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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Entry to Oxford and the Eleven PLus

I learnt about a little more about entrance to Oxford today. Some years ago an eight year girl came to us for enrichment. She started working on eleven plus work – and naturally achieved wonderful results.

We asked to help with our eleven plus children as soon as she was legally able to work. She was mature, thoughtful and wonderfully contained – and a fantastic role model for our eleven plus children.

She achieved outstanding GCSE results and is sitting her `A’ levels very shortly.

The results for TSA Oxford awards are reported on a scale that runs from 0 – 99. There are separate scores for Problem Solving and Critical Thinking.

The scale is devised so that typical university undergraduates will reach a score of around 60. 70 is a comparatively high score. “Only exceptional applicants will achieve scores higher than 80.”

She scored 94.8 on Problem Solving and 83.4 on Critical Thinking. Wow!

Congratulations to all the teachers who have worked with her at her primary school and grammar school. Very well done to all her family for their support. Naturally we wish her well in the future.

Think of the eleven plus children she has worked with in our center over the past years. Our eleven plus children will have benefited from one of the most able girls in the country.

You don’t make luck – you earn it!

Friday, January 30, 2009

A Shadow Over the Eleven Plus

There was a little article in the paper today – and I have searched fruitlessly for the on line link to no avail. The secret of great putting is not to think about it. A golfer’s performance was found to be undermined by talking about, mulling over, their last putting stroke between holes.

The researchers claimed the loss of performance was due to an effect called verbal over shadowing. This phenomenon makes the brain focus more on language centres than on systems that support the skills in question.

There must be very strong evidence for verbal over shadowing in our world of the eleven plus.

Is it the rather rude word that dad says when he realises that hi wife was actually able to the non verbal reasoning question that he was stumped by?

Is verbal over shadowing the way that mum goes on and on about the need to work hard and do well at school and do eleven plus papers and study and not be like ______ _____ who landed up being a ______ ?

Is verbal over shadowing the feeling you have when you are refused a mortgage that will enable you to move to that most perfect house that is so close to the grammar school? When you are offered the polite and regretful no: “If only I could you know that we would really like to lend the money, but I am so sorry.” (You then feel like offering a little verbal over shadowing of your own!)

Does verbal over shadowing occur when you bite your tongue when your child has just made a flip remark over – the `ELEVEN PLUS EXAMINATION!’ That moment of frustration could when you feel like offering to cast a little shadow over your child’s life.

If all else fails you can take this new found and freely offered advice, abandon the family, especially the eleven plus wonder, and take up golf.

This will really give your something to think and talk about. You just won’t have time to verbalise too much between holes.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Eleven Plus and Grammar Schools

The Headmaster of Watford Grammar wrote in 1953 that the `huge majority of those who leave after taking the ordinary level of the General Certificate have reached their academic ceiling, and to ask them to continue with sixth form would be a waste of time. There are very few potential graduates leaving the grammar school at sixteen.”

The Head was a Mr Ree in a letter to the Times Educational Supplement on the 16th of October 1953.

Mr Ree could hardly have been more experienced – or more wrong!

It would be very interesting to point the same point to the Heads of our present grammar schools.

It may equally be highly illuminating to check with the parents of aspiring eleven plus candidates about their reaction to their children leaving school at sixteen.

Those of us who did Henry the V1 Part Two at school, or read the book or saw the film, will remember the words:

“Thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school.” (Act 5 Scene 1) It will be proved to thy face that thou hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun and a verb and such abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear.”

These two examples suggest that we need to make up our own mind on the effectiveness of grammar schools. Not all grammar school children, however, will want to study in the 6th form or at university.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Eleven Plus and Solipsistic Experiences

Is the whole of the eleven plus journey one of reacting to our solipsistic experience? Solipsism is to do with believing that only one's own experiences and existence can be known with certainty.

If you hear an impassioned speech in the play ground to do with the eleven plus your could test the veracity of the statements being made by asking all concerned to take a vote.

"The date of the eleven plus is being changed. I know because I phoned the education department."

"Let us take a vote. Mary says the date is going to change. Shirley and I have heard otherwise. Who thinks the date will certainly change?"

Thus voting could be a dangerous course. Many of us prefer to be loved than reviled. (Don't take sides in the playground on Eleven Plus matters.)

We all remember the words in the Birmingham graveyard:

Here lies the mother of children seven,
Four on earth and three in heaven;
The three in heaven preferring rather
To die with mother than live with father.

Too much collusion over the eleven plus may bring out other emotions:

Papa loved mamma
Mamma loved men
Mamma's in the graveyard
Papa's in the pen.

Carl Sandburg (1878 to 1967)

Eleven Plus Responsibility

Should you, for one reason or another, feel that you would like to try to change the attitude of your child towards the Eleven Plus then you may care to work out what it is that you are trying to change.

What you may want, for example, is to ask your child to share the attributes of mutual understanding, reasonableness and justice. If these are rather lofty aspirations – then you could scale the whole experiment down to trying to encourage your child to tackle an eleven plus paper without you reminding him or her. Perhaps the truth will lie some where in between!

It does seem likely that you will need to try to help your child to understand and become aware of his or her own attitudes to eleven plus work.

You will naturally try to help your child to comprehend and absorb all the different emotions that are running around among all parties concerned with the eleven plus examination.

You could, if you wished, go back over the history of the eleven plus and the emergence of grammar school and how children from underprivileged backgrounds were offered the opportunity of education.

Then, and possibly this could have come earlier, you could consider trying to help your child to see that change is possible.

The aim, therefore, is to try to achieve some degree of mutual understanding and respect between you and your eleven plus child. Of course there is preaching to the converted – and that is not the intent but parents do not want to have to become authoritarian – parents want more complex and subtle variations.

Of course a few points follow on:

Can a mother and a father sustain the dual role of parents and eleven plus motivators?

How much time is available – and how can best use be made of that time?

How much responsibility should an eleven year old child assume towards serious and sustained study?

Enjoy the eleven plus year. For many of us it marks the transition from being a child into the world of senior school and academic study. The chance will never come again.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eleven Plus Chances

Some parents will agonise over the question: “What are the chances of my child passing the eleven plus?” For some the question becomes: “Does my child have the potential to pass the eleven plus?”

When the teacher or the tutor tries to answer the question the response could, in some cases, be based around a possibly different question, “What can the child in question hope to get out of eleven plus preparation if certain variables are adhered to – and what needs to change?”

When a teacher or a tutor makes a judgment on the chances of passing an examination, then a parent must be aware that many variables are taken into account. The teacher is wondering about the amount of support at home, the willingness of the child to be diligent as well as the over general ability of the child.

The teacher will have a stake in the answer. The full answer, however, can not be given until the results are out. Some children will pass the eleven plus and not be allocated a grammar school place.

Back in the days when the eleven plus was designed there must have been little stomach to query the relevance of certain types of questions. The euphoria that must have existed over fifty years ago when a child from a deprived background won a place in a highly respected grammar school has possibly been overtaken by the fierce determination of some middle class parents to help their children win places in favoured schools.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Eleven Plus Excitement

It is pretty tough being a parent at times. Everything seems to conspire to making you feel guilty. Think back to when your child was five years old. Reading books were sent home from school day after day. Should you read them twice through at night or would once suffice. You hear, in the play ground, that George is on Level 7 while your child is only on Level 4. Should you do more?

You go to your year one teacher who says: “Oh no, everything is going well. Just keep in with his reading. Read to too when you have time. This always helps.”

When you were at school your parents would have been told not to help at all with reading as this was the preserve of the school. “Any help from you will lead to confusion.” Today schools are only too happy for parents to help. In fact if your child may not make the progress you hope you feel guilty because you have not done enough.

So mum and dad get a little anxious. They try to make sure that their child knows very single word every single day in every single book offered by the school. “We have done that word already. Surely you remember it? Sound it out again. No, don’t whimper. You did this word yesterday.”

The next day guilt really kinks in. Mum and Dad have talked it over. Dad will bring home some books from the bookshop. Mum will look for new reading books when she goes shopping. Mum and Dad will read more. Everyone will try to take the pressure off and make reading fun again. (Remember those days when you burst into tears the first time your child deciphered some squiggly bits on a page and you yelled: “He is reading. He can read.” You then called all your friends on Face Book and Twitter. “We have a reader in the house.” (A photograph of your child with a book in his hand was proudly displayed on the internet for all to see.)

Parents of five year old reluctant readers will face the questions “What can I read? These books are boring.” Parents of eleven plus child will face the same question. Parents by the time their child in the pre eleven plus year, are a little more wary. They will have offered their child books that are funny, scary, and full of adventure and packed with facts. They will have tried reading to their child. They will have bought new books for Christmas and birthdays.

Naturally parents will hope that the books they buy or borrow are going to stimulate the imagination. This should work very well if the whole point of reading is to stimulate. Children read for pleasure and for information. They might become obsessed by a particular author or book. Some children, and adults, will read and re-read a book.

Naturally parents and tutors hope that by reading their child or pupil will find those elusive words that may or may not appear on an eleven plus paper. The term ‘needle in a haystack’ springs to mind. That elusive word may have been in the last book read before the eleven plus – but could have been presented in a different context.

All parents can do is to continue to hope that their eleven plus child is still finding reading fun. All parents will be delighted to see their child reading. The words: “Get your nose out of that book,” are long gone.

Parents can’t blame themselves if their child won’t read at the eleven plus stage. The roots of the present frustration possibly developed the day the first reading primer arrived home. Try to recapture that early enthusiasm where you talked about reading to everyone. The days when you turned the television off and cuddled together on the couch capturing the excitement and pleasure of reading

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Eleven Plus Destiny

Winston Churchill summed it up for us: `It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.”

Your child, as the eleven plus grows closer, will meet and benefit from many `links’ in the educational chain. What you, as a parent, will hope is that one or more of the links will stimulate and excite your child to aim high. Even the coolest and most laid back eleven plus candidate still needs to have ambition.

At this moment in time, with the world in financial turmoil, industry has to be innovative. Change, for some established institutions, becomes essential for the organization to survive.

The schools your children attend are likely to have a rather formal organizational structure. Your child will come into contact with the Head Teacher. There could be one of more Deputy Heads. Each school could then have a different name for a head of department, as well as a graded specialist post. Somewhere there is your child’s class teacher. In one way this is a network of prestige, relationships, power and career structures.

Your child could be under a teacher in the pre eleven plus year who is ambitious to earn a post of responsibility, or is studying to become a head teacher. Equally your child may have a very happy and productive year with a teacher who simply wants to be a teacher.

Your child’s attitude towards the eleven plus will be affected by the knowledge, skills, beliefs and personalities of many different educationalist at school. There will also be the policy of the school towards the Eleven Plus, the personal feelings of the head teacher and the class teacher. There will be many shades of opinion.

Teachers have to be very careful talking to a parent about the eleven plus. How can a teacher say that a child should pass or can pass? Schools are not usually privy to full details of eleven plus preparation. We all know of children who pass the eleven plus with remarkably little preparation. “My child never did a paper, I don’t believe in eleven plus preparation.”

Other children benefit from additional work in mathematics and English – as well as verbal reasoning. Some children pass the eleven plus from the starting point of being in the middle sets at school in mathematics and English. Eleven plus coaching has helped some `average’ children starting Year 5 to gain Level 5 in mathematics and English. Eleven plus coaching has helped some children to leave `average’ behind and gain entrance to a grammar school.

If the `average’ child does win a grammar school place then it is hard not to think that everyone at school will be delighted to share a moment of reflected glory. After all all concerned at schoool are invluable links in the chain.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Silly Eleven PLus Questions

More than one of the present games console manufactures has a handy brain development program. Some of the questions are remarkably similar to present eleven plus questions – but they are disguised into rather silly games. What a load of nonsense! Why should an ordinarily intelligent adult want to sit down with a child’s toy in the hope that playing on the device would enhance memory?

Some eleven plus questions, especially in the area of verbal reasoning, are so weak that it seems impossible that the questions can actually predict mental ability.

Teachers in grammar schools must groan in frustration at times when they catch sight of current eleven plus papers. After all, the grammar school has to pick up the pieces. I wonder how many verbal reasoning questions actually predict the ability to work hard, pass examinations and be a diligent and sound member of the school.

Look through your child’s eleven plus verbal reasoning papers and work out why a series of questions on codes would help your child to achieve good `A’ level grades. If you want your child to emulate 007 and drive Aston Martins, then a working knowledge of codes would be useful. After all we understand that MI5 is actively recruiting new spies.

There was some research done years ago that maintained there was a correlation between intelligence and the ability to find a word in a dictionary. The next time you hold a family gathering, give every family member, young and old, the same dictionary. Find a word. Then go on as a family, to try to define what intelligence means. Then compare the winner of the dictionary test against the family’s definition of intelligence. This is probably as reliable a method of predicting future success than some of the questions appearing in past and present eleven plus papers.

The point here is that parents should not take the content of published eleven plus materials as gospel. There is no guarantee that what is found in a practice eleven plus paper will actually appear on the examination paper. If the question did land on the final examination paper then you would need to question the author of the test. Take this question for example: If arm = bsn then what does dog =?

Oh woe is me. What a silly question!

Surely grandmother, who has lived through the blitz, could think of a question more likely to test intelligence. After all, questions like the one highlighted above were devised long before the Second World War – but adopted to find able children for grammar schools. There must be something wrong with theorists behind the present questions found in the eleven plus if the test still have to rely on the dinosaurs of yesteryear.

Parents can change the world. They make money and lose money on shares. They can buy houses and enjoy foreign holidays. Parents can alter the course of history by voting for change. The one thing that parents still accept, with out question, is the very veracity and wholesomeness of the eleven plus examination.

There are only a few grammar schools left. Some parents must look fearfully over their shoulders that their grammar school will sink into the abyss of a school in special measures. Why should parents demand change? After all it worked for them and their generation – so why the need to rock the boat? There may be a very simple answer. Without change `things’ grow older – and some wither and die. Some parents, but not all, like the idea of grammar schools. The proponents of grammar schools would like them for their children and, in time, their grand children.

Who could parents talk to, who could take up the cudgels of change? Who would listen? Change takes place because change is demanded – first of all by a few, then by a stronger voice and then challenges to institutions can effect change. Many years ago the new President of America promised change and started on the course to the White House. He set himself up as a wind of change. He declared that he would alter people’s lives for ever. We wish him well. We hope that one day a statesman will emerge and promise and deliver educational change here in England. He or she may then challenge the very premise of the eleven plus. After all we can all remember some form of a paraphrase of the stirring words: “And who will stand on my right hand, and guard the bridge with me?”

Please include me in if you are brave enough to stand up and be counted. At the very least I do hope we rid ourselves of some very silly questions.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Eleven Plus Charter

Around now a number of parents will be coming up to that all important eleven plus chat. In its way the `Eleven Plus Chat’ is almost as important to a ten year old as the `Facts of Life’ chat. In other words it is an ongoing and continuous saga. A little drip here, a little drip there culminating in that nice long walk, just the two of you, when you reach out for insight into your child’s mind. (For some parents and children this will no doubt land up as the famed Eleven Plus Charter.)

You will need to cover a remarkably wide range of subjects so that your child is not immediately suspicious of your motives. If you start with, “And how is school?”

You will deserve the answer, “Fine.” You will need to show some finesse. You will also needs skills in interviewing and diplomacy. Further more you can not rise to an obviously absurd answer. Give yourself time to think between questions and answers. By your demeanour and bearing you will demonstrate to your child that you are serious and approachable. This is not the friendly post argument chat. You are engaging in the, “Rest of My Life” discussion.

What do you want to do and where do you want to go in your next school year?

(This next question will rely, to a certain degree on the replies to the earlier question.)

What sort of work do you think you will need to do between now and then?

Are there any subjects that you are worried about?

(This question could be a little specious to any child approaching a one topic eleven plus.)

What can we, as a family, do to try to help you to do as well possible?

Are there any facilities or materials that you can think of that would make your life easier while you are preparing? (Other than the last games machine that links to the internet.)

Do you want us to talk about the Eleven Plus or should we call your preparation by another name? If so what name would you like? (Some parents refer to Eleven Plus work by a wide variety of names ranging from `extra studies’ to the euphemism `fun work’.

Would you like to engage in a binding contract, called the “Eleven Plus Contract”, where we agree the type and extent of work? This would cover hours of work, amount of work, rewards, prizes and bonus of completion of contract.

Parents would need to be aware at this stage that their child has considerable insight into the thinking of parental minds. After all children know innately when to play mum off against dad. Children will also understand weak points in a mother’s reasoning; after all you could be up against one of the finest legal minds in the country when you try to build a useful and durable contract with your child. Any eleven plus child worthy of the name should be able to win a few good arguments against vulnerable, weak willed but very worthy parents.

As you return from your walk invigorated and fulfilled you will no doubt have some quiet moments for reflection. Once you have agreed on the contract leave the subject until you have it down in writing. Engage a neutral observer to look over the contract with you and your child. (If you do use bribery with the so called `neutral’, to make sure that the contract lands up in your favour, please do not do any negotiating in front of your child! You may live to rue the day. Bright children have long memories for so called injustice.)

A national `Eleven Plus Charter’ may arise from your pioneering work. You and your child could be recognised by every present and future eleven plus parents in the land. Every time you signed the charter certificate, as the national president and founder of the `Eleven Plus Charter’, you could think back to those few moments you took to talk to your child and listen and respond to the answers.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Eleven PLus Rewards

I travelled by train this week. It is not a usual event. Our centres are not always conveniently placed beside railway stations. The majority of leisure, centres where we usually work are, however, on excellent bus routes. I grew up in Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe. Travel by train was always an attractive option. Back in those early days the Garret engines ran on steam. There were often stops for water along the way. The pace of travel was slow and sedate.

I was offered my first official cigarette on a train aged fifteen. We were on a rugby tour to the cost of South Africa – a journey lasting three days and three nights. I was the youngest member of the touring team – more than likely filling in for some long forgotten hero. Our teacher taught us to play bridge. Picture the scene the dining car seats filled with school boys playing for matches. It is amazing how quickly learning takes place if there is competition and a desire to win.

On the morning of day three I had just played a blinding hand as dummy. Any bridge player will be able to tell how important a hand a dummy plays once the bidding is over. You sit as expressionlessly as possible, hoping that you have not overbid. School boy humour is quite direct. Our teacher, the rugby coach, was leaning over the table. The hand was played. The points were counted. Without a word he offered a packet of cigarettes to the table. I hesitated, but he offered the packet a second time. On a wave of euphoria I accepted it – and paid an immediate price. The noise in the dining car grew as the word went out that the runt of the team was coughing his heart out. What price acceptance into the inner circle!

What would happen if an understanding of some bridge terms became an integral part of the eleven plus? We already meet children who find elements of probability hard because they have never picked up a pack of cards. How many in a suite of diamonds? How many colour cards? What is the probability of the Queen of Hearts appearing?

Perhaps there are other games of chance that force their way into the eleven plus syllabus. Let us take, for example, the present lottery with the country’s finances. Instead of questions relating to a 17.5% charge on goods the questions may need to be downgraded to 15%. Would this be called dumbing the syllabus down? Find 10%, and then make that into 5% add the 10% and the 5 percent to make 15%. After all the present eleven plus syllabus would have had the extra step of having to find and extra 25%. If another 50 children chanced to achieve the pass mark in mathematics because they were faced with an easier question, then some children could quite rightly complain about the present lottery of the eleven plus.

This brings us to the question of what is an adequate or a just reward for passing the eleven plus. I was paid a cigarette for being a member of an inner circle – and learning to keep my mouth shut, A child who passes the eleven plus from a position of academic strength surely needs a different type of reward to one who has literally dragged himself up to eleven plus level through hard work and diligence.

Different types of reward will differ from parent to parent and child to child. Rewards will include (but not in this order):

Praise (Well done my good and faithful servant.)
Finance (Here is the twenty pounds I promised you.)
Holiday (Now all the family can go on holiday because you passed.)
Refurbishing the bed room (Which you needed to do anyway.)
A new bicycle (Over due in any case – otherwise the grammar school will be largely inaccessible.)

Just no cigarettes and no alcohol – and that is just for your son or daughter.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Post Eleven PLus

We often count ourselves fortunate that we tutor across a wide range of children. This gives us the advantage of seeing what because of our eleven plus students.

We see the boys and girls who had parents offered the opportunity of doing the eleven plus examinations – even though the chances of passing were limited. One of our boys, who did not pass, was obviously a late developer’. This term is a label that can be offered to any child who failed to achieve obvious potential. The term can also describe a child who simply did not want to work at academic subjects at primary school but was willing to try hard at GCSE level. The boy mentioned earlier went from being rebellious, spiky and argumentative (along with a little sullen and `why me’) at eleven to pleasant, responsible and urbane at 16. He became a school prefect. He didn’t go to grammar school – but did reach Warwick University to read Politics and English.

He came back to us when he was writing his GCSE examinations for a little polish. Hen went from `I hate the Eleven Plus, I hate school and I hate reading’ to striving from a full batch of `A’ grades at GCSE. It is possible that he found the atmosphere and ethos of his senior school conducive to his preferred lifestyle as an eleven year old. He was certainly bright enough for grammar school but at that moment in his life academia was an unpleasant nightmare. He called in to see us over the Christmas break. I was most struck by his conservative haircut! The wild boy was gone.

We also meet boys and girls from grammar schools who return for little `top ups’. Sometimes this could be no more than a little help with examination technique. In other cases it could a slight drop in confidence. Being moved from set one in mathematics to set two sometimes has awful consequences. We had a girl, who had been with us for the eleven plus. She had achieved incredible results in her eleven plus with almost full marks in all her papers. Her first three years at the grammar school went smoothly – straight `A’ grades all the way. “A pleasure to teach. A responsible member of the school.” What happened? She fell in love.

Her boyfriend was an upright member of the local grammar school. He was clean living, hard working and in the rugby and cricket teams. He was in the year above. Her parents did not approve of the relationship and did not like the idea of their studious and conforming daughter staying out late on a Saturday night. The arguments grew. The girl gradually changed and wanted something different. She was in love.

Her parents, in desperation, brought her to us for a chat. The happy smiling and sweet girl could not raise any enthusiasm for the visit. We were rather low on her horizon. She would have rather have eaten bent nails than have acquiesced to any wishes of her mother. Did we have a magic wand? Of course not. Life is real. Not every cloud has a silver lining.

What became of her? Her school allowed her to progress to the sixth form in spite of her abysmally low GCSE grades. The truculence and disobedience remained. The much loved boy friend went off to university. They met over hotly contested weekends. Her boyfriend, to his credit, stayed steadfast to her.

We met her mother out shopping a few weeks ago. The girl had taken her `A’ level examinations but the results were not up to much. She had just moved up to live near the university with her boy friend. Any thought of university was long gone. Her mum said there was still no sign of any desire for academic studies – and she did add that there were no nose rings or other signs of rejection of society. We can just hope that the union of these two young people goes on from strength to strength.

What price grammar school education? It is simply not a universal panacea for all children.

The Eleven Plus and Single Mothers (20/01/09)

How do single mothers, on income support, mange to help their bright children through the eleven plus?

We like to enjoy a picture of a middle class family of 2.4 children with enough disposable income to be able to afford all the accouchements of a comfortably prepared Eleven Plus preparation. What is involved in the preparation?

The following is only conjecture. Books would come pretty high on any list. It is difficult to comment on what parents spend on books and materials. After all there are many free on line papers and materials. We do know, however, of one mother who bought £162.56 worth of materials – because this went through our bookshop. This was out of the ordinary!

We also have the privilege of seeing what children use at home because of our courses. On the courses, which run in different locations, we see children who have been prepared by parents and a range of tutors. We encourage the children to bring their books so that we can try to help with weak areas. It is quite extra ordinary the range and extent of the materials. The old favourites are there – like the Bond series – but there are a myriad of other preparation books. Some are rather dog eared having been passed down though the family and from friends. Some are brand spanking new – never opened even though the examination is weeks away. It takes all sorts!

Then comes mum’s dilemma. How can she afford the fees of a tutor? She wants the best for her child just like any other mother. How does she approach the powers that be (the mandarin controllers of her income and expenses) that she needs an extra sum of money every week to pay for additional help for her child?

Not all mothers on income support are ill educated. Some land in that never never land through absolutely no fault of their own. I heard a story where the family went for a short break. At the departure gate the father said to his wife and children that he was just going to get something and that he would meet them on the other side. The mother told me how anxious she became as she and her two children boarded the plane – and there was still no father! What could she say to her children? Where was dad? He did not answer his mobile phone when the family landed. There has been no sign of him since. This mother, she fears, may have to land up on income support – but not through any fault of her own.

Some single mothers will try to help their children themselves. Time then becomes the enemy. It must be extraordinary tiring to try to put three children to bed at different times, cook, clean, iron and work through an eleven plus verbal reasoning paper. I know that limited time is not the solve preserve of single mothers, because it is possible that a tiny majority of non single mothers have to carry out the same tasks with exceptionally limited support. (Not in my backyard!)

Of course grandparents can help. With the world in such financial turmoil some grand parents may have seen their savings and pensions at risk where an assured sum of weekly money to a much loved grand child may have been of little consequence just a few short months ago, many families have had to rethink lifestyles and disposable income.

What about the internet? Well there are some families without the internet for various reasons. Where does the computer come from? Who pays for the broadband? What about consumables? Nothing is really easy.

The government has invested so many billions into shoring up failing banks, I can’t help thinking that a tiny fraction of that `toxic’ debt could be offered to single mothers on low income, with bright children, in the hope that one of the these children may have enough common sense to help all of us out of our present dilemma.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Choosing and Eleven Plus Tutor

At one time or another, parents will need to interview their prospective tutor. This could prove to be a little difficult if the tutor is well established and has a long waiting list. Add to the conundrum the knowledge that the tutor is popular and achieves very good results – why would you want to interview? It is easy. – it is your child and your money.

What has worked for many children may not work for your child. With doubts in your mind about the suitability of the tutor – you then need to prepare some questions.

If you had to list the top three practical ways of achieving good eleven plus results with my child, what would they be?

What practical steps will you take to ensure that my child is happy and contented under your care?

How will you challenge and support my child with eleven plus work?

What pedagogical and organisational transformation do you hope to achieve?

How will any work on the eleven plus help to support and enrich the school’s curriculum?

What will be the main challenges you will face as you work with us a family?

Do you have the ability to be able to communicate with my child’s school?

What are the cost implications for us working with you towards the eleven plus?

Would you accept any input from us, or do you prefer to direct the progress towards the eleven plus?

Can my child bring any problems from home or school to the lessons?

If your prospective tutor answers these questions to your satisfaction – you are on to a winner and must feel confident.

After all you can say to yourself after the interview: “There, it was not so bad wasn’t it?”

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Eleven Plus Status (18/01/09)

A host of factors come into play when we look at status. Most parents will want their children to attend a grammar school in the hope that, in time, their child will achieve a `satisfactory status’. Factors such as occupation, education, source of income, neighbourhood, house type and income will all come into play.

Many of us would love the idea of our children maintaining a lifestyle guaranteed by inherited income. (Especially if is our money and is not secured by a national lottery win.) If, sadly, you have had to continue to work for your living, then you will naturally hope that your child will go on to do well in life. How then will you measure your child’s success and status?

It is likely that the kind of home your thirty year old, ex grammar school child, lives in will give some indication of status.

The owner of two houses, both with fashionable addresses, must be top of the status list.

Having a lavish home in millionaire’s row will make you feel proud.

A good house with four or five bedrooms in a good neighbour hood must help.

Most us will be pretty happy in an `ordinary’ suburban home.

Of course we should judge people by far more than individual wealth but a successful ex grammar school pupil must be worth something.

Eleven Plus Materials (17/01/09)

Suppose you are mother or a father who likes to know exactly what is going on. You have been told that one set of Eleven Plus books is likely to be more useful than a different set. You gather together all of the parents of prospective eleven plus children at your school and ask them for their co-operation.

Your nephew attends a different school – but the schools are geographically very close together so the children are drawn from similar backgrounds. This then becomes the control group. These children will not be prepared for the eleven plus. (Although the school is only three miles away, the second school is in a different county so there is no eleven plus!

We need to assume that there will be no difference in the results of the children taking the examination. Half the children in the first group will use only the recommended book – while the rest of the school use a variety of eleven plus books and teaching materials.

In the first place it would be wrong to assume that using one particular eleven plus text is better than another. The hypothesis would be that there can be no difference to the test scores.

Secondly we would need to see if working on eleven plus papers actually did make a difference. We would then start with the hypothesis that there can be no difference to the scores of the two schools.

So if a mother or a father tells you that one set of books is better than another you will still need to approach this statement with some caution. What worked for one child may not work for another. The child might have been able to pass the test without having worked through a paper.

Eleven Plus Listening (16/01/09)

We are looking a little way down the line. It is the day of the Eleven Plus. Anxious parents have dropped their children off at school. Last minutes kisses have been exchanged. Instructions to the long suffering child have been repeated ad nauseam. The final words of `Good Luck’ can no longer be heard. Your child skips happily up the school path glad to get away from the cloying murmur of your well meant utterances.

(Your eleven year old is still clutching the good luck charm you offered. He or she is not that grown up.)

The children file into the hall. A lap top with a set of head phones is on every desk. The new style Eleven Plus encompasses mathematics, reasoning and listening skills. Why listening skills? Well if he or she will not listen to you, and does not listen to the teacher at school – what point is there of him or her taking up a place in the grammar school?

The listening test will be indifferent parts.

Part 1
Questions 1 to 5
Listen to the digitised recording.
You will hear five short conversations.
There is one question for each conversation.
Put a tick under the right answer.

Part 2
Questions 6 – 10
Listen to Annie talking to her mother about going on holiday. What will she wear for each stage of the holiday?

For questions 6 – 10, write a letter from A – H from the list.
You will hear the conversation twice.

Part 3
Questions 11 – 15
You will hear some information about a mobile phone.

Complete the questions from 11 – 15.
You will hear the information twice.

Naturally all the marking of the multiple choice tests will be done by computer – so in theory the results are available immediately. The entire cohort of children taking Eleven Plus examinations could be sent their results by email that same day!

Of course the listening test would not count towards the marks – unless there was a tie. This is the point where a grammar school would like a little more information. After all, a child who obtained 15 out of 15 would probably listen in class and at home.

The introduction of this proposed listening test could change your life!

Eleven Plus Reading (15/01/09)

There does not seem to be a central organisation where a parent can find the sort of reading help that is needed. Parents of eleven plus children may occasionally find their children picking up adult books. Some parents may find it acceptable for their eleven year old to read a Dick Francis – but could quiver with trepidation over Jackie Collins.

Collections of children’s book must have built up over the years in libraries, schools and college of education libraries. Some private collectors must have comprehensive libraries. It would not be difficult to imagine that a private collector would have a number of early child centred classics.

“Good morning. I have an eleven year old daughter. She read all the Harry Potter series when she was eight and nine and now wants something different.”

“She is studying for her Eleven Plus. She likes ballet, horses and rock climbing. She does not like the books we call the classics so won’t read books like `Anne of Green Gables’ and `How Green was my Valley’. She thinks they are old fashioned. She hates science fiction.”

“Oh yes. Her grandfather likes the Sharpe series of books and they have watched many of the DVDs together. And yes, I can not interest her in cookery books. She says that she will need to learn to cook when she goes to university and does not want to start now.”

“I have asked at her school for lists of books. She won’t go into the children’s section of our local library. She dismisses the books as being for children. When we offer a teen age book she just mutters `read that’ and won’t entertain any further discussion.

“We already have lots of books at home which information in them. She wants to read a book for pleasure. Please help me to find something for her to read for pleasure.

“Yes I do know that my daughter is dependent on me for books to read. I don’t want her to read unsuitable books. I don’t really know what her tastes are. Yes I do know that the most popular books are those referred by her friends – but then I don’t always know what has been recommended. I don’t like to pry – but I do need to monitor.”

“Of course we have books at home. Of course we read at home. Although my daughter is eleven her reading tastes seem to be in the more adult books. I suppose she has a reading age of around fourteen. I am grateful for a good vocabulary while she is doing verbal reasoning exercises but I don’t like her reading books where there is little natural goodness. She liked to have stories about toadstools and gauzy wings read to her when she was very little – but has grown out of these years ago. Please help.”

Eleven Plus Food (14/01/09)

Children need to be healthy before the eleven plus. The correct food and taking part in will all play its part. On the Chris Evans show on Radio 2 yesterday there was an announcement that the best physical exercise a child or an adult could do was swimming and bouncing on a trampoline.

This will offer some parents a problem. They will not only have to buy a house close to a grammar school, but will need to add swimming polls and access to a well made trampoline. Eleven Plus fees will rise with the addition of a personal swimming coach and an Olympic trained trampoline trainer. This will make for an even busier life for many parents.

School netball team until 4.15.
Into the car.
Swimming training.
Into the car.
Eleven Plus tutorial.
Into the car.
School homework.
Take the dog for a walk.
Clean the rabbit cage.
Bath and Bed. (Somewhere in the schedule reading and listening to a lecture from mum.)

Change netball for drama.
Swap swimming for trampoline.
Change extra lesson for eleven plus paper.
Change taking the dog for a walk for “Why me?”
The rest of the week must pass in a blur. No wonder mothers have to multitask!

To fit healthy food into the already overloaded schedule must take a monumental effort. We know that a snack in the car between school and the next activity must exclude certain foods. No more:

White and brown bread or flour
White pitta bread
Naan bread
Cream crackers
Water crackers
Buttery popcorn
Ice cream
Sugary fizzy drinks
Sugary sweets like wine gums and jelly babies

We have to ensure that the eleven plus candidate has plenty of:

Fresh Fruit
Dried fruit
100% pure fruit juices

Parents sharing an eleven plus course with their children will need fortitude and vision. Who said it was easy to be an Eleven Plus parent?

Eleven Plus Girls (13/01/09)

We need to look back to 1868 – over 140 years ago. The Taunton Commission looked at 800 endowed grammar schools. At the time there were only thirteen schools for girls.

The commission recommended three types of school to serve three classes of society – with leaving ages at 14, 16 and 18. Each type of school would need to have its own curriculum.

Class 1
Classics and Preparation for University. (For upper and upper middle class boys.)
Class 2
Requirements of the army, professions and business. (Middle class boys.)
Class Three
Rather more practical work. (Lower middle class boys.)

The Taunton Commission also undertook the first official comparison of girls and boys. The commission found that girls were more willing to learn – and learnt more than boys. “Girls come to learn and boys have to be driven” was one of the findings of the commission.

The Eleven Plus examinations, after the Second World War, were designed to allow children from all classes to have access to grammar schools. Thus children from the lower classes could gain access to education.

Today there must still be boys and girls unable to benefit from a grammar school education because entrance to a grammar school is highly prized among the middle class. The middle class can, to a degree, afford the fees of tutors, have access to the internet and can purchase a wide selection of eleven plus books and papers.

One hundred and forty years after the Taunton Commission:

Grammar schools still prepare children for university.
Girls still outperform boys.
Some bright children still are denied a place in the grammar school.

When to start on Eleven Plus Work (12/01/09)

You have sat with your child and have worked though a set of verbal reasoning exercises. You think that all is well. Your child has shown enthusiasm and has responded in a positive manner. All is rosy.

In the back of your mind, however, you have a little niggle. Has the hard won information been retained? Will your child be able to apply what he or she has learnt in the actual examination? When should you revise and check?

Method One
Daily practice until you and your child are sure.
Repetition will help to consolidate the learning.
Where will you find interesting and stimulating exercises of a similar nature? After all if you are simply using the same exercise that by day two your child will have lost interest.

Method Two
One quick revision on a different occasion – and then revisit the problem area after a month.
You may never be able to recreate the stimulation and excitement of tackling a new task again.
We all learn differently. One child may need a concentrated blast of learning. Another child may prefer to revisit a topic on a monthly basis. A different child may simply say: “Done it. I know it. Let us move on.”

This brings us to the point: “When should we start on studying for the eleven plus?

Back in 1941 a man called Burtt described an experiment with his son he read the boy passages in Greek, from Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus. There were three selections of twenty lines each. For a period of time he read to the boy every day. The boy was less than two years old. Sic years later his son was required to learn by rote these selections, plus some new selection from the same source. It took the boy on average 435 repetitions to learn the new selections, but only 317 repetitions to learn the old ones. The saving was around 25%. A saving of 25% could make an enormous difference in the actual eleven plus examination!

If any parents are interested in running a pre-eleven plus experiment with their five year olds, please let me know. We may be able to change the way children are prepared for the eleven plus for ever!

Eleven Plus Curriculum (11/01/09)

If there is a strong enough call to change the present system of how children are selected for the Eleven Plus, then one of the issues that will have to be faced is: “What is the Eleven Plus curriculum?”

There must be many different definitions of the word curriculum – but we need to find one that will apply reasonably easily to the eleven plus.

There can be no call for a discovery type of curriculum where the eleven plus children become involved in discovery type activities. At the other end of the spectrum there should be no desire to change the eleven plus into an examination that follows a prescribed syllabus.

A simple definition of an Eleven Plus curriculum would be one where the children follow an organised plan of activities.

This is one of the problems that parents face when their children prepare for the eleven plus by working through book after book of selection papers. Selection papers can cover all the topics in an eleven plus syllabus – but may not work in a planned sequence.

We hear of children being prepared for the eleven plus with different teachers for each subject. One teacher will teach mathematics while a different teacher will teach reasoning skills. There could even be a third teacher working on English. How then is the curriculum integrated?

It is hard to argue that children prepared by having different tutors will be disadvantaged. The concept of subject specialist is enshrined in senior schools – and specialist work happily in cross curricula activities in primary school.

One problem that could occur, whether the eleven plus child is prepared by one teacher or three, is that the eleven plus examination is not intended to be knowledge based. There should, however, be no need to compartmentalise the different subjects because this could restrict children’s thinking and limit what they learn.

A different problem is that grammar schools have looked for a certain type of child. Of course a grammar school will want, and need, articulate, hardworking and able children. The eleven plus examination, however, has changed little over the past fifty years. We still see very similar types of question. The way that children are taught in schools today plays very little resemblance, however, to how children were taught fifty years ago.

Even a very traditional grammar school will teach in very different ways to those employed fifty years ago. We have a bright eleven year old who has passed her eleven plus examinations and will enter a very good grammar school in September. She recently scored 96% on an Edexcel GCSE Foundation mathematics paper. How will the chosen grammar school cope with enriching and extending this ultra bright child? She reached a standardised score of 140 on last September’s eleven plus mathematics paper.

This presents us with a problem, if we are to change the Eleven Plus examination, and hence the eleven plus curriculum, we will have to face some questions that can not readily be answered.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Eleven Plus Aliens 09/01/09

About a year ago it was obvious that a class was using this blog for some kind of insight into one form of education in England. Every week for around three months number of people logged on from a university in California. No one ever made a comment – but the majority of the readers stayed on the site for around three minutes. We wondered if this gave them enough time to read the previous week’s work.

Think of these Americans reading about the Eleven Plus.

What is the examination that is done on eleven year old children in England?

Do you think that it is really true that the examination has changed very little in the last fifty years?

Are all eleven year old children ready at the some time?

How do parents reward the children who pass?

How do parents counsel the children who do not pass?

What is a grammar school?

Compare and contrast the education and extra curricular activities in England and California

In our devotion to the eleven plus, we must see to be rather alien to educators looking at us from afar. Even if we are not aliens the eleven plus examination certainly different!

Eleven Plus Comments 10/01/09

Your comments, opinions and recommendations are very important to us. Please help us to improve our communication with you by completing this simple questionnaire.

Why did you come onto this blog in the first place?

Is the blog addressing areas of interest to you?

Did the blog exceed your expectations?

Local knowledge is important. While every effort is made to make the information in this blog as accurate as possible, should you notice any inaccuracies please detail them below.

About You:
Which age group are you in?

Under 25

Do your children already attend the Extra Tuition Centre?

A Fair Eleven Plus 08/01/09

The eleven plus examination was once an examination that was universally necessary. The examination was operated with great fairness.

Even in the areas where the eleven plus is still used as a form of assessment, the KS2 SATs tests at eleven still exist. The KS3 SATs tests have been abandoned throughout the country.

One day the some one will come up with a plan to call the GCSE examinations by a new name.

`A’ Level examinations are already being replaced in some schools by the Baccalaureate. The argument is that it is too early for a sixteen year old to specialise. At the moment all a university has to do is to say `Two A’s and a B’.

Some parents maintain that it is unfair for children to be selected for grammar school on the basis of only asking for mathematics and verbal reasoning marks.

Eleven Plus Questions 07/01/09

Answer these questions as truthfully as possible. Try not to give deliberate wrong answers. If you are in doubt about answering a particular question, then read two are three further questions. Begin with Question 1.

Looking back on your childhood, up to the age of about ten, were you:

A Happy
B Unhappy.

Looking at your child preparing for the eleven plus, is he or she:

A Happy
B Unhappy.

In the light of your child’s present position would you say that your child’s examination preparation is:

A Successful
B Struggling

Does your child’s mind wander frequently?

A Yes
B No

Do you keep a personal diary or blog?

A Yes
B No

Can you manage all the verbal reasoning questions easily?

A Yes
B No

Is your mathematics good enough to be able to pass an eleven plus examination?

A Yes
B No

Does your child enjoy eleven plus work?

A Yes
B No

Do you sometimes find that you are amazed that your child tries so hard?

A Yes
B No

Would your child ever look at the answers illegally?

A Yes
B No

If you can work out the scoring and where these questions are going please make a comment that would be helpful to all of us. After all your child must sometimes feel the same sort of bewilderment and frustration when he or she looks at some of the really silly eleven plus questions.

Write down the letter that occurs in each word:

Elephant, varnish, many, peculiarity, wealthy

Eleven Plus Adrenalin 06/01/09

Some of us have been taught for many years that adrenalin prepares us for `fight, flight or fright’.

When a mum reassures her child that it will be `all right on the day’, we can possibly presume that the mum hopes that adrenalin will kick in. Some force will help her child to conjure up the right answers from the ether.

There have been many attempts to try to invent and build machines that can re-create themselves. Computers can be constructed to perform series of complicated calculations that would take the human brain almost a lifetime to perform.

Would it be possible to build a machine that would help a child to pass the eleven plus? The inventor would need to be able to store every single question that had been asked in actual examinations. All questions would need to be collected from all eleven plus specimen and practice papers. It would possibly also help if all the different explanations of eleven plus questions that given by teachers, tutors and parents were stored.

We would then have a vast database of information about the eleven plus. We could then ask the machine to prepare possible answers to the possible questions.

The machine would then need to be able to pass this information to your child. This simple act would save many hours of study, argument, frustration and joy. Could such an eleven plus machine exist?

It is far more likely that a well prepared child writing the eleven plus will have a much greater chance of passing the examination. After all before the eleven plus examination our eleven plus candidate will show lots of evidence of:


Eleven Plus - Moving Home 05/01/09

You hear of a good school. You then receive an offer on your house that is simply too good to be true. You don’t prevaricate or ask for a higher offer, you take the money and run. Where could you go? Close to that `wonderful’ school. You surmise that this is the school that will bring out the best in your child. (Last year 32 children out of 60 passed the Eleven Plus. Only 3 passed in the school your children are in at the moment.)

If over half the children passed last year – what are the chances of the same happening this year?

You know that last year, Year 6 had a gifted teacher who loved the Eleven Plus and loved working children hard. 26 out of thirty in her class passed last year. In the new school you hear that the good teacher has been moved to different class lower down the school. The teacher who is taking the present pre Eleven Plus children is more interested in drama and sport. She never sets any extra homework unless the children remind her.

If we had to use statistical tools to work out if the was worth moving to the new school we would need to be able to look at the numbers of children who won grammar school places over some time. It may also be useful to look at the difference is scores between the two groups of children. One method would be to apply some of the many different formulas associated with correlation. After all if you are going to take the plunge and move, you will want to be sure that the data is both accurate and meaningful.

The statistically informed test expert will need to be able to use clear and appropriate language when offering you conclusions.

We know that it must be possible to correlate success in eleven plus examinations with future success at `A’ level. To do well at `A’ level requires much more than attending a grammar school. We must presume that a certain percentage of children who pass the Eleven Plus will be successful. There must also be other children who did not pass the eleven plus – yet do go on to have a successful school career.

To help parents make their decision `to move or not to move’ the mothers and fathers will need to look at the new school in terms of:

Children who if selected would succeed at grammar school.

Children who were rejected by the grammar school system did succeed.

Children who if selected would fail academically at grammar school.

Children who were rejected, and then went on to fail.

There are very real problems for parents to try to face when they are deciding whether to move into an area which has a successful school.

Eleven Plus Endings 04/01/09

What makes an Eleven Plus winner? Some parents will have all the answers straight away. The rest of us may struggle just a little at times.

Method 1

Eleven Plus Child – I don’t feel like doing a paper today. I worked hard at school and I’m tired.

Parent – We will just do part of a paper today. You can do the rest tomorrow.

Eleven Plus Child – No, I just don’t want to do any extra work today. We did maths all day today. I don’t want to do a paper today.

Parent – But we agreed yesterday that you would do the mathematics paper today. You said yesterday that you are tired.

Eleven Plus Child – Well I don’t want to do it today.

Parent – I am getting fed up with this. You said you wanted to go to grammar school. You said you would do the paper today. Go to your room and get started.

Eleven Plus Child – No, I don’t want to do it. I told you I was tired. Please listen, Mum.

Parent – No. Go and do the paper now. If you don’t do it now I will stop your pocket money.

Eleven Plus Child – All right. You win. I am not happy.

The parent won and the child lost!

Method 2

Eleven Plus Child – I don’t feel like doing a paper today. I worked hard at school and I’m tired.

Parent – We will just do part of a paper today. You can do the rest tomorrow.

Eleven Plus Child – No, I just don’t want to do any extra work today. We did maths all day today. I don’t want to do a paper today.

Parent – But we agreed yesterday that you would do the mathematics paper today. You said yesterday that you are tired.

Eleven Plus Child – I hate mathematics paper. I hate the Eleven Plus. I am nor doing a paper today. You can not force me.
Parent – Oh, I give up. Leave the paper today. I don’t want to argue with you any more. You win.

The child wins and the parent loses.

The parent and the child both want to win. They are both prepared to fight to win. One side has to give way. The other side goes away feeling defeated and angry.

In both scenarios there is very little motivation for either party to work peacefully together.

If any one can suggest a different ending … please share it with us.

Eleven Plus and Financial Climate 03/01/09

It is going to be very interesting to see the effect that the general social and political conditions that exist today have on future developments within the Eleven Plus.

`Building Schools for the Future’ has already revolutionised far more than the design and intent of schools. The curriculum too has changed with information technology playing a larger part.

Would there be a big outcry if one of the political parties developed a new case for changes within the grammar school system?

Would prospective and existing grammar school parents react if the curriculum within their school was altered?

Will children continue to be prepared by traditional methods for Eleven Plus examinations?

Will families have time to be able to be involved in social ferment if they are in fear of their jobs and savings?

Will the middle class develop a new group of activists who will strive for change to the existing grammar school system?

How can parents be mobilised to demand changes to the system?

Will a grammar school ever become an academy?

Will an academy ever become a grammar school?

We saw in the recent American elections that the new tools of change included blogs, Face Book and Twitter. The `Friends of the Eleven Plus’ could develop large families that would be able have contrasting opinions to the `Stop the Eleven Plus’ community.

One thing we can be certain of is that there is very little chance of change becoming ossified. None of us can remain impervious to developments we have little control over.

Eleven Plus Common Sense 02/01/09

It is sometimes quite difficult to work out whether some eleven plus questions can be answered with common sense. If we have some knowledge of a topic then is seems likely that common sense can be used to answer a question.

We usually take common sense for granted and accept an answer based on common sense without much discussion.

If we try to teach an eleven plus topic so that it can be used in the examination by simply using common sense, then we would probably have had to break the topic into small but logical pieces. After all if there is little logic to the answer then it is unlikely that common sense can be applied.

What then is a common sense answer to a question? The book: “Essentials of Verbal Reasoning (O.B. Gregory) gives some 11+ exercises:

Look at the first pair of words and decide the relationship between them. Then write a pair of words from inside the brackets with the same relationship:

Small, little (rich, poor, money, expensive, wealthy)

The right answer is rich and wealthy. Is this a common sense solution?

Some children will choose rich and poor because they will not have read the question carefully.

Others may choose expensive and wealthy – because they know what the words mean, and they have read the question, but they may just have become a `little confused’. A number of words are similar. Would common sense help here?

Some children may prefer to have the question, and the answer, explained carefully – rather than hear the words:

“Just use your common sense.”

Friday, January 02, 2009

Eleven Plus Grades 01/01/09

The Eleven Plus examination is designed to find children who would benefit from a grammar school education. The difficulty of the examination is attributable to a number of factors:

The nature of the questions

The severity of marking

The time allowed

If the questions in the examination are hard, then the value in passing is enhanced. In other words we expect the eleven plus examination to be difficult to all but the brightest. When children achieve full marks on an Eleven Plus examination we know that we are discussing seriously able children.

There will be some children entering grammar school this year who will, however, have `scraped’ through the examination. This does not, however, mean that these children will not go on to do extremely well within the grammar school environment. Hard work, love of learning and old fashioned dedication will all play a part in the school career of a grammar school child.

In many eleven plus areas parents are simply offered a pass or fail situation. This is good enough for most. Parents and children are offered the marks but are not usually presented with the information about how many other children achieved similar scores. Eleven plus examiners, however, are not obliged to report the results with any degree of precision.

In education we often grade results with the letters A, B, C, D and E. If we assume that A is better than B which in turn is better than C, then an E grade will show the lowest scores. In Eleven Plus examinations we do not need the grades to stretch over the whole spectrum of children who sat the examination. The grades only need to cover the children who have passed. Thus an `A’ grade means a very good candidate. An `E’ grade does not then mean a failure – but suggests a child who has just passed the examination.

The percentage of marks attributed to each Eleven Plus grade could be completely arbitrary. If, however, an A grade was designed to describe the top ten per cent of children, and the E grade the ten percent of children who `just’ passed, then there is no need for the candidates at levels B, C and D to know their grades.

Never the less some parents may find it very helpful to know that their child passed with a score of 129 – and that that was a `C’ grade.

If we had this additional information about grades, and could use it for helping the examination to improve and develop, then there could be some point in adding extra pass levels. After all, an examination that has been around for many years must need a strong degree of introspection and re-evaluation.

Eleven Plus Reading 31/12/08

Many Eleven Plus children will have been given books over the Christmas period. Parents, family and friends will have chosen books from bookshops, the internet, personal recommendation and sometimes nostalgia will have played a part.

Eleven Plus children need to read. Reading, however, is a means to an end and not an end in itself. It is important that the books a child reads are interesting and worth the effort of reading them. Children, however, could read book after book and never become exposed to a key word that could emerge in an eleven plus examination.

When children are learning to read, the books that they are supplied with are both blessed and inhibited by a highly limited vocabulary. The Janet and John books, for example, were first introduced in Britain in 1949. Teachers found that the attractive illustrations were enjoyed by children and parents alike – especially when the books were compared with rather old fashioned looking phonic books. The basis of the Janet and John approach was that the child first associated pictures and words – and then memorised them by controlled practice. A lot of children were taught to read using the Janet and John books.

Many other reading schemes followed – some stressing look and say, others whole word methods and some phonic. Most children who are at the Eleven Plus stage will have been taught to read using a combination of methods. If your eleven plus child finds reading a chore then you would be hard pressed to blame the reading methods taught by the school.

One primary objective in reading is extracting knowledge from the printed page. You may find your child reading for pleasure, trying to find information – or performing a task he or she finds time consuming and unappetising.

Some very worthy eleven plus teachers have produced lists of key words eleven plus children will meet in examinations and on practice papers. Learning to apply these words could be a worth while exercise for some children. The difference between a pass and a fail, however, could be a word that is not on the list.

Perhaps one day our Eleven Plus children will have lists of recommended books.

“Read these fifteen books and you will be exposed to all the words that you will find in the Eleven Plus Examination.”

This could be shortened to:

“Special offer! Five important Eleven Plus books for only £3.50 each. Buy all five for £15.00. You will meet over 95% of all the words your child will meet in the examination.”

I would be very grateful for any lists of `useful and important’ eleven plus books. I bet, however, that if your pre eleven plus child read `The Three Musketeers’ and “Two Years Before the Mast” then you would have covered a very large proportion of key Eleven Plus words.

Eleven Plus Questions 30/12/08

Would the results of a questionnaire help to mould opinion on the Eleven Plus? Here are some suggestions:
Can you tell me three things that you like about education today?

Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the Eleven Plus?
Satisfied 1 Dissatisfied 2 Don’t know 3

Do you think that the present Eleven Plus examini)ations are fair?
Satisfied 1 Dissatisfied 2 Don’t know 3

Do you approve or disapprove of the Eleven Plus?
Approve 1 Disapprove 2 Don’t know 3

Are you satisfied with the present number of grammar schools?
Satisfied 1 Dissatisfied 2 Don’t know 3

The Eleven Plus should only test verbal reasoning.
Agree 1 Disagree 2 Don’t know 3

The Eleven Plus should look at mathematics and verbal reasoning.
Agree 1 Disagree 2 Don’t know 3

The fairest test at the Eleven Plus level would cover mathematics and English – as well as verbal and non verbal reasoning.
Agree 1 Disagree 2 Don’t know 3

Which party should bite the bullet and curtail the Eleven Plus?
Labour 1 Conservative 2 Liberal 3 Don’t know 4

Which political party should expand the Eleven Plus?
Labour 1 Conservative 2 Liberal 3 Don’t know 4

Schools should support the Eleven Plus
Agree 1 Disagree 2 Don’t know 3

Parents should be paid a grant to cover the cost of preparing a child for the Eleven Plus.
Agree 1 Disagree 2 Don’t know 3

Fees for Eleven Plus tuition should be capped – to make it fairer for some children.
Agree 1 Disagree 2 Don’t know 3

New Eleven Plus tests should be developed.
Agree 1 Disagree 2 Don’t know 3

Are you a Man? 1

Housewife 2

Not housewife 3

16-20 4
21-24 5
25-29 6
30-34 7
35-44 8
45-49 9
50-54 10
55-59 11
60-64 12
65 and over 13

Parent/Guardian with an Eleven Plus Child 1

Parent/Guardian without an Eleven Plus Child 2

Not Parent/Guardian 3

Married 4

Single 5

Other 6

Now one or two questions about yourself:

Do you smoke?
Yes 1

No 2

Do you think that this interview will reflect a true picture of current opinion?
Yes 1

No 2

Of course these questions would represent the start of a pilot survey. Other questions and thoughts about the Eleven Plus would, no doubt, emerge in time.

Eleven Plus Winners 29/12/08

It is a comforting thought that bright children are more likely to have their opinions changed by factual information than duller ones. It should also make us feel better about our bright children when we think that clever children are likely to be more critical of arguments and are also likely to be more sceptical.

We see this all the time with the TV cooks. When we watch a TV chef in action he or she is trying to teach without lecturing. If a TV chef simply sat in front of a passive audience and declaimed recipes for half an hour we would possibly have a strong urge to switch off. When we are invited to adopt one of the culinary masterpieces made by a celebrity chef, we would probably be more to embrace a recipe if we could also make a contribution.

This leads us to wondering if there is a recipe to latch on to that will help us to change the attitude of some ten year old boys towards work.

We know that an emotional argument will only work once or twice – and then a hint of reserve will creep in. (“How can you do this to me? I am your mother!”)

We know that as adults we need to be able to marshal an array of facts to help us to support any arguments we may be drawn into.

“It is a fact that child can not study effectively if the TV is on.”

“No, fast foods are a treat – they are not a viable alternative.”

“I am not criticising the clothes you are wearing – I am simply commenting that alternative dress may be more appropriate.”

There must still be some situations when you require your child to conform to your rules without question. You may even need to demand obedience where there are penalties for failure to obey your rules. (“If you don’t do what I say, you will not be able to …..”)

There may be times, however, when we want our bright eleven plus children to be non conformists. The idea of a sedated child going purposefully to complete an eleven plus paper seems incongruous in today’s world. If we try to encourage our eleven plus children to conform all the time then we may be excluding them from the possibility of developing their own attitudes and standards. Parents, however, can not expect their children to develop in a ‘Conforming Eleven Plus Manner’ all the time.

Eleven Plus children must be able to see the value in studying and work. They also need to feel that they can challenge their parents and teachers and, at the same time, assert and defend their own views.

To some parents the whole point of doing any extra work with their children towards the eleven plus examinations is an attempt to provide stimulating and interesting work. Parents want their eleven plus child to enjoy the work, take an interest in the subject matter and adopt an open mind.

All this to say: “Children do need to be allowed win sometimes.”

Eleven Plus Questions 28/1208

Some schools add an interview to the selection process. This would strike fear into the hearts of some parents of pre eleven plus children. What happens if their child does not react well in the interview? There is enough to worry about how well a much loved child will complete in the right answers without worrying that the interview will not show the candidate in the best possible light.

What can go wrong?

Your child may talk too much.
Your child may talk too little.
Your child may be inattentive.
Your child may not listen.

On the other hand:

Your child may argue convincingly.
Your child may be able to demonstrate that he or she can solve a problem.
Your child may appear to be relaxed and articulate.
Your child may be able to demonstrate that he or she is aware of the importance of the interview.

So what words of advice can you offer?

Wait for the interviewer to finish the sentence. (Some child does seem to be inclined to butt in at times.)

If you do not understand the question ask for it to be repeated or reiterated.

Try to avoid being too dogmatic. (Even in an interview some one else can have a point of view.)

What questions might your child be asked?

What do you know about this school? (We once helped a pre 12+ pupil with ‘interview techniques’ and it was clear that he had no knowledge of the school at all. WE suggested that he should at the very least look at the web site!)

Do you like school?

Do you have any particular reasons for wanting to come to this school?

What ambitions do you have?

What books have you read lately?

Finally we come to the questions for the parents. (We presume they will be able to be interviewed too?)

Why do you want your son / daughter to come to this school?
Will you support the PTA?
How close to the school do you live?
Do you resent being interviewed?

Eleven Plus Attributes 27/12/08

Many years ago, before even the much vaunted Eleven Plus was born lived a man called John Locke. He thought that true education was gaining self control by the individual. Intellectual self control was to be fostered by giving experience and practice. (Sounds familiar?)

He thought that the tutor should answer questions truthfully when ever the thirst for knowledge appeared genuine.

He thought that children hated to be idle and that it was the tutor’s task to tempt or trick them into worthwhile pursuits.

Locke wanted the content of education to cover virtue, wisdom, breeding and learning.

Keep speaking the truth and be good natured. (No fighting with mum and dad about doing an eleven plus paper!)

To raise a child’s mind to true and worthy thoughts. (No sharp little comments from the much loved eleven year old.)

Showing good will and regard for all people. (Respecting that mother and father can have an opinion – and really do know how to do long division and algebra.)

Many years are spent on it, and what a noise and business it makes to no purpose. (Having to persist with eleven plus questions that rely on rote rather than thought.)

Now Locke lived between 1632 and 1704. We still want our eleven plus children to be virtuous, wise, and able to demonstrate good breeding and manners as well as be imbued with a fierce desire to learn. These are all good eleven plus attributes. It is a pity that the Eleven Plus examination itself can not gives more credit to the whole child.

Eleven Plus Children 26/12/08

I looked today on Amazon for the date when a book called “The Practical Junior Teacher” by Potter was published. There is no date in the copy I have. Amazon had four copies at £18.00 each. The book, according to Amazon, was first published in 1931. The Editor’s Note in my copy, however, discusses the 1944 Education Act.

Potter had strong views on education. Of history he said “Class textbooks can kill interest and enjoyment if they are used for the valueless drudgery of learning facts by heart, but books that can be read for enjoyment and used for reference are excellent and the children must learn to use them.”

Mr Potter might have been talking about parts of today’s Eleven Plus. Some bright eleven years olds still have to put up with working through rather old fashioned eleven plus exercises and answering dated questions.

He discussed the Eleven Plus in terms of the eleven plus being based on a belief that formal examinations are able to forecast future academic success. Mr Potter wrote: “It is now realised that a child’s general attainment at school depends largely on his intelligence, or innate intellectual ability.”

Mr Potter was concerned with the selective examinations that took place at the end of a child’s junior school career. He explained that in some schools education had been abandoned in favour of continual practice in the basic subjects. He put forward the concept of a record card that would replace the formal examination in arithmetic, English and General Intelligence at the age of eleven.

He hoped that a child’s future education would be decided by his `potentialities’ instead of by his attainment in basic subjects. “Thus the temptation for teachers in Junior schools to overemphasise the basic subjects of the curriculum would be eliminated.”

If only we could find a way to eliminate some of the father vacuous questions our children have to face. A successful eleven plus child has to be bright, with a good vocabulary and sound problem solving skills. But being able to answer a question based around ‘mouse is to cat as rabbit is to …’ is surely an over rated eleven plus skill.

There does seem to be a strong case for the eleven plus examination to be looked at with fresh eyes. I suppose `don’t rock the boat’ could be an answer. Some teachers and publishers may not like the idea of a fresh examination that challenges present views on the eleven plus. No one would argue change for change’s sake. Some extremely bright children, however, could miss out because the present examination looks for a certain type of grammar school child.