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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Eleven Plus and Parent Choice

Back in mediaeval times education did not end with school. Children and young adults were apprenticed – and were trained in technical skills from master craftsmen. We do not have SATs tests or GCSEs to be able to judge just how sound an education the children received. We do have some clue, however, from the records of accounts or household bills and transactions.

The old Grammar schools were founded in the towns like Canterbury and York – and were essentially cathedral schools. We only have to walk round the grounds of these schools to see the scale that the buildings were conceived on to be able to surmise that it is likely that the education of the children was also conceived in grandiose terms. The same must hold true today.

A number of grammar schools today rely heavily on tradition – not only of the curriculum – but also of buildings and grounds. We tend to think of a modern grammar school as a leafy place with polished corridors and rooms full of computers and modern technology.

Long, long ago schools were allowed to develop along their own lines. A parish could have a school that reflected the local environment. There were not only farm school but dance schools, song schools and even reading and writing schools. Schools often prided themselves as being `Free’. Parents had a certain freedom of choice. Back in 1406 the Statute of Artificers stated that every man and woman had the right to freedom of choice in school, and that parents “ shall be free to set their son or daughter to set their son or daughter to any seat of learning that pleaseth them within the realm.

There was no distinction between the education of girls and boys. Girls were generally well off in terms of education – and had access to whatever education was available.

There was no talk of eleven plus examinations in those days. Naturally there must have been some form of split as the children grew older. It is unlikely, for example, that a strong 12 year old boy would have been allowed to stay at school if he had been needed on the farm. A bright and able twelve year old girl, with some learning, may have been swept into managing the family’s finances – or running the household.

There would have been little talk of verbal reasoning questions back in those days. Bright, able and articulate children would not have been drawn into a culture of studying an increasingly narrow selection of work. After all there can be only a limited number verbal reasoning questions. The present eleven plus examinations requite children to think and to reason – but do not look for creativity and excitement. We have all seen children pleased and excited over solving an eleven plus conundrum. Few of us would have seen an imaginative and creative eleven plus student – unless the content of the lesson was so structured.

If one day there is a great shake up of the eleven plus examinations, and if the powers that be can evolve new ways of testing and examining children, then one day we may return to the free schools of yester year.

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