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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Eleven Plus and Ability

It is possible for very bright children to have difficulty at school. There will always be some high flyers who develop late, or perform far beyond their own level so they are not recognised, but the majority will have been identified early on.

The brightest children may sometimes face the problem of working at the pace of the class. Mixed ability teaching is designed to implement, in an enlightened manner, the concept that every child learns at his or her own speed. Even if the very bright child is in the top group, then he or she could be held back by the speed of the children in the top group.

We recently had an eleven plus child with us who went on to achieve outstanding eleven plus results - 140 in mathematics as well as verbal and non verbal reasoning. The top group in his class were working from mental arithmetic book 3. He found our mental arithmetic book six a bit too easy. He worked on book three at school, book six with us and really needed something considerably higher. Hi school was in special measures, he was the only boy in his class to pass the eleven plus, but enthusiastic and hardworking class teacher simply did not have the resources to be able to offer him a `super’ group on top of the top group.

Luckily this extremely well balanced and mature child did not demonstrate boredom by day dreaming, or coasting or becoming the class joker.

Academically he could possibly have transferred to grammar school at the end of Year 3 and certainly would have passed the eleven plus at the end of Year 4. A different route could have been for him to miss a class at grammar school – and so work with boys a year older. It is very likely that he would have held his own.

It is likely that the teachers at the grammar school will argue that working a year ahead causes more problems that it solves. Unless a child is exceptionally mature working with children who are physically a year older can be very tiring. Boys who are a year older can suddenly shoot up in size – and this could cause problems all round.

Schools and parents traditionally encourage the very bright child to do a lot of reading and try to encourage in depth study. Some grammar schools provide enlightened programs where children can study a wide number of GCSE examinations. We all year of stories of a child pass 13 or 14 GCSE examinations – simply because the child has the ability to pass examinations. We have also heard of grammar schools which deliberately restrict the number of GCSE subjects to encourage the child to take up a number of outside activities.

Parents, of course, will do their best. We have a 12 year old grammar school girl with us at the moment who could pass a GCSE Higher mathematics paper now. Her parents, and her have opted against this as they would prefer her to go at the same speed as the other children in her class. Instead the girl has opted for swimming as an outlet. Last week she swam 14 hours with her swimming club and five hours with the synchronised swimming squad – representing Great Britain. One weekend, she swam, we understand, 126 lengths of the pool! There she is; gifted academically, gifted physically and the nicest child you could wish to meet.

The school system has not failed her, her teachers at primary and grammar school have not failed her. Her outside activities have not failed her. Who says that education is collapsing all around us?

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