Eleven Plus tests, as they stand, are immensely useful to the men and women who think like bureaucrats. You take all of a child’s upbringing at home, all the hard work done at school, the efforts of the child at preparing for the examination – and then reduce the whole fermenting melting pot into one score.
Look at verbal reasoning, passing the eleven plus goes back to the vocabulary and speech patterns used by adults when addressing the baby. Parents will try to read stories to children at a level commensurate with their child’s oral comprehension. Most parents will not persist in reading Oliver Twist to their year old baby – even through they take time to explain some of the more complex words. A year old child will be acquiring vocabulary and will be stimulated by stories pitched at a sensible level.
Children will be learning new vocabulary from their parents at home all the time. Children may learn, for example, words that will never appear in an eleven plus examination. For example either mother or father may describe the behaviour of another driver in pungent terms. The words `little sponges’ spring to mind.
Other contributions to vocabulary are made by the type of television program the child watches. Young children, for example, are being very well served by CBeebies.
When the child arrives at school there will be hundreds of well meaning literacy lessons. Teachers will work meaningfully on comprehension and the acquisition of vocabulary.
Children will acquire new words in many different ways. Reading, going on holiday, visiting friends, shopping, sports and even formal eleven plus lessons in vocabulary from a tutor.
An the day of the examination all this learning and education is reduced to a set number of questions that have to be completed within strict time limits.
In some far flung office a real human (not necessarily a bureaucrat) will ratify the scores and pass them to officialdom. This is where administration takes over.
Your child’s ability, personality, confidence and academic future are all condensed into a single score. Your child is then graded into a list of `pass and fail’. The list does not take into account sporting prowess, musicianship, membership of the gifted and talented register and leadership qualities. Your child may have read before school, and completed all the Harry Potter books before he is she is ten years old. Your child may have the super qualities of looking after a disabled parent, or demonstrated outstanding bravery by saving a drowning child.
A child’s academic future is still determined by the position in a list. This position is determined by how many multiple choice questions were answered correctly. Surely a child is worth more than that? There must be a way of `helping’ bureaucracy’ to be able to add value to scores.
When the eleven plus examinations were established there were no computers capable of collecting complex bits of information and organising, sorting and grading. Surely the opinion of the teacher and the head can factored into the equation. If all a child’s school reports could be scanned and digitised then words like `hard working’, `able, `conscientious’ and diligent could count just as well as answering some artificial verbal reasoning question.
If we do need to land up with one score, then let us pray for a score that will at least represent a mosaic of a child’s strengths and weakness.