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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.

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