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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chalk, the New Year and the Eleven Plus

Some relations are difficult to build. One enduring association is that of the teacher, a blackboard and a piece of chalk. Of course today’s children are more likely to watch their teacher using a whiteboard.

Chalk, however, has many uses. Snooker players would be in big trouble without being able to use chalk at the end of their cues. We have a huge shopping centre in Kent called Bluewater. The centre is built in a large chalk pit. Chalk is used in the manufacture of cement. Old fashioned remedies for upset tummies in children often had chalk as a basis of the `cure’.

Teacher has long believed in `Chalk and Talk’. The internet offers teachers opportunities to address a much wider audience than a class of children. The internet must encourage some eleven plus teachers to rethink their roles.

The internet gives parents the opportunity to communicate with other parents on a wide range of topics. Parents too can share experiences with their children at the cutting edge of the `Chalk Face’. We surmise that the chalk face is an allusion to the miners digging on the coal face. Some teachers, and possibly some parents, like to believe that teaching children is as hard work as hewing out lumps of coal.

Working through some eleven plus topics is hard work for children and parents alike.

This being New Year’s Eve we need to be cheerful. There is a phrase: “I can walk a chalk as well as you.” When men drank too much on ships of yore they were required to walk along a line chalked to the deck. Perhaps before driving home a chalk line can be drawn???

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Eleven Plus Patience

An important factor in verbal reasoning exercises is the ability to use language. My 1933 Pitman’s Progressive French Grammar (Part 1) was written by an Inspector of Schools for London County Council. Mr Frank A. Hedgcock maintained in the preface that the three main operations of language were:

1. to make statements
2. to ask questions
3. to give commands

He began all lessons with a series of examples illustrating certain definite points. He felt that this arrangement enabled a teacher to give their own lessons.

An important premise that he reiterated in more than one form was the need for practice. He wrote: “The exercises are long – practice, practice and yet again practice is the secret of learning a language.”

Mr Hedgcock also understood the need for communication – as he urged teachers to favour him with their criticism so that any defects could be removed.

There is no doubt that Mr Hedgcock had forthright views. It is possible that his musings may have some slight relevance to today’s eleven plus children. A reasonably typical eleven plus question could be:

Select a number between 1 and 10 that has the same number of letters when written in full as the value of the figure it represents.

How can you help your child to approach a question of this type?

You can make a statement: “Write down, in words, the numbers between 1 and 10. Look at the number 1.”

Now comes the question: “How many letters are there in the number one?”

Then the command: “Repeat this exercise until you find a number with the same number of letters.”

Naturally Mr. Hedgcock would have expected the teacher (the parent) to have offered a few examples before confronting the child with a challenging question. He could, for example, have asked: “How many letters are there in the word three? Are there seven letters in the number 7?” Exercises of this nature could make the task of the child easier.

The application for today? Before you give your child the task of working through a full and carefully timed eleven plus paper, make sure that you have offered at least a few examples of questions that could be both new and daunting. The Eleven Plus child needs practice, practice and more practice – but the eleven plus parent needs patience, patience and more patience.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Eleven Plus Values

Once upon a time a boy was brought up in a professional family in the middle of a large city. He was given the best possible pre eleven plus education that money, love and desire could afford. He had everything he needed to study effectively. His parents and family offered every possible support and encouragement.

The collective desire for the boy was for him to win a place at grammar – just like his father before him. Perhaps then the boy would go to university, meet the right girl, marry and, in time, become a solid and respectable member of the community. (It would help if his `wife to be’ had also gone to a grammar school before her university courses.)

We can see this boy becoming a man with a satisfying professional future. He would buy the right size house at the right time – and develop an impressive recession free future.

There could be one small hitch in this saga. He could take a gap year out. He would then go on to experience a wider range of cultures and people. He could meet girls who had no immediate desire for a university education. In the course of his travels he could develop a passion for geology or forestry or a desire to own a diving school in Tahiti.

The gap year in itself may not have provided the trigger. His parents may have read books to him at a young age about adventure and exploration. His mother may have been a botanist of repute who introduced him to a study of flora and fauna. She may have nurtured him on microscopes and a desire to collect.

His father may have accompanied him on camping weekends with the Beavers and the Cubs. He may have won an exploration badge when he just seven years old – along with the highly prized cooking badge. His parents may have had a preference for holidays off the beaten track – including an unforgettable trek on a pony in the foothills of the Rockies. Just before his eleven plus examinations he may have fallen `just a little in love’ with a girl he met on the sands of Bali.

One of the aims of the stated `Eleven Plus Plan’ must have been for the boy to pass the eleven plus. As we can see, however, there may have been influences outside of the structured eleven plus papers plan that contributed towards developing him into a receptive candidate. Some unforeseen and uncontrollable factors may have helped him to develop strong feelings on work and the value of study.

If this saga has to have a fairy tale ending then all the outside influences will have contributed towards helping him to focus and be attentive when he is concentrating on an eleven plus paper.

We can only hope that the boy appreciates and values the efforts that have been made on his behalf.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Eleven Plus Averages

Children writing eleven plus examinations in mathematics will probably have to learn the term `average’.

Does this mean that 100% of children have to learn what an average is? Could only 5% of eleven plus children meet a question about an average? We can use a word like `many’ children – and so we can surmise that it is possible that the proportion is possibly higher than half of the children. If we use the word `most’, then it is likely that a majority of children will meet a question on averages. Of course if we say `an average number’ then we could conjecture that about half the children will be tested on averages.

We could measure the heights of all the children writing eleven plus examination – and take their average height. This could be compared this with the average height of the children who did pass. We would then be able to describe a measurable difference between all children and the selected group of successful children.

We could be offered the average of the standardised scores for verbal reasoning in one county. It should then be able to compare this with the average of standardised scores in a different county. It is unlikely, but not impossible, that the scores would be different. Authorities, however, are careful not to publish figures like this. Imagine what some parents could make of possibly controversial data!

An arithmetic mean, however, is only accurate if the data is presented in an equal interval scale – like time, weight, area and height. When we look at a verbal reasoning test it could be valid to say that a child who needs a verbal reasoning score of 120 to pass needs to be better at doing verbal reasoning tests than a child who only reaches a standardised score of 100. We could also think that the score of 120 is 20% higher than a score of 100.

We can not however say that one person is 20% more able than the other!

We know that average is to do with a typical amount or quantity. We know too that that an average is found by adding quantities together and dividing the total by the number.

What we can not, however, say is a child who achieves a Standardised Score of 100 on a verbal reasoning test is absolutely average in ability. Than would be a mean statement!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Eleven Plus Scholars

One way you could consider helping your child to see the future is through stories.

Your child can live a perfectly happy life only thinking only of the here and now. It does look, however, as if he or she will need some kind of a vision of the future in order to be able to focus on all the various ramifications of the eleven plus.

Back on the days of the building of the palaces of Hellas the Ancient Greeks believed that melody gave the promise of a vision of the future. The Greeks employed musicians to encourage the workers. Boys were told stories of builders of note to encourage them to dream of building glorious structures.

It won’t be long now before some enterprising wizard sets out to produce `Music for the Eleven Plus’. Perhaps Simon Cowell can be encouraged to host the `Eleven Plus X Factor’. Eleven Plus children can write and perform their own Eleven Plus lyrics. (If really bright children were involved it is likely the music would go far beyond mere karaoke acts.) We could retain the panel of judges. We could keep the scenes of contestants sobbing. Parents would want to be seen with tears running down their faces as they watch their prodigies singing their little hearts out.

Of course I.T.V. would make its money through the great Eleven Plus Quiz. At the end of every rendition a multiple choice question would flash onto the screen.

Here is a little example. Picture a child on the stage with an audience of 18 million. The composition is original. The nation awaits with bated breath.

“I’m a worthy little toiler, and I glorify this exam,
I’m climbing the Eleven Plus monument – becoming nobler and enduring.
When I am working through papers I sit in the seat of honour
There is no one in my home so esteemed, loved and trusted.”

In the Eleven Plus X Factor Rules it says that the song does not need to be tuneful, and it certainly does not need to scan.)

Multiple Choice Question (£1.00 - there may be additional charges on some networks.)

A child sings for one and a half minutes. The sentiments are excruciating. The judges, however, all want the child to progress to the next stage. If the rendition starts at nine minutes past eight, what time does the song finish?

A On Time
B In Tune
C With the aid of additional question off the internet
D The public vote is overwhelming so the song goes on for ever.

The idea of children performing in public may seem a little far fetched – but think back to Franz Schubert. As a very young child his father bought him an old piano. The family was poor. He was only eleven years old when a stranger came to the warehouse where Franz was playing. He was amazed at the boy’s ability. The stranger told the family that he would make contact. Time passed and there was no word.

He did not know that he has been heard by the Emperor’s choirmaster and was wanted by the royal choir to sing and play. He won the choir competition and was given one of the gold braided honour uniforms. He started writing songs during his school days and went on to write many songs. His works will live on for ever. The greatest singers in the world vie to sing his songs.

A minority must be able to argue that being on today’s X Factor is the equivalent of being recognised by an Emperor.

Perhaps your child will need to hear an `old’ story or he or she may prefer the modern equivalent. It does not really matter so long as the end result is a happy and motivated little eleven plus scholar!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Eleven Plus Capacity

Some of us have a little difficulty at times when we make statements about the eleven plus.

“It does not matter if you don’t pass. We have an alternative plan."

(This is where children have to be really careful. Does this mean boarding school? Is the local school going to be as bad as everyone says? Will I really have to go to school in Australia?)

“Just do the best you can. That is all that anyone can ask for.”

(I know that my best is not going to be as good as the best that the swot Rosie will do. The best I have every done is 83%. What happens if my best is not good enough? If I don’t do my best will I still have to go to the local school?)

All elephants have trunks.

Ginger is an elephant.

Therefore Ginger has a trunk.

(My mother has always told me to re-read questions. Why do I have to re-read this question? I know that elephants have trunks. I know that this is true because elephants do have trunks. I only get confused when the words that are true are changed around.)

All Pal He Ten have knurts.

Ginger is an Pal He Ten.

Therefore Ginger has a knurt
Some eleven plus questions try to force children to draw conclusions and make analogies. If the analogy is based in physical terms then children can arrive at conclusions quickly and confidently. Some eleven plus questions, however, are forced in such esoteric terms that it is almost impossible to arrive at the answer in a logical and thoughtful manner.

When children are working on some types of eleven plus questions, it seems likely that they will never be able to arrive at the correct answer unless they are given any help. Yet there is no magic to the eleven plus. There are some approaches to certain types of questions that have to be leant by rote. The eleven plus child has to learn certain rules – and reject rules that do not fit.

An Pal He Ten is an anagram of an elephant.

A knurt is the work trunk written backwards.

Intelligence – and intellectual capacity – will guide a child when to solve an anagram or reverse the order of letter within a word.

Two days before Christmas:

“Yppah Mars Chits.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Eleven Plus Stress

Nearly all of us, teachers, parents and children alike, will experience varying degrees of eleven plus stress at one time or another. We know that some form of stress is usually beneficial – especially if the stress is controlled. We all, however, tend to think about the home as being a zone where people can live tranquil and relaxed lives. For some lucky parents this can be true. Others parents are aware that their eleven plus journey is bringing out emotions that are sometimes baffling and sometimes irritating. (Some children may even think fleetingly that their parents are sometimes baffling and irritating!)

This is where an eleven plus diary, which some parents seem to keep, can be a remarkably successful factor in monitoring stress levels. Other parents use social networking sites, forum and blogs to record their feelings and emotions.

Your Eleven Plus Stress Level Table could contain at least some of the following:

You are worried about the chances of your child passing the eleven plus- but you do not want to pass this fear onto your child.

You feel that you are failing your child because other children seem to be doing more or different eleven plus activities. (Commonly called, ‘Keeping Up With The Eleven Plus Joneses.’)

You find it hard to sleep at night because there are sections of eleven plus work which you find baffling. You are tempted to get up in the night and go over the eleven plus work you struggled with earlier in the day. You wake your partner at three in the morning to share your concerns.

You, sometimes, want to have a shouting match with your poor eleven plus candidate. You worry that if you do express your feelings about eleven plus work forcefully that your child will stop loving you.

You feel that your child never ever leaves you alone. No sooner do you take a few moments to do something for yourself but your eleven plus child appears to want some help.

You are offered lots of well meaning eleven plus advice – but none of it seems to fit your particular needs.

You feel that if your child does not pass the eleven plus that it will be your fault.

If you have all of these symptoms of stress then it is very likely that you are a perfectly normal eleven plus parent. You are doing well and your child is being given the best possible opportunities. If your child is not working hard enough – then say so. If he or she answers back then stand your corner. You are the top gun. You are the mother. You are the father. The eleven plus candidate is just your child. Without you, his or her chances of passing the eleven plus are minimal. Onwards and Upwards!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Selling the Eleven Plus

Every now and then parents may need to resell the idea of the eleven plus to their children. Parents may need to think carefully before rushing in to try to provide easy solutions. There is nothing mystic about much of the content of the eleven plus. Children do actually pass the examination! The problem is that there is no glory in being hindmost.

Step 1 – Try to avoid `if only’ statements. “If you work hard and pass your eleven plus, you will go to grammar school.” Your child may prefer a much more achievable target – with a much shorter time span. “If you complete ten more questions you will feel that you have achieved something.”

Step 2 – Start with small steps with your child – but do not give up on thinking big. “We are going to try to do a little nearly every day.”

Step 3 – Focus on steps that are concrete and important – it is no good reiterating goals that are abstract and rather vague.

Step 4 – Build a vision in your child’s mind – but not an impossible dream.

Step 5 – Build an eleven plus team with family and friends. Do not try to take the whole weight of the eleven plus on your shoulders.

Some parents may sometimes be tempted to frighten their children with `what ifs’. “This is a competitive examination. You need to pass because you are not offered a second chance. If you do not pass you will need to go to that school down the road. You need to pass, you can not afford to try to be on the waiting list.”

There is a saying that we are well aware of – but perhaps should not be used when discussing the eleven plus with your children. “The Devil Catch the Hindmost.”

It is said that when a class of students have made certain progress in their mystic studies, they are obliged to run through a subterranean hall. The last one is seized by the devil – and thus becomes his imp.

This allegory may not be a good eleven plus selling point!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Eleven Plus and Walking the Dog

“I think, my dear, that our loved daughter will need a little counselling. It looks as if she seems to be losing a little confidence. What shall we do?”

“Counselling may, possibly, be the answer. It depends who we get to work with her. After all we know that the counsellor will need to build a good relationship with Annie. I wonder if we should simply give her a bit more support with her school work and her eleven plus?”

We know that Annie has to go to the counsellor willingly – because she feels that the counsellor can help her. Some people, however, feel that building a good rapport is an essential part of counselling. The act of the counsellor in building a relationship is in itself counselling.

“Who should we get to do the counselling? I would prefer someone from her school. Do you remember the teacher she had in Year 3? She should be sympathetic to Annie’s obvious problems.”

“Yes – but some of Annie’s apparent confusion is over her eleven plus work. The teacher from school may not be able to become too involved with anything to do with the eleven plus.”

“I agree – but she knows Annie very well – and we will not need to talk too much about the eleven plus. After all Annie’s anxiety may not be caused by eleven plus preparation. All we want is the maximum assistance at this time.”

It has long been felt that the best counsellors are parents. Relationships between parents and children are not always ideal – but because parents see their children day after day and year after year it is likely that they are in the best position to appreciate and understand any problems their children may have.

Parents do not have to supply solutions. Counselling is more to do with listening and understanding.

Parents do not need to solve problems – or apply a soothing balm. There just need to `be there’ for their child.

Counselling is often seen to be a matter of setting goals. The more limited the objective is, the more likely that there will be a successful outcome.

It is not essential for the parents to be subjective in any way. There is, however, a strong need for empathy.

The most important element in the parent – child relationship, and this can not always be achieved by involving an outsider, is the need for intimacy. A little chat while walking the dog may be much better than a formal `counselling meeting’.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Passing the Eleven Plus

The eleven plus is used as an examination to select children for grammar schools. Parents and tutors use a variety of means and methods to prepare children for the examination. The use of the internet, for example, has allowed early monopolies on eleven plus materials to be broken.

In one session today a boy confused the word minute with minute. Eleven plus scholars will immediately recognise the source – and will be able to point out that minute was to do with size while minute was an angle of measurement. (It is only sad that the weighty eleven plus question could not bring in the use of the word minute as a record of a meeting!)

If this happened in an actual examination – and this poor boy made a mistake on the paper and subsequently failed his eleven plus – then should the veracity of authors of the test be investigated? After all would it not be morally wrong for children to be deliberately misled?

Is a good eleven plus question one that stimulates thought and judgement? Can an eleven plus question only rely on reading vocabulary and comprehension? Should questions which draw children into mistakes be banned – or at least scrutinised?

There is a continual need to question both the means and the end of the eleven plus examination. Some parents, when confronted by apparently inane and inapposite questions, could be comforted by the words of T. H. Huxley. He once remarked on undergraduates that they came to university to pass examinations rather than to increase knowledge and understanding.

“They work to pass and not to know. But science has its revenge. They do pass and they don’t know.”

Our eleven plus children are not in a position to question what they are being offered by parents and tutors. Parents know that their child needs to reach certain levels in order to pass the examination. Teachers and tutors are obliged to do their best within the constraints of the so called `eleven plus syllabus’.

It is a salutary thought to consider that some bright and able eleven plus children are working to pass and not to know!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Eleven Plus Cheating

I met a child once who was obliged to do a full eleven plus paper every day. The parents must have bought every book and downloaded every paper. The child was expected to achieve over 85% on every exercise because the parents had been told that that was the pass mark in the actual examination. The problem is that there is often a great disparity between the standard of the various eleven plus exercises. Some eleven plus papers are designed for a child at the start of an eleven plus course and others set for when a child is likely to have completed most of the preparation. Some papers are set for particular regions.

A child under considerable pressure at home or in lessons may occasionally feel inclined to want to take a short cut. As the eleven plus examinations approach a parent may praise a really good mark – and then expect their child to achieve that level in all succeeding papers. Poor child!

Some children, however, think that it is cheating to look at answers while they are working through selection papers. The children will happily allow their parents to look at the answers in the middle of the same exercise.

There are no `golden rules’ about when children will cheat - but children may feel the need to cheat if:

The task is too difficult.

The parents or the eleven plus teacher set the standard too high.

Parents press for high marks rather than understanding.

The child feels under pressure to do well academically.

If the pressure is taken off it is likely that attempts to cheat will immediately die away.

Cheating itself does not play appear to play a part in the actual eleven plus examination. The children will be too well supervised – and it is unlikely that any child will be offered an opportunity.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Market Research and the Eleven Plus

Some parents may feel that they need to do some additional market research before they become involved with their tutor. It is easier if parents have had one or more children through a designated tutor – because all concerned know what to expect. What happens if mum and dad don’t think that Child 3 and the much loved tutor for Child 1 and Child 2 will suit? The market research is part of the overall eleven plus plan.

There are two sides to any market research activity. The first is the collection of the information – and then the information has to be analysed.

How Well Known Is Your Tutor?

Your tutor may be a best kept secret to key families. You may have worked with a teacher from the school your children attend. You also may have found the tutor on line or in the small adverts of your local newspaper. If you are going to take up references you may find that your tutor is not all that well known in your local vicinity.

How far will You Travel?

You may prefer to have the tutor call at your home. You can feel that you control and can manage the tuition session. You also may prefer to have your child tutored on a one to one basis at some outside location. There will be some families who prefer the child to be tutored in a group. You may have to travel for this.

What do other parents think?

Listening to little chats and opinions from other parents can be immensely rewarding. It is likely that you will hear more than a laconic: “Well, he (or she) is O.K.” Dig for detail. Are the lessons on time? Is your child greeted on arrival?

Does your teacher portray a professional image?

This may or may not be important. Some people always see the good in others. You possibly want your child to work in an organised environment. Other parents may not really mind. Your understanding of the words `professional image’ may not, however, be the same as that of some one else.

Will the teacher identify your child’s needs?

It is likely that you and your child will different expectations of eleven plus work and the eleven plus teacher. Will your child relish challenging and demanding work? Do you feel your child needs a careful diagnosis before any work is started? Can you can rely on the professional expertise of the teacher to work out what needs to be done – and then engage profitably with your child?

How will you analyse your results?

What are the strongest points?

Where are the weaknesses?

Will this tutor really suit my child?

What makes this tutor distinctive?

Will my child pass the eleven plus?

Have I done the right thing?

What should I do?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Eleven Plus Standards

This can be potentially a big question to try to answer. When parents ask the question – they want a truthful and topical answer: “Is my child working at the eleven plus standard?” This can be a remarkably difficult question to answer.

Is the word `standard’ referring to the candidate’s ability to read, write and cope with arithmetic problems?

Are we talking about the standards of care and provision offered by parents at home? Are there enough books and materials? Is the light good and does the child have a congenial place to work?

Are we talking about a standard of behaviour and attitude to work? Is the child maintaining a good `work ethic’ standard?

Is the eleven plus work the child doing at the right standard?

We must surmise that some eleven plus results will be affected by a decline in standards of behaviour.

Eleven plus results can be affected if one or more parents lose their jobs – and can no longer afford to give their child the best of everything.

Do parents really mean, when they ask the question about their child working at the right standard, “Am I getting value for money?”

We don’t often hear, however, of eleven plus standards rising. The content of the eleven plus seems to stay around the same level year after year – with no new challenges to children, parents and teachers. Does this mean that eleven plus standards are rising, falling or staying about the same level?

The eleven plus standard will vary from child to child. There are children who will need to answer almost every single question on the paper correctly before they win a place in grammar school. There are also some children who will just achieve the pass mark.

An easier question for a teacher is answer is, possibly, “Is my child working at my child’s eleven plus standard?”

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Eleven Plus Promise

Your eldest is approaching the eleven plus. Your youngest is only five. Your eleven plus child has had one or two little problems – nothing really serious. You want the path of your five year old to be a little easier.

Boy Age 5 years and 5 months

General Maturity – Advanced for a boy. He is still prone to being a bit too boyish at times.

Developmental Outlook – He walked and talked early. He did not really crawl – but just stood and held onto anything and everything. He learnt to ride his bike quickly. Used to love Thomas the Tank Engine – but now loves T.V.

Motor Co-ordination – Holds a pencil correctly (at times this slips). Runs beautifully – and looks athletic in his movements.

Language – Talks and talks about everything. Uses some quite complex sentences. Has a retentive memory. (He will remember the time you denied him that special present until the day he dies.)

Sociability – Communicates well with children of all ages. Rather aggressive at times – but is prepared to listen.

Eleven Plus Capability – Looks good. No one can promise anything but it looks good at this stage.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Eleven Plus Pressure

Parents may sometimes feel that their children are not reading questions carefully enough. There is a short term solution which may help.

          If Right If Wrong If Omitted
I am sure it is true +2 -2
I think it may be true +1 -1
I don’t know +½
I think it may be false +1 -1
I am sure it is false +2 -2

This system of awarding marks is called `confidence weighting’.

Just a suggestion – try this out with your child on five questions when he or she is feeling relaxed and confident. Then try a further five questions on a day when your child is under the weather, upset, tired and worried.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Content of the Eleven Plus

Parents who choose to have their children work towards the eleven plus are pondering three key questions:

Does my child have the ability to pass the eleven plus?

Would an academic life at grammar school suit him or her?

What should be taught in preparation for the eleven plus?

In the nineteenth century educationalists believed in the concept of `transfer of training’. If you teach a child to be good at one thing this will transfer across to other subjects. The fallacy of this argument is perpetuated in certain key eleven plus examinations. “If you teach a child to be good at passing the eleven plus he or she will succeed academically.” This is not to say that all types of verbal reasoning questions are a waste of time – but some categories of questions do appear to be somewhat farcical in nature.

Surely it would be better to build an eleven plus curriculum that satisfied the educational needs of bright and able children? Suppose you want your child to do very well in an approaching dominoes competition – you then set out to teach your child to be good at dominoes. There are many different types of domino competitions. You teach your child five different types of games. You arrive at the competition and are handed a set of rules. Your child will be faced with a brand new type of game. The dominoes still have to be placed end to end – but there is an unforeseen twist in the game.

Of course you can weep and wail and complain.

You can accept the situation- give your child a hug - and tell him or her to get on with it.

You can take your mobile phone out of your pocket and phone your dominoes teacher and castigate him or her for not foreseeing a change of rules.

(Of course you could blame yourself – parents do like to feel guilty at times.)

In the examination your child will show that he or she may or may not have the ability to pass a particular type of eleven plus examination. This does not say that your child does not have the ability to pass a different style of eleven plus examination.

Suitability of grammar school
Self respecting parents will know the answer to this question themselves. Why try to fit a square peg into a round hole?

Eleven Plus Preparation
Some types of question do not seem to have changed much in the last fifty years. It is possible that that there may be a case for a review of the eleven plus.

Very little is written about changing content the eleven plus. Is it because no one wants to rock the boat? It is because the eleven plus syllabus is so traditional in nature that no one is brave enough to challenge it?

The eleven plus may need to be able to respond to the changes that have taken place in the last fifty years. We need to look towards the future as well as the past.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Wider Eleven Plus

The top universities seem to be trying to select a wider range of students. There has been a lot of discussion about the need to try to cater for a wider range. Quite simply the universities want to try to get the right kind of person. Traditionally young men and woman from top public schools and good grammar schools have been fortunate enough to win places.

Top universities want top students. We wonder, however, if the admissions tutors are looking for bright young men and women who also all rounders. The 11+ and Common Entrance do the preliminary selection. Once the children are in the most academic independent schools and the highest achieving grammar school they are put under pressure to achieve good results.

When many of these youngsters reach years nine and ten they are already amassing GCSEs. Year 11 for some is simply a year of consolidation. The A Level years allow the accumulation of yet more qualifications. Some will also be working for university scholarship examinations – aiming at Oxford or Cambridge.

We also hear stories of young men and women school leavers winning places in top American universities.

Many years ago the scholarship examinations were introduced to Oxford and Cambridge to find bright candidates who did not have the opportunity to attend privileged schools. The two universities endowed scholarships for poor boys when no alternative university education existed. At one time some grammar schools were able to select less fortunate children under similar altruistic conditions.

Much has changed over the years. Entry to a top grammar school is still a prize for many parents. We do not seem to hear all that much, however, of a society of equitable eleven plus opportunity. We also do not seem to hear all that much about efforts to eliminate the unfair advantage some children have when they study for the eleven plus.

A further perplexing question is wondering how studying for the eleven plus is preparing our bright and able children to go on to achieve high academic honours? A diet of prescribed verbal and non verbal reasoning questions, for example, seems to suggest a worryingly narrow waste of intellectual ability.

A wider form of the Eleven Plus examination could help.

Friday, December 11, 2009

An Eleven Plus Prescription

Picture the scene. You are still at school approaching your examinations. You have been told what to learn. You mutter that there is so much to learn. Think of a different country. Children of the same age group are also at school. (You met some of them when you went on your school exchange.)

You were told about a professor in this far off country – who was still in his prime. He had been teaching for nearly fifty years. He worked out how many punishments he had inflicted. He proudly stated that he had delivered over 900 000 strokes of the cane. He added the rider, we are told, that around 800 000 were for Latin. (On good authority – this is a true account of a named German Professor!)

Latin, for a period, became narrow in outlook and the approach was profoundly grammatical. The professor must have had many opportunities to wield the cane! For years and years Latin was concerned with grammar and syntax. One great argument in favour of Latin was that studying the subject offered unparalleled mental discipline.

Today, we understand, teachers are successful in teaching Latin as a living language – rather than as a dead and foreign language.

The eleven plus world still appears to have some narrow views of the contents of some eleven plus examination. Some eleven plus examination boards, for example, appear to rely on a prescriptive `twenty one types of verbal reasoning’.

“If you learn these twenty one types – you will pass the examination.”

“If you miss one of the twenty one types then it is likely that you will fail.”

“There is no use learning twenty three types – this is only confusing your brain. You will waste your time.”

“Stick to the prescribed syllabus.”

Just because these twenty one types of verbal reasoning have been around for years and years – is this a reason for their retention? The twenty one types must dominate the eleven plus education of some of our children. If the aims of a grammar school in today’s world include the desire for an intellectual and scientific education – then why would those schools insist on selecting children who have bee drilled to do well on the `Twenty One’ types?

Just as Latin had to be memorised so some of today’s children have to memorise twenty one different methods of attacking verbal reasoning questions.

We look at in horror at the old professor who tried to beat Latin into his pupils. What should we think about those who maintain that twenty one different types of verbal reasoning question is all that has to be learnt?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Eleven Plus Feelings

A girl brought a Father Christmas to her lesson today.

"That's fab. What are you getting for Christmas?"

"I have asked for lots of things."

"My Mum says she is going to give me Eleven Plus papers."

"How sad."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

An Eleven Plus Story

An eleven plus story. One day a mother and her son were working through eleven plus papers. They were sitting peacefully in the foyer of a very large leisure centre. Suddenly a man stopped importantly beside them.

The man was dressed in a pin striped suit. He was carrying a lap top and a bundle of significant looking books and papers. His shoes were polished and his tie was obviously silk. His hair was combed smartly – and there may have been the faintest hint of gel. He spoke to the mother and the child – and without indentifying himself - asked them if they needed any help. “I can see that you are struggling. If I can help you with your problems, will you buy these books from me?”

The mother and her son looked at each other. They nodded simultaneously. They looked down at the paper in front of them and said in chorus, “Done!”

The important man sat down in a chair, opened his lap top, and began surfing. He did not even glance at the papers in front of him on the table. He pulled a little thermal printer out of his briefcase and started printing out a pile of answers. He then glanced swiftly over to the waiting pair and said, “The answer to number 34 is 11.”

Without waiting for their response he started collecting the books he had brought together and began adding up the total price list.

The mother said, “If I can guess your profession, will you let me have all those answers?”

The man said, “Of course. That will be a pleasure.”

The mother and son consulted each other in a staged whisper. Without a smile they chorused: “Deputy Head!”

The man was astonished. “How did you know?”

The mother replied, “First of all you are wearing a badge showing that you have been CRB Checked. Your name is also on the badge.”

The man looked down in surprise. “I thought I had taken my badge off.”

“Yes,” said the son. “Your badge shows that you are the Deputy Head of your school.”

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Unseen Eleven Plus Questions

The word `unseen’ appears in many different language examinations. I can remember pretending to relish the unseen texts in Latin at school. Suppose the Eleven Plus was livened up with questions and exercises where children were faced with a drill to translate?

You could offer this to your child.

Your task begins now.

Translate the following passage into modern English. Remember your academic future depends on your perseverance and ability to think and reason.

Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu!
Growth sed and bloweth med
and springth the wude nu.
Sing cuccu!

Awe bleteth after lomb,
lhouth after calve cu;
Bulluc sterteth, bucke uerteth,.
Murie sing cuccu!

Cuccu, cuccu,
Well singes thu cuccu.
Ne swik thu naver nu!
Sing cuccu nu, Sing cuccu!

You may need to offer your child a few clues:

Lhude = loud

Awe = you

Llouth = loweth

Swike = cease

There are a number of translations on the internet!

Your child may prefer an exercise of this nature over a typical unprepossessing eleven plus exercise in the order of:

Arrange these words in alphabetical order:

There thanks thunder thimble thought

Monday, December 07, 2009

An Eleven Plus Teraflop

“How quickly does my child need to work through an eleven plus paper in the actual examination?

This is a really interesting question because it brings so many different elements of examination technique into play. Should you advise your child to pace himself or herself?

What happens if you have a child who finishes well? Do you still advise your child to maintain the need to work at a measured pace?

What do you do about your child if he or she persists in slowing down on the interesting and hard questions? “But Mum. I know how to do it. I am nearly there. Please don’t rush me. I can do it!”

It is possible that on some questions your child will be working at the speed of a teraflop. This is one thousand billion calculations per second. (This is about the speed of a child saying yes to a visit to the cinema.) On other questions the speed may appear to slow down to a crawl. (Have you fallen asleep, dear?)

In October of this year the first England football match was streamed over the internet. This demonstrated the ability of the internet to be able to cope with multiple downloads – and lots of data.

Would it not make for a greener eleven plus examination if the children were able to sit in front of a computer and have their work marked and analysed on line? The computer could monitor a child on the test – and suggest when too much time had been spent on one question. A computer could give immediate results to a battery of eleven plus tests – and cut out all the waiting.


No cars driving to the examinations.
No paper.
Less anxiety for parents and children.
Quicker results.
More help, when needed, within the examination.

It looks as if a teraflop will solve a whole lot of problems.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Eleven Plus Parents

I was out for a little walk today. A car turned around the corner. The mother was driving with one hand. On her lap was a baby – and the mum was feeding the baby with a bottle. There was no safety harness that I could see because the baby was swaddled in a white blanket.

We must wonder if the baby will ever grow up to become an eleven plus candidate. We also must wonder too at the circumstances that forced the mother to take such a risk.

When a test is standardised every effort is made to build a control group with similar traits. The 2012 team is trying to find athletes who will be able to win medals. Tom Daly must have been a highly proficient diver when he was ten years old. It would have been almost impossible to find a boy or a similar age, height and athletic ability that Tom can be compared with. It must have been easier to find a boy of similar age, height and mathematical ability.

In the process of standardisation it must be possible to find reasonably common characteristics in each group. We may, however, find more than one child with similar common characteristics. If there were twice as many cases of children with common characteristics then all that needs to happen is that a ratio of 2 : 1 is established. Naturally the excess matches can be discarded.

For all sorts of reasons it may prove very difficult to find exact matches for the little baby who was being fed while the mother was driving. But, thank goodness, it is children who are tested for the eleven plus – not parents.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Eleven Plus Rewards

What is more likely to bring success at the eleven plus stage? The promise of one big reward or the offer of lots of little rewards? Of course the word reward will mean different things to a wide range of eleven plus parents.

To some children the word reward must be measurable – some kind of fact or event. A hard working child can be identified quite easily. A child who is labelled as lazy may simply have had a routine disturbed or there could be a problem at school or in the home. It is more difficult to arrive at a definition of some sets of eleven plus experience than others.

It is probably true to say, however, that a child who tries hard and is willing to repeat a difficult or demanding exercise is unlikely to be labelled as lazy,

We tend to repeat key topics when preparing children for the eleven plus. The idea is that habit and repetition will drive a topic home – and anchor it so that the child is able to recall and then reproduce confident work in the examination.

The simple rewards of praise and encouragement should be enough of a prize for most eleven plus children.

Friday, December 04, 2009

An Eleven Plus Nursery Rhyme.

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat;
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you!

If you are already feeling stressed about the chances of your child passing the eleven plus then this is possibly the best time of year to de-stress and de-tox. For many parents the examination is some months away. Of course there are some children who are writing early in 2010 – and we can only wish them the best of all good fortune.

One interpretation of this old rhyme is that if you do not have something to offer to someone less fortunate – then you are indeed of need of help yourself. If you do have a child who has the potential to pass the eleven plus then your are already blessed – and more fortunate than others. Some eleven plus suggestions:

Exercise your child’s mind – but do not use the excuse of the eleven plus – make mental agility past of the family’s life style.

Provide for yourself – and your prize candidate - the right kinds of food with lots of vitamins and oily fish, nuts and seeds.

Take plenty of exercise – on your own and with the rest of the family. Expect your eleven plus candidate to join you in relaxing and pleasant activities.

Write a diary of when you are feeling stressed. Express your feelings on all the social networks. Ask your eleven plus child to join you in some on line activities.

Finally write bad verse – this really is a good de-stressing agent. Here is an offer of the first two lines:

The Eleven Plus is coming, my feelings are breaking out
Please take my children for a long, strong bout.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

When should we start Eleven Plus work?

We are often asked the question: "When should we start on Eleven Plus work?"

The answer is that you have already started by simply asking the question.

Certainly you began working from elements of an pre eleven plus course before your child was six years old. You worked on vocabulary, spatial awareness, counting reasoning - almost all the skills associated with eleven plus work.

You know too that your child needs to be above average in ability - and it is likely that your child is bright - other wise you would have asked the question. A fascinating piece of research showed the ability levels of a group of
six year olds
in Hong Kong. It would be very interesting to have a similar piece of research, using the same tools, that compared ability as measured at six years old and final marks in eleven plus tests.

We have no way of verifying the Hong Kong research - and we do know that we all have the feeling that statistics can lie.

There has, however, been a general feeling for years that extra work before an examination can benefit marks. Coaching on some types of intelligence questions can help to raise an I.Q. Help with the technique of answering some kinds of eleven plus question can give a child confidence in the examination.

Ask your six year old the questions:

Do we need land?

Why does the human body need energy?

Ask the same questions of your eleven plus candidate.

Parents are not observers in the eleven plus competition - they are participants. Parents will want their child to have a simulating pre eleven plus journey. The eleven plus is far more than eleven plus papers, books, tutors and extra tuition. The eleven plus is a journey with partners. Take heart - you have started!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Eleven Plus Logic

With lots of children being prepared for eleven plus examinations there will, no doubt, be many teachers involved in eleven plus preparation. How do parents know if they have a good one? There must be a rider here – a `good’ teacher for one eleven plus child may not be a `good’ teacher for another.

A few years ago it would have been inconceivable that an eleven plus teacher could be stumped by a question for eleven year olds. A large percentage of children may have been taught using the same books and materials year after year. An eleven plus teacher would know all the eleven plus answers.

An eleven plus child and an eleven plus parent would be able to accept, with complete confidence, that the answer was correct in method and presentation. Today we have a proliferation of eleven plus `experts’ who have the ability and the desire to share their expertise with the rest of us. A common and favoured `modern’ method of disseminating information and papers is through the internet.

Children sometimes bring eleven plus papers they have been working on at home to the lessons. The questions of some of the `older’ and well established eleven plus papers remain fresh – because every eleven plus candidate is different. I sometimes feel witless, however, when challenged by obscure questions from less well known sources.

Teachers need to have interest and enthusiasm for their subject. The `would be’ authors try to transfer their love of the subject to their pupils – and share with a wider audience. Once they are published, in what ever form, they then become experts. We all know that experts need to be listened to. We may not agree with their point of view – but we do need to take their thoughts into account.

Last week we had an honours graduate in English, an A Level student destined for St. Andrews and a Lower Sixth form assistant with 11 GCSE passes – 7 of them at A*. The rest were `A’ grades. A pupil had brought a paper in. I know that the father had an MBA and the mother was a teacher. I was there, rather like the Ghosts of Christmas Past, representing the past, the present and the future.

Even with the answers we could not do one question. None of us could supply the requisite logic. Almost all of us could find a common and plausible solution. Our pupil’s face started looking concerned. As person after person failed, our child’s confidence grew. None of us were concerned with our authority being undermined. We needed a solution.

The ability to set up a comprehensive learning experience is at the heart of eleven plus teaching. The freshness and vitality of the new entrants into the eleven plus area adds a layer of richness that the more mature and established authors can not try to emulate. If there ever were to be any changes to the content and scope of eleven plus work it would be politic to ask the opinions of the `new kids on the block’ – even though we may, at times, question their logic.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Changes to the Eleven Plus

Some of the questions in some eleven plus papers seem to suit children who have the ability to focus and solve problems.

Some grammar schools may then miss out on children who think creatively.

If the verbal reasoning test had a slot for creative thought then it could invite a wider range of answers.

Give a fourth word in this series:

creative imaginative inventive ………..

If questions like this were asked then parents could argue about the responses their child made.

“My child offered an original and probably unique answer. You can not penalise him.”

“Thirty five seconds is not enough time to arrive at an answer that shows true creativity and depth of thought.”

“There is not one correct answer – so how can you mark his work right or wrong.”

“My child and I have spent the last two years learning a page of the dictionary each day. We have learnt nearly seven hundred pages. The words in this section of the eleven plus test were not in the pages we studied.”

If creativity was to be included in a number of questions eleven plus parents would also be able to argue about the format of the examination.

“Does this test actually measure what it is supposed to measure?”

“What is creativity?”

“Do children in grammar schools need to be creative?”

There could also be wider questions about the nature of the creativity.

“If my child is in the school orchestra and can play the violin to Grade 5 – surely that is more creative than a child who is able to string words together?”

“How have you been able to verify that creative children will turn out to be creative adults? Do we need creative adults?”

“My child is just two marks away from passing. Did his superior creativity militate against his achieving a pass mark just because he found solutions to answer that the examiners had not thought about?”

Of course it may possibly be easier for the current authors of the `real’ eleven plus examinations to keep repeating the same questions year after year. After all if it is not broken – why change?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Eleven Plus Re-Sit

Your child sits an eleven plus test. On the day of the test there is unseasonable tornado. (We do get tornados!)

Part of the roof of the entrance hall is blown away. There is a loud noise but the room your child is working in is not affected. Outside the window the eleven plus candidates can see ambulances and fire engines arriving. There is no damage, however, in the sanctum of the eleven plus examination. The invigilator reassures your child. The calm outside room is, however, disrupted for much of the examination.

Your child is told that the noise will be taken into account when the papers are marked. Your smiling face changes to horror as you look at the building – and your main concern is your child’s safety. In the morning, however, the eleven plus parent persona kicks back in. Words like, `It is not fair,” spring to mind.

You phone, quite rightly, to ask for a re-sit.

You are reassured by a comforting voice on the other end of the phone.

How relevant will the re-sit be? How reliable will the second test be? Will your child be disadvantaged? A natural disaster has taken away your child’s chances of passing. The words, “It is not fair,” become a refrain.

You subsequently find out that your child passed the original test – but failed the second test. What do you do then? How reliable was the second test?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

An Eleven Plus Discussion

There may be other ways of examining at the eleven plus level.

The present `Eleven Plus’ is accepted by candidates, and parents, as being the best and only way that children can be selected for entry into grammar schools. Perhaps there is something to learn from other methods of examining. An advanced course of `Proficiency in English’, for example, requires mental maturity – and a good general knowledge.

There is an oral element which demands the ability to be able to take part in discussions on argumentative topics.

Students are only ensured of a good grade on the written side of the examination when they can tackle topics where a narrative or descriptive answer is not enough – the writer has to be able to cope with facts and opinions.

Students also have to be aware of a wide range of different styles of writing and speaking. The length of answers and the intellectual content are taken into account.

Of course an eleven plus examination where someone has to listen to the views and thoughts of ten year old children would prove to be vastly expensive and time consuming. It is much easier for the eleven plus administrators to encourage children to sit in vast rooms to complete multiple choice tests.

Perhaps the present system of eleven plus selection causes us to miss a number of bright and articulate children who can think, argue and discuss a wide range of topics.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Eleven Plus Chances

It is easy for eleven plus parents to wonder just how their children are going to learn all the different topics involved with any eleven plus work. There is usually, however, some light at the end of the tunnel.

Children are learning all the time. They have learnt to walk and to talk. They have learnt, at every young age, how to manipulate their parents. There have been almost countless learning milestones. Parents will proudly remember when their precocious child’s first solo bicycle ride. What about the thrill when their child first swam 5 metres without the benefit of training aids.

Of course the eleven plus has questions that need to be answered, but essentially eleven plus children are on a steep learning curve. Most parents and children manage to hold on.

Parents will, quite rightly, have multiple opinions on the fairness and the validity of the eleven plus. They will also have many views on the eleven plus itself. After all their children will need to `learn’ the division facts tables before they will be able to cope comfortably with bringing a fraction to lowest terms – or working out a ratio in lowest terms.

Some eleven plus children will learn to play chess. These children will be able o bring attributes of patience, sportsmanship, cunning, forbearance, skill and ability to trying to solve eleven plus problems. Chess playing children have to learn rules and moves. Children who play chess will understand `Queens Gambit Declined’ and `Two Knights Defence’. Learning to play chess may not help to answer a specific question in an eleven plus examination – but can demonstrate a willingness to learn and compete.

An eleven plus child may suddenly find that he is learning to beat his father or mother play an involved computer game. Some children will demonstrate this ability well ahead of their tenth birthday!

A two year old can learn how to insert a DVD – and then press the PLAY button. Few parents will sit down and deliberately try to teach their two year old but will be delighted when the child demonstrates that the skill has been learnt.

Somewhere during the course of the eleven plus adventure the child will become more and more aware that all the learning that has been offered – and received – is starting to have an impact. Being able to answer a certain type of verbal reasoning question does not come about by accident.

Of course parents are aiming at building their child’s confidence before the examination. The more the child learns to cope with eleven plus work the greater the chance the child has to be able to reproduce what has been learnt in the examination.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Eleven Plus Stress

Parents who are not involved in the hurly burly of the eleven plus must wonder why some parents occasionally become a little stressed about aspects of the examination. Of course some parents will take in all in their stride and avow: “I don’t care if he passes or fails. We will have done the best we can.”

Child: Strengths, Weaknesses and ground that HAS to be covered.

Parents: Mental stability, and a willingness not to listen to all playground scuttlebutt.

Child: Healthy mind, sound approach to the pre-examination process.

Parent: A desire to listen to the body. (Some may need to take care with eleven plus alcohol intake.)

Vocational Training
Child: “It is hard to accept that mum and dad can be teachers as well as parents.”

Parent: “I never knew that having a child would be like this.”

Child: “I don’t mind being driven to the lesson – but why do they go on and on about it?”

Parent: “I spend my life in the car. I love my child – but why does he or she have to be taken everywhere?

Child: “I like having my own private spot where I can work on my own.”

Parent: “I just wish, that for once, he (or she) would pick up and put away.”

Child: “I am more confident.”

Parent “Does it really take all this work to build a bit of confidence?”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Eleven Plus Tasks

Trying to keep your eleven plus child motivated over a long period could prove to be an ongoing task. The reward of a good job and a fine car – along with a house with an indoor swimming pool may turn out to be a rather abstract notion for some eleven plus children.

“Yes, you told me that before. I know that I have to read every day – but I can’t find a book I want to read. Anyway the books you chose just don’t suit me. I can’t see how they can help me to pass the eleven plus.”

Parents could consider a little more powerful short term system of rewards.

Complete ten questions – 2 reward

Finish a full paper – 8 rewards

Tidy the papers away after completing the task – 3 rewards

Ask to do extra eleven plus work – 2 rewards

Be nice to your sister’s cat – 1 reward

Don’t invite a friend over on the day you have a lesson – 3 rewards

This task list seems to be deteriorating. We may need to build from a more mundane and less self satisfied basis. All the following tasks are worth one reward.

Feed your sister’s cat

Brush your teeth

Unload the dishwasher

Put your shoes away

Be ready for school

Do your homework

Write an email to grandmother

Deal effectively with your school clothes

Remember to remind me for your pocket money

It does seem as if eleven plus tasks would have to be more heavily weighted than day to day concerns. After all is it really necessary to reward a bright ten year old to remember to clear the table after a meal? Now if that same ten year old cleaned your shoes on a regular basis – you may feel a little more inclined to reward and praise.

The thorny question then arises. What is the worth of a reward? In monetary terms a reward could be ten pence – and this would probably work out, in a week, no more that a dash of pocket money. The only difference being that your child would feel that he or she had had to work for the reward. Parents may choose to maintain a form of a star or reward chart – but what self respecting ten year old academic would stand for that? He or she would see through the subterfuge immediately and treat the reward scheme with the respect it deserves! (None!)

The other problem lies in a reward system is that once started it has to be maintained. If you really expect your child to keep coping with the dishwasher every day then you must be prepared to pay for the privilege – even on the days when your child forgets.

Should the reward all add up to a good prize at the end of the scheme? Probably yes – but then if your child has been `good’ for a whole year then you would probably want to award a reward in spite of a reward scheme – rather than because of reward system.

A little eleven plus mathematics is necessary:

Tasks 10 a day = 70 a week. (There could be a debate about time off on a Sunday.)

Eleven Plus Tasks (One paper a week and eight other eleven plus related activities) = 50.

Total 70 + 50. Just what is it worth for your child to please you 120 times a week? Priceless!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When it was decided, through a degree of consultation, that education should be available to all the powers that be had to have a rethink of what was wanted in education. There was no national Curriculum in those days – but there were many different bodies that were responsible for education. Education for all required:

Education had to be socially comprehensive.

This was many years before the eleven plus. One of the main planks of the eleven plus was that it would help a number of able children, from some poorer homes, to have as good an education as possible in grammar schools.

Education had to be based on a total commitment. There could be no place for limited or religious elements.

The total commitment in the selection process does not take place in many eleven plus areas – some rely heavily, for example, on a single test, like verbal reasoning, to select children for grammar schools.

Education had to link with technical and social change.

Again some eleven plus papers seem to have very little to do with anything technical. No wonder that England does not seem to have boys and girls aspiring to be scientists and engineers if the very selection process they have undergone has excluded them.

Education had to rely on the state.

The state, in many counties, has rejected the eleven plus. The playing field is not level all over the country.

Education and the state became partners. Over one hundred years ago political parties were able to try to manipulate education to suit their needs. Not much has changed there – as we all remember, in very recent times, the words: “Education, Education, Education.” Public investment all those years ago was vital to the development of school. The present `Building Schools for the Future’ represents a massive investment in buildings and technology.

It is that very diversity in the eleven plus that brings so much richness to what children have to learn. One of our boys three different eleven plus tests:

Bexley – Verbal Reason and Mathematics

Kent – Verbal and Non Verbal Reasoning and Mathematics. (Along with a little English.)

Medway – English, Verbal Reasoning and Mathematics.

He passed all three eleven plus examinations. His preparation had to be very different from that of a boy or girl only working on verbal reasoning and mathematics. We hope he was the richer for the eleven plus preparation because he was expected to cover a much wider syllabus.

The eleven plus plays a very big part in the lives of involved parents, children and schools. It would be wonderful if the examination could be more comprehensive, recognised as a vehicle for progress and enrichment as well as acknowledged by the state. Then we may see some progress in more of our schools.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Eleven Plus for Girls

I should imagine that every mother and daughter aged ten years and upwards has heard about "New Moon" by Stephanie Meyers. I need to hold my hand up - before New Moon I had never heard about Twilight and certainly had not understood the impact of romantic dread and terror that vampires appear to engender in the hearts and minds of females in general.

The blurb on the back cover of the book has the words: "irresistibly combines romance and suspense with a supernatural twist". The two final paragraphs read:

He got up slowly and came to put his hands on either side of my face as he stared into my eyes. "Forever," he vowed, still a little staggered.

"That’s all I am asking for," I said, and stretched up on my toes so that I could press my lips to his.

The Twilight series may provide reluctant girl readers with an exciting entry into books that seem to be able to appeal to any female age group. It is remarkably hard to see why every eleven plus girl should not have one in the Christmas stocking.

My understanding, and this probably highly erroneous, is that girls need equal measures of romance and terror. It is unlikely a mere eleven plus paper - in its present form - can cater for these needs. The only reason for mentioning this is that the eleven plus is a stressful journey for some mothers and daughters - and would it not be sensible to be able to combine business with pleasure? Can’t some eleven plus questions cater for what a girl wants and needs?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Eleven Plus Questions

Caroline Wells summed up the Eleven Plus for me today:

A tutor who tooted the flute
Tried to tutor two tooters to toot.
Said the two to the tutor,
Is it harder to toot, or
To tutor two tooters to toot?

Parents struggling with arcane eleven plus questions must sometimes wonder just how the questions landed up on a book or a paper. Perhaps the tutor was simply tooting.

When parents help their children with eleven plus work all they are doing is trying to prepare them for an examination. In the examination they want their child to be mentally alert.

Parents try to stimulate their children and excite them with the challenge of the eleven plus.

There is no need for anyone to feel inferior or insecure simply because an eleven plus question looks difficult. Perhaps the eleven plus author was doing no more than showing off and tooting.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eleven Plus Percentages

On of the big problems associated with the fairness of the eleven plus is the lack of published follow ups. We can see that if a child passes the eleven plus with a good score that it should be possible for the same child to achieve good GCSE and A level results. What we don’t have is the opportunity of retesting all the children some years later and then comparing the results. There could be some very able potential grammar school children who may possibly have missed a place.

We know that it is possible to raise a child’s verbal reasoning score by some marks – simply by helping the child to prepare for the test. We sometimes get to offer a verbal reasoning test to a nine or ten year old, and then have the opportunity to retest them some years later (if they are going to try for the thirteen plus). Sometime the results are the same, at other times the child could reach a much higher level. Occasionally the comparison of the test results makes it looks as if there has been an impossible decline in ability.

Many facts like motivation, however, must come into play. It could be that when the child was ten, he or she could have been set on grammar school. The thirteen year old may not be as determined to pass. For example he or she may prefer to stay with their friends at their present school – and not go on to grammar. Some nine year old children may not have been mature enough to take full advantage of that all important reasoning test, but could be ready at thirteen. We know that children develop at different rates and at different times.

We can’t even compare a verbal reasoning test result with the scores reached in an intelligence test – because the two tests are not looking for the same attributes. Elements of a verbal reasoning test may be contained within an intelligence test but the strictures of a verbal reasoning test can not describe general intellectual ability.

There was an article in a newspaper the other day suggesting that the observations of teachers could replace SATs. This could start to place quite a heavy burden on teachers as the results could appear, to the outsider, to be subjective, at times, and suspect.

A verbal reasoning test looks at a number of different sets of unknowns. Teacher observations, however, are not the same as results on a verbal reasoning test. Teacher observations for SATs test results would necessarily look at standards in English and mathematics. This way of looking at a child would not be the same as the necessary observations on the suitability of a child for grammar school.

It is easy to attack elements of almost any eleven plus test – but essentially eleven plus tests exist to try to help children into grammar schools. It is hoped that the children who enter the grammar schools are willing to try to make the most of their grammar school experience. Grammar school tests do not need to worry about innate ability. The Eleven Plus does not need to take into account that a child may do very well on one day – but not so well on another.

In one sense the major factor in determining how many children pass the eleven plus is the number of places in the grammar schools. Eleven plus tests simply try to make the entry as equitable as possible. It does not mean that eleven plus tests have to be fair to all children.

The number of passes at the eleven plus is decided by a percentage. How may poor children miss out because of a percentage point?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Winning an Eleven Plus Place

As from the 3rd of March 2010 all children applying for places in Grammar Schools will need to supply a hand written C.V.

No child will be admitted unless the 200 word C.V. is completed. The two referees will need to supply day time telephone numbers and be prepared to submit a written reference.

A child who has been on this earth for ten whole years will have plenty to put on a C.V. There won’t be much opportunity to enter a section on the gap year spent helping the disadvantaged in Peru or the stints of working part time at Christmas in a large department store but self sufficient and self respecting grammar school candidates should be able to come up with something of interest.

It is likely that professional C.V. writers will want to engage new markets. Parents will also come into their own, for once, as they bring their expertise and experience to bear on the problem. Grandmother too will essay a trip into the loft to find her copy of the first C.V. she wrote when she was nineteen and desperately wanted a part time job. Of course Uncle Fred will throw in his opinion that C.V.’s are a waste of time. “Look where I got and I never wrote a C.V.” (Uncle Fred won the lottery when he was just seventeen years old.)

Children will quickly come to understand the need to take considerable trouble over their C.V.s. They will no doubt be informed over and over that this will be the first impression that the grammar school will have. Children will be warned that in spite of passing the eleven plus with outstanding marks – entry will only be offered if the C.V. stands up.

Now would be a good idea to remind children not to lie on their C.V.s. There will be little point in adding in a twenty third Cub Scout badge if it is spurious and misleading. Chance would have it that someone on the C.V. committee will be the Chief Scout.

We would hope too that children would not need to apply on specially designed forms. This would not allow an earnest ten year old girl to apply a wheel of sprightly yellow butterflies to her C.V. Who would want to crush originality in a ten year old? When children are thinking about all the factors in their favour – like interests, experiences and accomplishments – then they should be allowed some freedom of expression and presentation.

Some children will no doubt not listen carefully to their parents and write their C.V.s in the form of a story. “One dark and stormy night a girl wanted to go to Grammar School. She walked up to the forbidding iron gates and saw a school bag draped over the nearby railings. She thought: “I am going to be enterprising. I really want to go to this school. I will solve the mystery.”

Of course any self respecting C.V. will need to have a word limit. If the detailed instructions ask for a word limit then the children will need to adhere to the word count. There will be no place for the bright ten year old boy to try to be funny and write the whole of his life in fifty words. Equally a verbose, articulate but earnest girl may be denied a place if she offers 500 words. This will show that she can not count and may be too self opinionated.

Some children may prefer to submit their C.V. without making a neat copy. No doubt there will be some who will argue that grammatical errors and the odd spelling mistake will not be noticed and will not really count. One or two may even insist on handing in their C.V. written in pencil. They will want to stand out – but they may not be counted!

Finally children will have to ask their referees for permission. Like writing to thank relatives for Christmas presents, children will need to learn to contact their referees to tell them whether they were offered a place or not.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Wonder of the Eleven Plus

An allusion is a figure of speech that compares aspects or qualities of counterparts in history, mythology, scripture, literature or popular culture. If this is true then are the words `Grammar School’ an illusion or an allusion?

Early grammar schools grew out of medieval education – and were designed to promote spiritual and social order. Education in those early days did not end with school because youngsters with technical ability were offered apprenticeships. Grammar schools, however, were founded under many different guises. Some were cathedral schools while others were founded in monasteries. Some grew out of the need for hospitals to be able to educate. One grammar school was even established by a soldier. Enlightened nuns developed school for girls. Many schools were free – and girls had a very good chance of a sound education.

Rivalry between establishments was as fierce then as it is today. Gloucester Grammar School wanted a monopoly in the city and in the neighbourhood – and argued that a rival school master could not set up a school to compete.

The Grammar School did not win – because a judge maintained that; `To teach youth is a virtuous and charitable thing to do, helpful to the people, for which a teacher can not be published by law.’ The church fought back by saying that anyone who did not hold an `Episcopal Licence’ was not fit to teach.

During the Revolution there was one grammar school for every eight thousand people. This dropped to one grammar school to twenty three thousand in the Victorian era. Today children work hard to get into grammar schools where the ratio of places to population must be incredibly higher.

When I was a child I was fascinated by the concept of the Seven Wonders of the World. I regret that I have only visited the sites of three of the wonders – the Pyramid of Cheops, the Pharos of Alexandria and the Colossus of Rhodes. I very much regret missing the Hanging Gardens of Nebuchadnezzar as I would have loved to have seen the irrigation by the hydraulic pumps. My grandfather used to irrigate some of his crops - so delivering water to crops was very much part of his life.

Are grammar schools part of today’s Seven Wonders of Education? There are so few grammar schools that they could appear to be an illusion. The impact on children who do not pass – but deserve to pass - must be profound.

In the Hanging Gardens water had to pumped to about 350 feet above the water level. Some eleven plus children have to learn Eleven Plus subjects and topics way above the levels being taught at school. The chances of passing must, to some, to be an illusion – far beyond what is expected of them at school.

When the Statue of Olympian Zeus was excavated Zeus was sitting on a throne and carrying a Nike or Victory in his right hand. In his left hand he held a sceptre.

Parents and children can not expect to suffice with a soft shoe approach when tackling the eleven plus. Some parents must expect to have to help their children to climb veritable mountains before their child can allude to a Nike in their right hand and a sceptre in their left.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reviewing Eleven Plus Progress

We have been experimenting with on line marking, evaluation and feedback of eleven plus English. We started off with GCSE English students where their essays were marked, salient points presented to the pupil on line – along with a GCSE examiner’s evaluation of the essay.

We have noticed over the years that when an Eleven Plus essay or story is handed back that it sometimes quite difficult to go over errors and mistakes – because an analysis of errors seems to turn some children off. Equally a child seems to remember only the good points that are brought out. He is she is more likely to say to the parents that; “It was a good story, I brought out the characters.” It is possible, and likely, that a child would rush up excitedly to mum or to dad and say “I need to work on paragraphs and planning!”

The first thing that is looked at in an essay or story is was the question answered. However gifted an eleven plus child is at writing – if the question is not addressed in an appropriate manner then the child simply has to be marked down.

Then it comes to the thorny question of a plan. Some children do not appear to like writing plans. A child could produce plan after plan – but then something will trigger the mind and the story can start without any evidence if planning. “I did it in my head,” may be true but will not really work with a remote examiner.

Of course the story needs to follow the plan. A wonderful plan on how man has developed different uses of fire may, horribly, develop into a story how a brave girl was instrumental in putting out a fire thus securing an old people’s home.

The content too needs to be realistic. You child can not deviate from the script and expect to be offered or awarded good marks.

Punctuation and spelling also need to be taken into account – but will probably not penalise a good answer too much.

Of course it is easier if your child can type the finished piece. You can then create missing paragraphs – and run the much loved spell checker.

Some children are much happier to create a story if they can dictate their ideas and see them appear on the screen as they are talking.

Suggestion 1

You could video your discussion about the completed story. Use this video as a teaching aid. Ask your child to analyse his or her responses. Try to point out his or her reaction when you suggest a word that could possibly have been a little more descriptive. Raise load cheers when mistakes in punctuation are acknowledged – and altered.

Suggestion 2

Return to the video a few weeks later. Look at the story together – and the video. Remind your child that very few real authors are immediately satisfied with their output. Talk about revisions and rewriting.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eleven Plus and Finding Answers to Questions

We are now in the world of the eleven plus with a nine year old girl. Her grandmother says that she is, `Nine going on twenty nine.” Her teacher said that the girl can do work at the eleven year old level. There is a general feeling at school and at home that the girl is bright and able.

She has done a battery of tests at school – and they show very good verbal reasoning ability. Is this enough evidence for the girl to pass the eleven plus? Sadly, no. Possibly yes! For any test we can only say that the girl showed excellent ability on that particular test, which does not mean that she will pass the eleven plus.

Her parents, however, need to be able to draw some conclusions. They know that there is sometimes a flurry of moving houses just before the eleven plus. They have heard that this could be caused by anxious parents wanting to make sure that they live in the right catchment area.

Her parents take a blank sheet of paper – and sit down with their heads in their hands.

Is my daughter bright enough to go to grammar school and, do well?

Can she function consistently at the level of girls we know are already in the local grammar school?

Could she miss a year and still go to grammar school?

Will she do well in a grammar school environment?

Will her mathematics be strong enough to be able to stand up to the rigors of grammar school pressure?

Will the eleven plus test that she takes actually measure her reasoning ability?

Can she translate her excellent reading skills into understanding the intent of the more complex verbal reasoning skills?

Just because our nine girl can think and behave like an eleven year old (hence the teacher’ remark) or will she actually struggle with the work of an eleven year old?

Could she miss a class at school because she is a bit bored with school?

Will the house prices change?

Is redundancy nigh?

How quickly can we exit the world of the eleven plus?

Who can answer my questions?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eleven Plus Solutions

Little Lisa arrives. She has a verbal reasoning score of 129 and a non verbal score of 105. The verbal test is made up of verbal reasoning, vocabulary, verbal classifications, some arithmetical reasoning and verbal analogies. The non verbal test covers at the very least pictorial classification, analogies and numerical relationships.

We can see that the verbal test is made up of much more than language or linguistic skills. The non verbal test looks at spatial relationships, the dreaded block questions and the ability to visualise. (We once had a girl who loved block questions – mainly because she could see the answer almost in a flash. She always enjoyed `helping’ us lesser human beings.)

If our girl, Lisa, is to sit one eleven plus examination – based mainly on verbal reasoning – then she should enjoy the challenge of the eleven plus. If she sits a different examination that has both verbal and non verbal reasoning – then she could find the whole experience requires a little more thought and work.

Her overall score of 129 and 105 gives total of 234. The average is 117. This is a bright girl!

Instead of looking at her scores and saying: “This girl can not go to grammar as she has not reached the correct level,” we could look at other factors. The verbal reasoning score suggest that she has the potential to do well in a grammar school environment. The non verbal score, however, suggests that she has reached only an around average level – and is only capable of average work. This may not, however, be true!

What about her interests? Could she sit and put a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle together? A jigsaw requires many different nonverbal skills – as well as many verbal skills. What would stop her putting the jigsaw together?

She may not enjoy jigsaws.

She may have other things to do.

The motivation to complete the task may not be there.

She prefers to work with someone else.

The subject matter of that particular jigsaw may not appeal to her.

Her younger sister is better than her at doing them.

She has not had much exposure to jigsaws.

As Christmas approaches parents of eleven plus children could turn their attention to jigsaws. Some will choose fairy land settings to land in the stocking – others will want a more educational nature. Some parents will make time to sit with their children to complete a puzzle – others will be too busy. Sometimes other members of the family will drift up with a variety of suggestions – some helpful and some decidedly unwelcome.

There is something quite remarkably wholesome of clearing the table away after the Christmas meal and starting on a mammoth jigsaw. No T.V. no electronic games – just the ability to think, reason, supply solutions, laugh, argue and work as a team. (Quite useful eleven plus attributes?)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eleven Plus Keyboards

More and more eleven plus work is now being offered on line and through the internet. Children, and their parents, have to communicate with their computers via the key board. The layout of the letters on the keyboard, however, remains a mystery to many.

Back in 1714 Queen Anne granted a patent for an Englishman called Henry Mill for the manufacture of a machine for writing to be `engrossed’ on paper. Sadly his invention does not exist and we have no records of it. It looks as if Henry Mill was unable to make an effective back up of his work!

Credit for the first modern typewriter belongs to Christopher Scholes, a newspaper editor who lived in Milwaukee in the 1860s. On the Scholes machine, as on present day manual type writers, each character was set on the end of metal bar which struck the paper when the key was pressed. The keys were arranged alphabetically.

There was a snag – which would not apply the nimble fingers of today’s eleven plus children - when the operator began to type at speed the bars attached to the letters became entangled with one another.

One way out of the difficulty was to find the letters that were used most often in English – and then re-site them on the keyboard as far as possible from each other. This lessened the chance of clashing key bars. In this was born QWERTY, named after the first six letters of the key board.

Eleven Plus Question one:

In the letters QWERTY which is the first vowel after the third letter?

Eleven Plus Question two

If the letters of QWERTY were reversed, which letter would be second from the end of the alphabet?

Our eleven plus children will attend IT lessons at school. Some will even play on their own computers at home. Some will have some form of typing tutor. Others will be good honest two finger typists for the rest of their lives. When Scholes said of his keyboard: “A blessing to mankind and womankind” we must wonder what he would have thought of the various keyboards on our telephones?

My first phone was a Motorola – with a large battery and a large keyboard. Today’s phone, a Nokia N97, has a touch screen and a QWERTY keyboard.

It is difficult to be able to look ahead to the technology that will exist for today’s eleven plus children when they attend their first lectures at university. Perhaps one day one of our current candidates will enjoy a degree in design and go on to design a telephone keyboard that takes into account fingers that do not have to bash a QWERTY keyboard – but do need to be able to caress a screen. If it is your child, please let me know.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Eleven Plus Morality

The Eleven Plus examination give us the opportunity of educating some of the most able children. We are preparing children for an examination – but we are also preparing our children for later life. Most of us would want our eleven plus children to be morally stable as well as intelligent and hard working.

I worked with an eleven plus boy last week who had the answer pages open in front of him. He preferred, however, to do an exercise – which he found demanding – on his own. From the mistakes he made, it was clear that he had had not looked at the answers. He remarked that he would not have answers in the examination and so needed to work everything out for himself.

One or two of the other children in the room laughed at this idea – but no one commented in a derogatory manner. Of course it can be argued that I should have closed the answer pages so as not to place the child in a position where he could be corrupted by the ability to cheat. Equally the boy too could have covered the answers. I really don’t think that he even noticed that the answer book was open. If, however, he had seen the answers would he have looked? I am not so sure.

What made him feel that he needed to look on the eleven plus as an exercise where hard work and ability was going to win him a place in a grammar school? Was his right minded attitude a result of an exemplary education from his parents? Did he anyway have a strong sense of morality? Perhaps his parents always paid their taxes on time. Did he enjoy the privilege of growing up in an environment where right was more important than might?

Perhaps, in time, he is going to turn out to be a leader. He may even become a rather democratic leader who wants to lead by engendering a spirit of co-operation. He may emerge as a person who is able to show sympathy and imagination. It is possible too that a strong sense of morality will direct him towards striving towards making a contribution towards the common good?

What will happen in the eleven plus examination? There are five minutes left to go. On the right of our hero is a boy, from the same school, who is acknowledged to be a genius. The genius, who has completed his paper, has a coughing fit. His paper flies to the ground. Our hero picks it up to hand it back. There is time for a quick look, as returns the paper, at some of the answers. He does not look because he is intent on his work.

The invigilator looks up and sees the exchange of the papers and swoops down to confront the two candidates. There is a hurried and low voiced altercation. Our boy is accused of looking at the answers. His final five minutes is disrupted. His only crime was to pick the paper up and return it. His morality – and integrity - was questioned, just at the wrong time.

“But I did not look.”

We remember Ernest Hemmingway who maintained:

About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good about after and what is immoral is what you feel bad about after.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Eleven Plus and the Moon

Do remember your Lear? In particular the Owl and the Pussy Cat?

They dined on mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon.

These words came to mind this morning as I was working with a bright, articulate and able boy who sat his eleven plus examinations last year. He stayed on for enrichment lessons because he was determined to do as well as possible. He brought his science books and papers from school and home, and elected to work, today, on the effect of light on planets – and reasons why planets are visible.

When Edward Lear was writing his nonsense verse he would have had little idea that man would one day find water on the moon. Google had a story on the front page telling about a man made substance landing on the moon and sending up a splash of water. The BBC had a different take.

We already know a lot about the moon – that it is a natural satellite of the earth, and is illuminated by the sun. In many religions, and in popular superstition, the lunar cycle was believed to affect many aspects of life, from birth and death, to times when to harvest crops, slaughter livestock and do business and go to war. There must be a place for the moon in eleven plus lore.

Some great mathematician and statistician will no doubt have looked at the position of the moon and the timing of the eleven plus examinations. They must have discovered facts like:

Boys do very well on verbal reasoning papers at the time of the full moon.

Girls are able score full marks on mathematics papers if the examination falls on the date of a full moon.

The evidence must be conclusive.

There may also be evidence that parents are able to work with their children if they too have been touched by a little moonshine. Any self respecting parent will know the effect of moonshine on their dispositions. We are not talking here about the light of the moon shining on upturned faces – but the `moon shine’ distilled in large jars – just as occurred during the Prohibition. Surely two large glasses of 110% moonshine would make any parent calm, relaxed and accepting of any eleven plus notions?

So look out of the window the next time you are intent on working with your child on an eleven plus paper. If the moon is shining then you know three things:

Your child may do well on the papers.
There could be life on the moon.
110% moonshine will surely give you a headache!