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.