they hope to achieve.

So when a mother or a father says: “Go and work.”

The child has to say: “How high?”

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Website Apologies

I am sorry that part of our website is not working.

The service provider over in America had a problem - and their backup has yet to be restored.

We hope to be back to normal very soon.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Eleven Plus Anxiety

We meet children, every now and again, who are really anxious about taking a test, meeting strange teachers and the unexpected. It must be quite `normal’ for most children to feel anxious about the Eleven Plus examinations.

There is a lot riding on passing:

Gaining access to a desirable school
The promise of a good education
Meeting and making like minded friends
Enjoying an atmosphere where is it acceptable to be bright
The chance of being able to go to a `good’ university
The hope that one day a good job will emerge.

I suppose we all need to understand just what the children are worried about. We also need to appreciate just how real the concerns are. It also helps some children to realise that there are some other children who feel the same way.

How can we build confidence?

Help your child to learn that while it is important to be able to keep up – it is not essential to keep up with everyone.

Structure the day so that there is time to do the extra work involved in passing an examination. A round of activities and clubs will not leave enough time for study and contemplation.

Help your child to understand what is in the examination. Go over the language that will be used in the instructions on how to do the test.

Do lots of work on meeting deadlines – especially with practice papers.

Build timing into the daily life of the family. “How time flies when you are having fun,” is true. “How time flies in an examination,” is equally apposite. Help your child to wear and use a watch! (I recently met a mother who talked about her child and problems with timing. She did not wear a watch and neither did her child. This is fine for daily life – but not in a pressured examination situation.)

Try to reason with your child about what needs to be done immediately and what can wait.

Develop a climate of confidence where parents and Eleven Plus children feel that they can speak freely about worries and perceived anxiety.

Try not to believe and hope that it will: “Be all right on the day.” Your child may not believe you.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Eleven Plus Mothers

This blog is for mothers who have ten to eleven year old sons who occasionally make smart remarks.

There is a tribe called the Marquesans where there is shortage of women. The result is that there are households made up of a head `husband and father’, a wife and a group of `secondary husbands’. The women tend to be the dominant members of `the family’.

The job of bringing up the children is left to the secondary husbands.

So when our Eleven Plus mother says: ’I don’t know, ask your father’, the Marquesan child can choose any number of fathers. If Number 2 Dad can’t work it out the lucky Eleven Plus child could ask Dad Number 3.

All I can think is, that the typical Marquesan mother is a very lucky woman to have all those men running around after her.

Imagine being able to call on six different husbands to have `a serious talk’ with your ten year old about any alleged smart remarks.

Eleven Plus Multiple Choice

We listen with great fascination to stories of gamblers. There are the men and women who believe that the `system’ they have developed is good enough to beat the odds.

Our next door neighbour in Zimbabwe was Baron Hercules Robinson of Culcreuch. His castle back in Scotland was very old and very cold. The walls were grey and the countryside was green. As a young man he brought the first ball point pens to Southern Africa. He was a gambler. When he left Arica he gambled in London and Monte Carlo. On one visit to his castle we were regaled with stories about some of his epic games with Omar Sharif.

At one time or another we all try to beat the odds. It could be an unwary traffic light, or an extra five minutes on a parking meter. There is that little part of all of us that wants to beat the system.

Our children learn this before they can walk and talk. It could be a cry for attention when there is nothing wrong at all or even a heartfelt plea for an ice cream when there is no need what so ever for any more sustenance.

One habit we do need to beak in children is the desire to gamble when they are working on multiple choice papers. We tell them over and over again:”Look for the answers that can not possibly be right. Eliminate the obvious red herrings.”

If all else fails teach your children to play bridge over the summer holidays. In bridge the players arrive at a contract – and say how many tricks they hope to win. Money can change hands. You will naturally not mention money with your children – but could play for other commodities. Your child will learn that to gamble (i.e. just guess the answer) is not an attractive way of conducting an exercise. If you guess you are unlikely to win. “If you guess too many answers it is unlikely that you will pass your Eleven Plus.”