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.