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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Eleven Plus Influences

In 1940s, when ideas about the eleven plus were being developed, there were a number of different schools of psychology. At one end of the spectrum were the `Behaviourists’ who felt that people assimilated knowledge in small steps. A different group, for example, were the `Freudians’ who postulated the need to psychoanalyse human behaviour.

In among these warring and divisive groups of professionals were the psychologists who often had rival views on the nature of intelligence. More and more efforts were being made to standardise tests. Some psychologists were fully concerned with experiments with rats – trying to learn from their behaviour. Other psychologists made tests of intelligence or personality. Then there were some, again for example, who looked at lighting in large scale industrial operations – to see the effect that lighting had on the ability to work. (I was recently taken round a large school in Kent where the head teacher was very proud of the lighting in his new academy.) Then we had psychologists who were concerned with behaviour patterns in primitive tribes.

All this diversity led to lots of talk, with many different views on education and children. This must have affected the earnest souls who were developing tests for the eleven plus. Intelligence, as we know it today, is made up of so many factors that no one would be brave enough to stand up and say that their system is the only one to be followed.

So when we are offered a series of eleven plus question that set out to select children for a grammar school education we do, perhaps, have a right to query the validity of the question.

A staple eleven plus question could be along the lines:

Find the one word that is unlike the others:

Alter regulate adjust modify replace

Does a question like this have much relevance to the life our bright children are going to experience in a modern grammar school?

Many years ago the BBC brought in a service that would allow pages to be displayed with up to date information. If you wanted to find the time a plane was landing you pressed a button and selected a page – and then waited while the ten or so pages scrolled around. There was a name for this service – but the service has now been discontinued. The rolling, scrolling pages have been replaced by broadband and internet searches. We can even get live feeds into our telephones so as not to be so dependent on television.

During the days when early eleven plus work was being developed, news and information were often dispersed through the old fashioned movie houses. People would crowd into cinemas to watch pictures of men and women at war – and every moving picture was in black and white. These were examples of the influences on the psychologists who developed the early eleven plus tests all those years ago.

No one has yet challenged the relevance and reliability of our current eleven plus tests. The world, however, has moved on. It is time for new research and new ideas.

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