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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Eleven Plus and Consequences

It was argued back in the 1950s that the eleven plus examination was the only fair and objective form of selection.

Examinations today are often looked on in different way – for example as a measure of national standards.

There are some who feel that if all examinations were done away with there would be no guarantee of quality.

Others feel that examinations provide recognisable goals. The Eleven Plus certainly acts as spur to parents and children.

We know that examinations as we know them today originated in the universities at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Medieval universities used examinations to recruit people to their guilds. In 1760 Cambridge had written examinations – but it was Oxford in around 1800 that provided the basis of a system of examinations as we know them today. The great plan was that better candidates would be identified. The scores of the top twelve candidates were published. One near by local authority promotes a list of the top 180 eleven plus candidates! Who says that there is anything new in education?

Children working through the eleven plus papers need to listen to their teachers, tutors and parents. They also need to concentrate and learn. The present eleven plus syllabus is remarkably restricted for many children. Some good mathematicians are hampered by fact that there are so few topics in a typical eleven plus syllabus. Other children naturally find the scope daunting.

The eleven plus is often a route of discovery for parents and children. Children learn about themselves – and often parents find that their knowledge of mathematics is far greater than they would have thought to be possible.

Many families find that the eleven plus provides a focus to study. It is tempting to all concerned to stay on a narrow and prescribed path. The eleven plus also provides a wonder opportunity for parents and children to work together. The examination provides some sort of barometer of relationships with in the family.

At some time or another the child simply has to settle down and do some work. The consequences of failure? Well we all remember one boy who did not listen to his mother:

Little Willie from his mirror
Licked the mercury right off,
Thinking in his childish error,
It would cure his whooping cough.
At the funeral his mother
Smartly said to Mrs Brown:
“Twas a chilly day for Willie
When the mercury went down.”

Monday, March 30, 2009

Eleven Plus Vocabulary

Some eleven plus children find elements of verbal reasoning papers difficult because of their vocabulary. In crude eleven plus terms vocabulary is simply the words that the child has available to use. A three year old boy, for example, immersed in Thomas the Tank Engine will be able to understand and use many of the words appearing on the DVDs, games and television. It is possible; however, that one or two of the words may appear on a verbal reasoning paper.

A child’s vocabulary will be as varied as character, personality and appearance. Vocabulary depends on a variety of factors. All of us will know the story of Tarzan – brought up by apes – yet so handsome and muscular that the prettiest of all girls could look past his limited vocabulary and fall in love with him.

Education must play a large part. Mothers used to be applauded for baby talk – how cute? “Is this mama’s little boy? Itsy bitsy bluesy woozy shoesie woosie.” This type of vocabulary has been replaced with deadly serious pre eleven plus vocabulary. “My boy, before you have a pair of blue shoes. They are made in leather and crafted in Italy. They cost just under £39.50, but your mother promises that she ill buy the branded pair on your first birthday.”

Occupation must also play a large part in the development of vocabulary. A pre eleven plus child growing up in an inner city will hear the words; “Take care and beware of strangers,” far more often than a child growing up on a farm, deep in the heart of Kent. A farmer’s child will have a richness of vocabulary arising from knowledge of the seasons along with an awareness of habits of birds and small wild life. The child in a two bed roomed flat in the heart of a housing estate may, for example, have had more time to be immersed in books with easier access to a library than the child from the farm. The paradox is that the roles of vocabulary can easily be reversed.

A famous author is said to have had a working vocabulary of thirty thousand words.

A waitress, apparently, needs around seven thousand words.

The bankers in `control’ of our present financial crisis will probably need a much wider vocabulary. Yet it is likely that the word `sorry’ will spring more likely from the lips of the waitress than from a banker.

Roget’s Thesaurus was published for the first time in 1852 – and had fifteen thousand words. If our eleven plus child had a good knowledge of these fifteen thousand words then he or she would have a pretty good, but dated, eleven plus vocabulary. New words are continually being added to our store of words.

The vocabulary used within setting questions at an eleven plus level will probably need to be rather restricted by the author’s view of the `required’ vocabulary of an eleven plus child. I wonder if there would be an outcry if the serving eleven plus papers were undated to take into account the words eleven year old children were likely to use today?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Expense of the Eleven PLus

“I hate multiple choice work. There is no room for working out.”

“I like working sums out.”

“Sometimes I just guess.”

If assessment is not done via a multiple choice test – then there must be other viable alternatives. One major problem is they may not all be as cheap and effective. A couple of invigilators opening a sealed packet of multiple choice questions, and then returning the packet to the examination board, can not be all that expensive. The papers then are processed and computer generated results are regurgitated with all the scores in rank order – showing the `Eleven Plus Pass or Fail’. Human emotion does not play a part.

Some parents have to resort to psychometric tests to augment eleven plus test results. If their child does not pass they then seek to use the evidence of a psychologist to try to secure a place. In a psychometric test a child is given a set of questions or tasks in a prescribed manner. The results are then compared with the norms of other people. The examiner (the psychologist) is not allowed to alter the questions, prompt answers or give clues to help. The tests measure intelligence – or aspects of ability.

A different type of assessment can be offered to try to find out how well a child will react to a range of situations. Will a child react well under pressure? Can the child rise to the occasion? Does the child have the ability to work in noisy conditions? Some parents have to make the decision whether their child would be happier at or near the top of a non selective school or languish near the bottom of a grammar school. Information from a professional could help decision making.

The present Eleven Plus tests are sometimes criticised because they seem to be testing what has been learnt and do not really reflect what the child is capable of learning in the future. Parents hope that the speed and the scope of the grammar school will stimulate their child to learn even faster in the future. Children could, for example, be taught something during the assessment – and then, immediately, be tested on this. A benefit of this type of assessment is that it would not need to be a really silly eleven plus verbal reasoning question.

Another method could be to assess the child through observation at school and at home and then try to draw conclusions about the potential of the child to flower in an academic environment. This could be difficult because no two homes or schools are alike. It may be, however, that the grammar school needs to know more about the child’s intellectual development than how the child behaves in certain situations.

Parents could also contribute to the eleven plus assessment if they were included in the equation. Parents, for example, could complete questionnaires about a child’s willingness to work and attitudes to key pre eleven plus exercises. Parents could evaluate the child willingness and desire for a grammar school education.

Any single one of the methods mentioned above must have drawbacks that far out weigh the present system of setting machine marked multiple choice tests. Most of the other methods would, however, be remarkably expensive to develop and sustain. We hear of grammar schools where there is extraordinary competition for every single place. On local authority tests around four thousand children each year. Four thousand bits of paper is a lot cheaper that four thousand interviews.

Utopia is quite simply far away.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Eleven Plus Nerves

Being very bright is for some children a bit of a handicap. If the family is bright, verbal and articulate - and their child displays similar tendencies – then it is likely that the family will be largely accepting (and very proud) of the evidence of ability. Other families may be slightly resentful if one of their `ducklings’ shows signs of being different.

A bright child does not just live in a family but also grows in in society. We must assume that society is a force that will have a huge impact as the family work towards the eleven plus. The child will be affected, for example, by the immediate neighbourhood. Does the child live in a `good’ neighbourhood with leafy gardens? Is material success important in the family – and in the neighbourhood? Are there good neighbours with a purposeful neighbourhood watch scheme?

Are the children the eleven plus child will come into contact with after school preoccupied by sport? Is there easy access to a playground or leisure facilities?

A bright child living on a busy road with large scale industry and a family living in semi poverty may, however, have the same burning desire to do well academically.

Most parents of children working towards the eleven plus will prize intelligence and emotional stability very highly. Mood changes and uncalled for aggression naturally play a part in the development of the child. The odd temper tantrum could, however, help to clear the air. (Are we talking about a tantrum from a parent or a child?)

Having a bright child does not mean that you land up with an unhappy and frustrated child. It only means that some bright children are sometimes unhappy and frustrated.

It is difficult to see how the present eleven plus system caters for bright but frustrated children. Quite simply the eleven plus examination is not designed to help children adjust socially. We need an examination system that will select bright children for entry in a grammar school. It is difficult to see how a restricted diet of verbal and non verbal reasoning papers will make a child feel fulfilled and happy.

The strange thing is, however, that sustained endeavour and effort of answering question after question does very often do the job of helping a child feel confident and fulfilled. Children do start feeling that they can tackle `hard’ problems and solve them.

Anecdotal evidence from chatting to parents suggests that some children do begin to `calm down’ before the examination. The `handicap’ of feeling that they don’t fit in with peers seems to dissipate with the realisation that in the new school – the grammar school - they are likely to meet children at least as bright as them selves.

Parents can do a lot to help with pre eleven plus nerves. They could try to help their child to understand that whatever tears and upsets that may occur along the eleven plus journey it is important to keep the time spent studying as free as possible of tension. Some parents find that simple eleven plus timetable helps. The timetable will suggest a time to work and a time to play.

Every eleven plus child can not live in a gated community. Not all children will have unlimited access to tutors. Some parents will continue to struggle with parts of papers. Children will continue to throw the occasional wobbler. It is likely too, however, that pre eleven plus nerves will be more in the minds of the parents than children.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Eleven Plus Twitter

Primary school pupils will be offered lessons in Twitter and Face Book. We need to develop our Eleven Plus Twitter.

0605 MumDream - Waiting for first cup of tea. All children asleep. T.G.

0608 DadUp - Milk has run out. Jogging to buy.

0609 Neighbour – His shorts look great. I do like blue on a man.

0610 Sunny – Hi mum. Slept on 34 as you suggested. Still can’t do it.

0611 Papershop – He’s taken full cream. I told him you like skimmed. Sorry.

0614 MumDream – Try removing the third and the fifth letter. Any good?

0620 DadUp – Jogging and Twittering is a new experience!

0614 Daughter2 – Mum – Jill’s in the bath. Tell her to hurry. Leave third letter.

0618 MumDream – Shower is wonderful.

0620 Neighbour – And from behind.

0625 Sunny – Pips. Onto 45 now.

0636 DadUp – Wooops! Wrong milk. Must have been different cow.

0656 Eleven21 – I hate exams.

0657 Daughter1 – Breakast is Yuck. Love Mars to start.

0657 DadUp – Where is?

0658 Friendly – The 7.12 leaves New York 20 mins.

0658 Welly – Just milking Jersey cows. Richer cream content.

0659 Neighbour – Washing net curtains today.

0659 Sunny – Mum, battery’s low.

0659 Mischief – Fish for supper tonight.

0700 Sunny – What is the square root of 36? (Please)

0712 Daughter2 – I prefer Blur.

0713 Mischief – Missed the 7.12 – will fly to Boston instead.

0714 Sunny – Nearly done. Can I walk the dog?

0715 Daughter2 – Don’t return. I hate that dog. It smells.

0720 MumDream - Breakfast.

0721 MumDream – Come on.

0722 Neighbour – Might leave curtains down.

0723 DadUp – Manchester United is real.

0724 Daughter1 – Physics today. All wound up.

0724 Neighbour – How silly.

0725 Daughter2 – Off to catch the bus.

0730 Sunny – Battery is still low.

0731 Daughter1 – Are you plugged in?

0745 MumDream – The square root of 36 is 6.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Eleven Plus Arguments

A survey done some time ago suggested that the more difficult the child’s behaviour was at school, the more hostile the parents were towards the school. Adverse factors like poor housing, broken families and disrupted family relationships could also, at times, affect a child’s behaviour. A parent whose child’s behaviour at school is difficult may be inclined to blame the school. The child could feel that because the parent is hostile towards the school then he or she has full licence to behave badly.

Naturally this could impact on a few Eleven Plus children. We remember the words from Macbeth when the witches crouched round the pot: “Double double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.” Some bright children could live on a virtual cauldron of problems at home and at school – and not all of the problems caused by the parents!

Some children could be actually bored – as their ability is not recognised. We had a boy once who came out around just below average on core English and mathematics tests. He had lessons with us that tried to boost his skills. He talked incessantly and was disruptive to the point on needing `a serious talk’. He completed a rather easy comprehension passage, set at around the eight year old level, early one session. He then picked up a verbal reasoning paper that had been used by the child beside him. The boy simply wrote the answers down almost as fast as he could read the questions.

He had spent his time with us working to a level of expectation. He was not expected to do well at school and at home. Our initial results did not reveal a `high flyer’.

There were three witches in Macbeth. It is to be wondered if he saw the teacher at school as one witch, his parents as another and us as a third. Macbeth’s witches threw all sorts of ingredients into the pot. Perhaps the easy access to something that really stimulated our boy – the verbal reasoning paper – altered his perception of himself.

This salutary tale suggests that poverty, overcrowding or substantial environmental problems are not always the answer to children behaving badly.

We all inclined to use some form of system of reward and punishment when dealing with obvious attempts to disrupt work. We will reward our eleven plus children when they are sitting quietly and working hard. Of course confrontation when behaviour slips is to be avoided when possible. When the child is pushing for an argument it is sometimes easier to give way and live to fight another day. Some parents will actively and purposefully reward good behaviour – but be less confident about applying sanctions.

The one tool that parents do, however, have in their armour is the reassuring knowledge that the bright but disruptive child will, one day, be living independently. Roll on the day!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eleven Plus Lessons

When we are working with some very bright children we are continually challenged to provide bright and meaningful lessons. We have, for example, some children with us who will pass the Eleven Plus without any extra help from us. These children will not really benefit from Eleven Plus papers and exercises – because they can already do the work. The parents are aware that the children do not need regular work on papers; the children too know that there is not much for them to do. The children come because they quite simply enjoy themselves.

The Foundation GCSE paper of the WJEC lasts for two hours. Candidates are asked to spend around 50 minutes on Section A. Section B is made up of two questions with 35 minutes for Question B1 and 35 minutes for Question B 2. There are 40 marks for Section A and 40 marks for Section B.

Question A1 of a recent paper asked the candidates to read a leaflet and find five places in Warwick Castle to visit. (5 marks). This is quite an easy question and all the children have to do is make a list.

In Question A2 the candidates are tasked to find 5 pieces of information. (5 marks) Once again this is reasonably easy for a child with a high reading age.

Question A3 read: “How did the leaflet persuade you to visit the castle?” (10 marks) Some children fall down when they demonstrate that they are not sure of how to write persuasive language.

Question A4 required a different article to be read and Question A5 needed a comparison between the two sources. (10 marks each). The children are likely to have read the first passage carefully (covering questions 1 – 3) but some may tend to skim the second and shorter passage that is used in A4 and A5.

Our brighter Eleven Plus children can usually cope very easily with questions one to three. They tend to struggle with A5 (10 marks) – simply because comparing two passages is not a skill taught at the eleven year level in most primary schools.

The Questions in Section B are different. This part of the GCSE paper looks at writing skills including presentation. There is a stern warning about the need to take special care with handwriting, spelling, punctuation and layout.

There is also a highlighted suggestion that: “The quality of writing is more important than its length. You should write about one or two pages in your answer book.”

Question B1 was an article recommending places to visit. Question B was a letter to the newspaper about the proposal by a business man to hold an outdoor music festival in the area.

Why not allow some of our super bright eleven plus children to have a go at trying to reach a `C’ grade in at least GCSE English and mathematics? They could then `bank’ these results until they were needed on their C.V. The teachers at grammar school would surely welcome the idea of having certificated children in their top Year 7 classes – thus allowing a much wider curriculum and truly innovative teaching.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Drudgery of the Eleven PLus

Parents often have to run a fine balance when they are working with their children towards the eleven plus. Some parents will feel that the eleven plus begins to play such a large part in the lives of the family that everything else has to be subordinated. At the one extreme the eleven plus candidate has to be fed and watered. Few parents of eleven plus children would mind about supplying basic food and water. At the other end of the scale parents can sometimes feel that their own spontaneous impulses and interests have to play second fiddle to the whims and wobbles of their much loved candidate.

The sheer drudgery of parts of eleven plus work can spread across the whole family.

Drudgery is different things to different members of the family.

The Eleven Plus child may feel that working on his or her own is drudgery. “Please can I do this later on? I really want to play with my friends today.”

The parents may feel that drudgery is cooking, cleaning and `waiting on’ the rest of the family. Drudgery can also mean the second job to pay the fees and the additional eleven plus expenses.

The family will find that eleven plus drudgery can not be eliminated – but it can be reduced. The eleven plus child can stop whining and get on with the work. Other children, when possible, can share the load of the various household tasks.

The family have to unite to try to build a common attitude towards the eleven plus. There will be areas where compromises will have to be made. Leisure time should not be neglected. If the family has the opportunity of going on holiday just before the eleven plus, for example, then the family should go. The eleven plus should not take over the whole family. It should be firmly relegated into its place.

A drudge is a person who has to do uninteresting work. It is to be hoped that no eleven plus child will ever feel that the work is drudgery. We can pray too that all concerned in the family approach the impending eleven plus with hope and fortitude.

We must sincerely hope that the young lady in the limerick that follows was not a victim of an eleven plus malady. Why not ask your child to explain it to you?

There was a young lady of Ryde,
Who ate some green apples and died.
The apples fermented
Inside the lamented,
And made cider inside her inside.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Changes to the Eleven Plus

Between 1933 and 1941, in America, there was an eight year experiment in which thirty schools and school systems co-operated to try to discover the consequences of removing the external pressure of traditional entrance examinations.

About three hundred schools and colleges agreed to admit students on the basis of the evidence of school records. (In our eleven plus terms children would apply to the grammar school of their choice. The grammar schools would look at the marks and reports from the primary school – and would then select the children they wanted.)

The Americans found that the students were more confident and independent if they had not been made to pass an entrance test. Each student was paired with a student with equivalent school grades – but who had passed a competitive entrance test. More than fourteen hundred students were paired. Participation in extra curricular activities was also part of the equation. The study thus did not only look at how well the students did academically – but also how the students developed and participated in university life outside of the lecture hall.

The findings suggested that progress at university was seen in a number of key areas:

Intellectual curiosity and drive

Interest in contemporary affairs

Social Maturity

Emotional stability

One conclusion that was drawn from the study was that because the feeder schools had a much freer atmosphere to learning and education – that in the end there was no real reduction in academic standards.

Think of generations of eleven year old children being prepared for grammar schools without having to work through paper after paper. Think of eleven plus tutors being charged with broadening the minds of their charges. Imagine encouraging children to learn to take an interest in current affairs. Think of children who were taught to think logically and argue thoughtfully.

Think too of the position of the grammar schools. Do they really want children who have been coached to a very high standard – but have no outside interests or desire to become involved in current affairs?

Grammar schools, as they stand today, only select on the basis of children who can pass examinations. If your child does not achieve the marks on the day – then a place is not offered.

If the grammar schools really want mature and stable eleven year old children, full of intellectual curiosity then the grammar schools will need to call for a change to the present system of eleven plus selection.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Eleven Plus and Mother's Day

Mother’s Day is with us today. All round England children will have been thinking of ways to thank their mothers for everything they have done for them. The card they write is in effect a summary of the love they feel towards their mothers.

One advantage of including English in any Eleven Plus examination is that the whole scope of the examination can be extended. Verbal Reasoning looks at ability in a prescribed manner. Some authorities even have a set number of types of reasoning exercises. Most present forms of the eleven plus examinations are set in a multiple choice format. Adding English would require a whole congregation of qualified markers.

Eleven Plus English could include stating the writer’s arguments on a particular topic, giving reasons, commenting on differences or similarities and arguing a case. There may also be a good case for including a test of the ability to summarise.

The skill of writing a summary includes being able to use a broad vocabulary. Many of us will have read Dr. Benjamin Spock. He set out to write a book that took young mothers through a step by step stroll through the troubles they could meet. He included statements like: “All children are relatively self centred and eager for possessions.” This can be summarised in a variety of ways including the rather prosaic: `Children are greedy.’

Summarising can be taught. The eleven year old children would need to be taught to read the entire passage – and then read it again. On the third reading the children would then write a title, and jot down basic thoughts. The skill of summarising then includes using a wide vocabulary, omitting jargon, figurative language and illustrations.

The children would then write a draft in their own words, they would then count the words and then rewrite the summary to produce a polished piece of work.

Compare the intellectual processes involved in this exercise with the thought processes in: “Find the odd one out ….”

What about trying your children out with this Mother’s Day exercise?

Write a summary of the sentiments expressed in this anonymous epitaph in one word:

“Here lies a poor woman who always was tired;
She lived in a house where help was not hired.
Her last words on earth were: “Dear friends, I am going
Where washing ain’t done, nor sweeping nor sewing:
But everything there is exact to my wishes;
For where they don’t eat there is no washing of dishes.
Don’t mourn for me now; don’t mourn for me never –
I’m going to do nothing for ever and ever.”

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Eleven Plus Folk Lore

Many years ago, a long time ago, well before the eleven plus was even a twinkle in the eye, people used to pass on folk lore though songs.

Today the folk lore of the eleven plus is passed on at dinner parties, the play ground, forums, blogs and Twitter.

Folk songs were conceived as melodic entities – so it was not essential to have harmony or complex arrangements. Today’s folk songs will often be sung with a full round of accompanying melodies, singers and sometimes even a large band of players. There is still a place, however, for the lone singer captivating our imaginations and holding us enthralled.

Just so with the eleven plus. Some children and families still prefer to work together in a tight unit – relying on books, papers, materials and the internet. Other children (and their parents) prefer work towards the eleven plus in small groups.

What ever the combination that is adopted within a family, eleven plus work has to be harmonious. There has to be give and take and acceptance of strengths and weaknesses. An illustration of the need for good communication can be found in a really old English Folk Song called `The Rich Old Lady’.

There was a rich old lady
In London she did dwell;
She loved her old man dearly,
But another twice as well.

O she went to the doctor’s shop
As hard as she could go,
To see if anything she could find
The make her old man blind.

Sing to the I-ree-O,
Sing to the I-ree-O.

She got two walloping mar’-bones,
She made him eat them all.
He said, Oh my beloved wife,
I can not see you at all.

If I could see my way to go,
I’d go to the river and drown.
She says, I’ll go along with you
For fear you go astray.

O she got up behind him
Just ready for to plunge him in.
He stepped a little to one side
And headlong she went in.

O she began to kick and scream
As loud as she could bawl.
He said; O my dear beloved wife,
I can not see you at all.

He being tender hearted
And thinking she could swim,
He got him a great long pole
And pushed her further in.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Eleven Plus Cooking

Some children will spend as long as one hundred hours working towards the eleven plus. This is not an average length of time – it was simply picked from the ether. Parents, school, tutors, teachers and children all hope that if enough work (of the right sort) is done, the word `pass’ will echo round the land.

Let us take the same child, and instead of encouraging work towards the eleven plus, we could spend the same amount of time teaching cooking. One hundred hours of cooking tuition, with all the books and resources that are thrown at the eleven plus child, should produce a child who can cook. Will all this effort, however, develop a gourmet cook?

What happens if the grammar school calls for all eleven plus children to be gourmet cooks? Surely cooking to a high standard is a measure of excellence? The ability to follow a recipe, sort out ingredients, organise time and the kitchen as well as prepare and present the food, must require a great majority of the skills demanded by an eleven plus examination. Why then should a child be accepted to go to grammar if he or she has simply has aptitude in the ability to pass a verbal reasoning test? In one sense the verbal reasoning test calls on many skills and talents – but a tasty meal delivered on time with the right panache should count for something. (Ask any mother about this!)

I wrote an appeal letter today for a boy who started with us with average mathematics and verbal reasoning – and well below average non verbal reasoning. His results after a mere four months of tuition and work were 133 for verbal reasoning, 124 non verbal reasoning and 109 on mathematics. He `failed’ the eleven plus by two marks – and the parents have had to appeal.

A boy like this shows just why the eleven plus was created. Here is an obviously bright boy who had not been able to make full use of his talents – until the right eleven plus recipe was invoked. What was the magic ingredient? Probably the boy began to feel confident in him self.

We need to remember Abraham Lincoln. He said: “You may repeal the Missouri Compromise; you may repeal all compromises; and you may repeal the Declaration of Independence and the events of history, but you can not repeal human nature.”

The sheer effort of the boy mentioned earlier must be applauded. It is easy to suppose that if he had one hundred hours of cookery tuition he would be able to deliver an outstanding meal. We just hope that in time to come he will become a politician who can lead our country. We can but hope that he will develop the depth of thought of Lincoln – and make an equivalent contribution to the free world. We must all hope that one day someone will say: Of course he was a grammar school boy.”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Eleven Plus Stories

It is hoped that one of the specific aims of education must be to try to endow children with an appreciation of literature. After all the acquisition of knowledge must be a prize not a burden.

Parents of prospective eleven plus candidates will have used stories as a means of bringing pleasure to their children –as well as trying to impart knowledge. The foundation we give to little children can provide solutions to some types of reasoning questions. Stories will provide much of the vocabulary and richness of language that the eleven plus child will feed on.

The books we try to encourage our eleven plus children to read can not have pages of introduction before the story proper starts. Our children will want to have books that get on with the story. After all the films and T.V. they watch, and the computer games they play, attempt to engross the audience from the first second.

It is likely that if children do not develop a taste for reading during their childhood, they will find it difficult to become readers in later life. Some parents find that if they read stories to their children they can sometimes take some of the `drudgery’ of reading out of the occasion.

These thoughts on reading sprang from the comments of a nine year old boy who was working on a verbal reasoning exercise – where he had to find two words that were similar. He commented on one of the words with, “Oh, I know that word. My teacher told us the word at story time.”

I remarked that it was like the words in the story about the Jabberwocky.

Wouldn’t it be fun if our eleven plus children had to cope with words and imagery like?

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.’

The ending is as striking today as it must have been over a hundred years ago:

`And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms my beamish boy!
Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy.

Some eleven plus children would love to be able to write and think in terms of the language used in Through the Looking Glass. The constraints of the eleven plus examination must be denying many children with verbal stimulation and enrichment. After all how does your child make time to read and reflect if he or she has to do a paper a day?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Eleven Plus Comprehension

Back in 1968 a man called Barrett argued the case for a taxonomy of ideas on comprehension. What he was trying to do was describe different types of comprehension. He presented five main types:

Literal comprehension: this is where your child will answer questions by direct reference to the text.

Re-organisational comprehension: here your child will try to classify or group information from within a passage.

Evaluative Comprehension: an attempt is made to interpret and evaluate assumptions and intentions.

Inferential Comprehension: this is thinking and making deductions beyond what appears in the text.

Appreciative Comprehension: where your child is expected to show awareness of language or emotion.

When your child is working through verbal reasoning questions – then reading comprehension is a high order skill. Sometimes you will be just plain grateful for a response even if it is the wrong one – because you then are presented with the opportunity to urge:

“Have you read the question again?”
“We could look for key words together.”
“Do you remember how you approached a similar example?”
“Why not have a go at eliminating answers which simply can not be correct?”

You could now add some rather more formal language:

“Have you considered that this verbal reasoning question requires a literal answer?”

“We could try and re-organise the sentence.”

“What do you think the question is trying to achieve?”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Eleven Plus Tables

There have been many different theories about why King Arthur had a round table. One reason that is often given is that King Arthur wanted a round table to that there was no question of dominance. Every knight was supposed to be of equal importance.

The problem with this theory came in the relative distance of the knights from their King. The closer the knight sat to the King, the more trusted and `in favour’ he was.

We are sometimes given glimpses into the world of Number 10. We are offered a view of our leader sitting at a rectangular table surrounded by hench men and women. Sometimes (very occasionally) there are smiles.

Children at school sometimes sit in formal rows. At other times they are gathered into little groups of tables. Sometimes the groups reflect status – as in the top group for mathematics. (“I am not so good at the eleven plus because I am only in the middle group.”)

Where your child sits at home to do eleven plus work can also, to a degree reflect how the family react to the importance of the occasion. One child could feel put upon by being banished to the bedroom to work, while another might relish the opportunity to escape from the normal mayhem of the average household.

Most eleven plus children will be able to find some space to work. Some may have to tidy their books and papers away from the dining room table, while others will have access to their own desk and chair.

To stop children feeling bored while working through papers some parents find it helpful to keep ringing the changes. “We only need to spend ten minutes on this mathematics, as we are going onto verbal reasoning.”

Imagine if your child could have his or her own sushi bar for eleven plus work. Exercises would drift pass – open at the page. An eleven plus hand would reach out a grab hold of a reasoning exercise. A few examples could then be done by the time the revolving bar returned. Surely this would keep the interest up? Surely too the continuous revolution would help to add a touch of urgency to the proceedings?

Sometimes very bright children just have to work at the same pace as the rest of the class at school. With the very best will in the world no teacher can offer your child a diet of fresh, new and exciting work in every single lesson. When you are working with your child at home it is sometimes difficult not to get drawn into a scenario where your child works purposely and steadily – but slowly – through an exercise. There will be occasions when your every breath is fighting not to encourage your child to work at a faster pace. “Oh darling, I do wish you would work a little faster. You have been on that question for at least ten minutes. Please try to work a little faster.” The alternative is: “Look, just finish the work so we can get on with the rest of our lives!”

It does not really matter whether your child sits at a round, square or rectangular table. The table can be stationary or even revolve. Your child could sit peacefully or exhibit passive resistance – and at the time it doesn’t really matter - so long as the work gets done.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Eleven Plus Planning

A key part of some eleven plus assessments is the written task. On some occasions the children are asked to describe how they would feel about being blind, a different assessment could cover the controversial topic of when it is valid for a child to lie. Other children are simply asked to write on a topic that interests them.

In every case we encourage the children to write a plan. Some children are able to cope with planning – and others need help in trying to work out how to develop the answer. Of course we remind the children that planning involves coming up with ideas – and then working out the order that the ideas are put into. Some children, however, continue to write their essay without the benefit of a plan – and some of these children then come up with a jumble of ideas.

A number of children are able to write a plan – and then have trouble following the plan into the body of the story. Some times it is evident that the child has had a different idea – or that the development of the story is simply taking a different route.

Some children have difficulty in writing a short plan – of a reasonable length. However many times they hare reminded to write in bullet points or to employ a spider diagram, some children persist in writing the plan using full sentences. The plan on some occasions lands up longer than the story – because the child has run out of time.

Even very bright children some times have difficulty in getting to the point. Some will persist in developing an introduction that could emerge into a written piece where the introduction dominates the story.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Weight and the Eleven Plus

A sweaty, vivacious woman came close to me yesterday. The conversation went like this:

“Can my daughter come at 9.30 instead of 10.00 for her eleven plus lesson?”

“Of course, Mrs. H., naturally there will be no problem.”

“You see my class starts at 9.30, and I am enjoying my work out.”

“Oh. Are you doing the step class?”

“No, it is far more than that. We do a lot of running around too. Do you know that I lost eight pounds in two months?”

“That is wonderful!”

“Yes, I used to go shopping while the lesson is going on. I used to walk across the road and spend money. Then one day I sat there drinking coffee while the class was going on – and I saw everyone having such a good time. I joined the class. It was fantastic. I have lost eight pounds.”

“Well done!”

“Look, I have a photograph. Just wait. It is on my phone. Look, that is what I looked like at Christmas. I am so pleased. I have dropped a dress size! The class lasts one and a half hours and that is why I want her to start at 9.30. I want to do the whole class. I think I can lose a lot more!”

“There will be no problem with the 9.30 start.”

“Oh, thank you. I never thought I would enjoy exercise. But this class is great. Every thing gets mixed up. I am sure I can lose more than eight pounds. Wait a bit. I have another photo. Hang on, please. Look, that is what I used to look like. Look how my face has changed.”

“Well your daughter did very well today. She did verbal reasoning and mathematics. Her tables are sound now.”

“Thank you. We need to go now. Thank you.”

Many years ago we, when we started working in Leisure Centres, we had the slogan: “Children Love Learning in Leisure Centres.”

We now need a really snappy slogan to beat: “Mothers lose weight while their children are learning in leisure centres.”

Please help.

Well done to the mum! Many would love to lose around four kilos in such a short time!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Eleven Plus Appeals

The eleven plus, after considerable effort, blood, sweat and tears is reduced to pass or fail. A parent has to accept the final eleven plus score – and the score itself is hard to challenge. The suppliers of the actual eleven plus tests are able to hide behind the anonymity of multiple choice tests. Scores and marks on an essay can be challenged. It must be much more difficult to challenge the ability of an optical mark reader to count and score correctly.

Any sound eleven plus mathematics course will remind parents of the meaning of the word `mean’. The eleven plus child needs to know a paraphrase of `add them all up and divide by the number’. Very few eleven plus children need to be able to describe a mean in terms of: `a measure of central tendency’.

When the computer has gathered up all the eleven plus test results a statistical measure called `Standard Deviation’ is applied. This is where all the squared deviations of all the scores from the mean are added up. The square root of all the deviations from the mean is then taken. Again words like `square’ and `square root’ are part of the eleven plus syllabus. The standard deviation can be used to explain to a parent just how far their child is away from average. A mean score on a certified eleven plus test must necessarily be at a different level to a mean score on a test offered to the general population. The eleven plus test would need to have different questions than that offered to all the children – other wise the test’s predictive options will be compromised.

Suppose, for example, a child scored 122 on a test where the mean score was 90, then it would be safe to say that the child had done well. A child, however, scoring 122 on a test where the mean was 115 may not appear to be as far away from the average.

To try make this a little clearer we need to remember that the distribution of eleven plus scores depends on the children who are writing the test, the difficulty of the test and how the test is marked. Take for example the scenario of a large number of children preparing for the eleven plus. The children will have worked from a very similar range of practice eleven plus papers. On the day of the examination the perfidious examiners throw in fifteen questions that do not appear in any pre eleven plus paper. Oh! Woe is me! Poor children! But if all the children are subjected to the same questions then some of children should be able to do some of the questions. Is the test still fair?

This is where the word correlation comes into the equation. Correlation is the degree of correspondence between two or more sets of measures. The examiners can compare the results of one test with another that has already been standardised and verified.

Every item that appears in an Eleven Plus test is scrutinised and evaluated – and tried out on a sample of children. There is, therefore, little need for parents to be concerned about the content of an Eleven Plus examination – and any appeal board would naturally give short shrift to any attempt to add a complaint about content or the method of marking of the test.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Justifying the Eleven Plus

Some boys and girls working towards the Eleven Plus will show extraordinary differences in physical development – and we accept this wide divergence as natural. Individual differences within the sex groups are sometimes even more impressive. The social consequences of these difference in eleven plus children is sometimes clearly apparent in the way some girls appear to mature far more quickly than the boys.

When children on working on practice eleven plus papers it is not always easy, however, to prove that there are wide ranging intellectual differences between the sexes. We have seen, for example, girls excelling on non verbal reasoning papers – and relishing the challenging questions on codes and rotations. Equally boys embarking on eleven plus verbal reasoning work have not appeared to suffer from any lack of ability to read and understand words and verbal concepts.

The world of eleven plus preparation is highly complex. Just because two children will achieve exactly the same mark at age eleven – suggesting equal ability – it does not mean the two will also earn matched scores at seventeen years old. Factors such as experience, temperament, and other attributes will play their part.

In one of the authorities where we work the names of the top one hundred and eighty children are published. There can be little desire of the part of the local grammar schools to guarantee that these children will still be in the top 180 in `A’ level results. The maturity of these `A’ level students will also show considerable variation. By the age of seventeen same may prefer to play the guitar than study. Others, for example, will want to be doctors and will spend most of their waking hours working and dreaming.

If we took the final eleven plus scores of the children who gained entry to a grammar school, and followed their school careers, it is likely that some children will gain outstanding `A’ level results – while others will not enjoy the academic side of school – with corresponding results. Of course it is likely that top eleven plus results will deliver top `A’ level results – and children who gain entry on the border line will continue to struggle – but this can not be guaranteed!

Just imagine the pressure on children and their parents if cumulative testing of eleven plus children became the vogue. Children would be hot housed into passing pre eleven plus tests from the age of seven. Some would even argue that younger children can show the aptitude to do well academically. After all, a four year child with a reading age of eight is likely to `do well at school’.

There is a problem, however, with a subjective educational prognosis of future academic success. At the moment to pass the eleven plus a child needs certain passing scores. If the grammar schools had to contend with additional pressures from teachers and head teachers at primary school, then a wealth of additional factors could muddy the entrance criteria. The ten year old boy who only wants to talk and play football could easily mature into a secure and responsible member of the school debating team.

For some children the stimulating and challenging environment of the grammar school will draw out a complex range of factors which will determine subsequent performance. Some parents will be very grateful for the changes wrought by the school – and thereby justify in their own minds all their efforts to help their child earn a place in a grammar school.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Eleven Plus and Lazy Children

“I am sick of doing eleven plus papers.”
“I wish I could go to my tutor instead of going to school.”
“I don’t want to do any extra work.”
“I’m bored with all this extra work.”
“Yes, thank you. I love school.”
“I really want to go to grammar.”
“I don’t want to try hard and do my best.”
“Can’t I even have one day off?”
“Please can I do the verbal reasoning first?”
“I hate maths.”
“I love maths.”

Parents will be offered a variety of `opinions’ on the eleven plus at one stage of the preparation or another. The range of comments about the eleven plus will change during the natural cycle of the eleven plus.

Many years ago some bright children were sometimes labelled as `lazy’ or `unwilling’ - and these are words no parents wanted to admit or even hear. The efficiency of these teachers was challenged by parents and educators and this lead in the nineteenth century to a system within schools of` payment by results’. The argument was that since all children were born equal – any difference in the ability of a child to learn to read and write was down to the teacher or tutor.

Of course teachers protested and rebelled against the assumptions and this lead to a need for tests to be developed that would take into account individual differences. Back in those early days the tests were often a reading age test and basic and rather crude intelligence tests. The way in which children were taught in schools was modified to take into account individual differences. Progress was in the air.

Of equal importance it was recognised that learning was an active process – where the co-operation of children needed to be matched by the enthusiasm of the teacher.

As the value of testing was recognised by more and more parents and teachers, so new tests emerged. It was noted that girls tended to do better than boys on tests. It was also recognised that intelligence, as measured by intgelligence test, tended to continue growing into late teens.

Little bit by little bit educators began to recognise that bright children were more likely to do well at sport. It was also seen that able children tended to have a wide range of hobbies and interests.

Today’s eleven plus children naturally benefit from these observations. There must be many parents of bright children who will be eternally grateful for the benefits of wall to wall television, internet and computer games. After all a Google search is a whole lot quicker than a trip to the library.

To label a bright eleven plus child as `lazy’ now seems to be more than unfortunate. The child may not enjoy the confining scheme of work covered by the present eleven plus. After all a diet of paper after paper must be essentially inedible and unappetising for some.

As the children gain more confidence in their ability to cope with eleven plus papers, it is likely that comments will change. When a child has worked through a key eleven plus process several times sentiments and the perception of the content of the examination may also alter.

“I know how to do these. We did them before.”
“These are easy.”

Testing has been with us for a long time – and the use and application of tests is not going to go away. Attitudes to testing on the part of teachers, parents and educators will also remain uneasy. There are some sure things, however. Girl will always be able to do better than boys on some things. Parents will always want the best for their children. Some children will always need to be encouraged and stimulated. Bright children are always likely to be all rounders.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Eleven Plus in Six Months

There is a big debate on at the moment about training new teachers in six months. The opposition comes from a predictable variety of sources. The first job that springs to mind where training takes a lot less that six months is being a mother.

To safeguard your unborn child a mother has to eat the right food, take appropriate exercise, listen to the right music and give up other key pleasures of life – no smoking and no alcohol. This transformation of a woman’s life is called `Learning on the Job’ and comes with very few perks and vouchers. There are plenty of books, advice, videos and support groups but basically the woman is on her own.

When the pre Eleven Plus candidate is born a whole lot of new `On the Job Learning’ takes place. I have always admired the way mothers are able to unfold a pram carrying a baby, a hand bag, shopping, the bag of nappies and extra supplies. There are new guide lines that should be followed by the mother about child care and `Raising a Brighter Child’. This learning has to take place in a lot less than six months – because every mother knows the first six months are vital if the future `Eleven Plus Candidate’ is to learn to read well enough to be able to cope with verbal reasoning questions in another nine years time.

First time fathers also have a lot to learn about preparing their child for the eleven plus. If the family live in an authority where non verbal reasoning is part of the eleven plus then a lot of onus must fall on the father, Dad now has less than six months to learn how to prepare a child – who is not yet walking and taking – to be able to recognise shapes and patterns and cope with the multiple choice element of any form of competitive assessment.

From the child’s point of view the first six months are also vital. Not only does he or she have to cope with mood swings on the part of mum and dad and premature pre examination pressure – but the child has to be able to distinguish between four alternatives.

Option A: Cry for vitamin packed food
Option B: Refuse all food
Option C: Demand supplements to diet
Option D: Seek the arms on another.

Will the government win and help newcomers into a recession proof industry? Of course they will. Even the most vociferous of opponents must, in time, realise the benefit from the input of a seasoned professional. The new teachers must bring a sense of freshness and enthusiasm to their teaching. It is highly likely that the new recruits will welcome the advice and comments from more experienced teachers and colleagues.

Most important of all some of the new recruits may be able to cope with some of the more abstruse and esoteric of the eleven plus questions. After all if you struggle on an eleven plus paper at home, who better to ask for some help than your child’s teacher?

It is time to mention Mr Eric Morris once again. Very early in my teaching career my Head Teacher gave me the responsibility of a top stream class of nine year olds. We completed the year’s syllabus in the first term. Mr Morris taught the year ahead and would not allow us to infringe on the work he planned to follow. The parents, children and I had to devise new ways to educate and enrich the class. Perhaps if Mr. Morris had been a new fast track teacher he would have welcomed and embraced change.

So if you are the partner of one of the new breed of six month teachers then you need to count your blessings. You will have a partner eager to learn and receptive to change. You should enjoy the benefit of a partner determined to make a difference. Who knows you may also have a child ready to embrace the challenge of the eleven plus. If your child is then taught at school by one of this new breed of teachers you may have a child who will be able to actually benefit from the eleven plus experience. This could be a child able to think and explore and not just able to sit through the tedium of eleven plus paper after eleven plus paper.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Eleven Plus Scene

It is not hard to be tempted to be pessimistic about the future of the Eleven Plus. It does not look as if there has been any new research in recent years. The Eleven Plus was an innovation fifty years ago – but since then the number of grammar schools has declined and the nature and content of tests seemed to have changed little.

There must have been slow and significant progress – but it hard to capture the essence of change.

The internet has allowed new techniques – but there does not seem to have been much research into the impact of recent change on the examination.

The Eleven Plus scene, however, is not one of failure or disappointment – far from this.

Parents are always eternally optimistic about their children. Parents who are `in the loop’ are also positive about the value of grammar schools and grammar school education.

We will only be able to feel a little more complacent when more work has been done on the actual nature and content of future eleven plus tests.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Eleven Plus Luck

We were doing a little speed work last Saturday on completing multiple choice questions under pressure. The drills were simple – the last ten questions in eight minutes. It was an easy exercise – as the children were being urged to look for, and eliminate, answers that could not be right. The children were trying to get to a position where they had to select between only two questions.

One child was left handed. Left handed children hold their pens and pencils in a multitude of positions. Left handed children are not often noticeably slower than right handers but many factors come into account when the child is working on multiple choice papers – and the position of the writing hand is partly covering the answers.


I am fortunate to have a copy of Robert W. Service’s `The Rhymes of a Red-Cross Man’ published in 1916. There is a poem called `Grand-Pere’ which came to my mind when thinking about handedness.

And so when he reached my bed
The General made a stand:
“My brave young fellow,” he said,
“I would shake your hand.”

So I lifted my arm, the right,
With never a hand at all;
Only a stump. A sight
Fit to appal.

“Well, well. Now that is too bad!
That’s sorrowful luck,” he said;
“But there! You give me, my lad’
The left instead.”

So from under the blanket’s rim,
I raised and showed him the other,
A snag as ugly and grim
As its ugly brother.

He looked at each jagged wrist;
He looked but he did not speak;
And then he bent down and kissed
Me on either cheek.

You wonder now I don’t mind
I hadn’t a hand to offer . . .
They tell me (you know I’m blind)
`T’was Grand-pere J offer.

What ever we are – right handed, left handed or even ambidextrous – we are just plain lucky!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Post Eleven Plus Blues

Some parents burn with a blazing passion at times when the words `Eleven Plus’ come into a conversation. There are a restricted number of places available in the grammar school of their choice and there is lots of competition for those prized seats of learning.

We need to go back to 2136 BC, when a hungry dragon tried to eat the sun. The Emperor of China, and all his people, were terrified.

The dragon took a little bite, then a quarter of the sun – and then a half. Suddenly the whole sun was covered. The Chinese knew what to do. They ran around in the strange light, beat drums, banged gongs and hit wooden ducks. The dragon took fright and ran away.

The sun was saved!

The Emperor, however, was very upset. He ordered his two Imperial Astronomers to be beheaded for failing to warn him of the dragon’s approach.

Of course the astronomers have been awarded an epitaph in the form of a rhyme:

Here lie the bodies of Hsi and Ho,
Whose fate, though sad, was visible;
Being killed because they did not spy
The eclipse which was invisible.

We need to carry this forward a few thousand years.

The Emperor becomes the parent. The astronomers evolve into the Eleven Plus Tutor.

The parent asks: “Will you cover the entire syllabus for the Eleven Plus?”

The tutor answers: “Oh yes!”

After the examination the child storms out to the waiting parent: “There were some questions I could not do!”

The parent confronts the tutor and demands: “Why does my child feel a failure because there were two questions that were impossible to answer?”

The tutor throws up his hands and says:

Here lies the answer to your cross demand,
Your child did his best, so don’t reprimand.
Children are children and they do their best,
I am sure your child is better than the rest!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Eleven Plus Conversations

Four eleven year old girls are standing outside the cinema talking about the approaching Eleven Plus. When this extract begins the girls have already been talking for a few minutes. The girls are all in the top sets in mathematics and English – and, hopefully, represent the very cream of pre eleven plus candidates. They seem to be discussing a boy who does not appear to be doing well academically.

1. Well, one day the teacher will notice.
2. Yes, that does seem likely.
3. She will have to help him one day with his work, because he keeps asking me.
4. And you don’t like ..
5. No, I don’t mind him but ..
6. But the teacher really likes him – you know she keeps smiling at …
7. Well, he really is good at mathematics but he does not like finishing his work.
8. I know what you mean. I had to sit near him last year and all he did was talk. He never did hand his work in.
9. Mm.
10. But he is good at football.
11. I suppose do. When I ask him for help with my maths he just giggles. What a ….
12. No! Don’t say that. What should we do? He just talks, and yawns and plays. Miss keeps telling him not to ride on his chair.
13. What school does he want to go to?
14. His brother goes to ….
15. Mm.
16. It is not fair. We have to work hard all the time and he just works when he feels like it.
17. I know he can do the work – I think he just like to annoy me. I wish I didn’t have to sit near him.
18. He keeps turning round to talk to his friends. It is so annoying.
19. He hates being shouted at by Miss.
20. Well he shouldn’t talk so much.

If even you really want to know how your child is doing at school, why not chat to some of the members of the class. Their insight may be illuminating. They could tell you that your child is bright, talks too much and is good at mathematics. (Which you knew any way.)

We could then pick up the conversation and see how the girls intend to solve the problem.

After all you may need all the help you can get.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Eleven Plus Drills

Many years ago I had the privilege of attending an MCC course aimed at helping teach teachers acquire an MCC Cricket Coaching Certificate. The course lasted a week and covered techniques and drills in bowling, batting and fielding.

We were set up in rows and made to practice forward defence and back defence batting shots. The idea was that by drilling us we would then go on to help our children acquire the correct range of defensive strokes. The premise was that a good defence was essential – as runs could be scored off loose balls.

We were taught the necessity of a straight back lift along with prescribed movements of the feet. The same feet position would work for a forward defensive shot and a backward defensive shot. To play a drive or volley all the batman had to do was to follow through in a more expansive manner. Defence first, attack second.

The West Indians, however, had a very different approach. They had been brought up playing cricket on beaches. The policy of every child was hit the ball as hard as possible. Attack every single shot. Attack first and defence second.

We need to think of the generations of children who were taught by products of the MCC system – always on the defence and occasionally hitting out. “Guard your stumps at all cost. Never mind the runs they will come.”

Think now of the generations of eleven plus children being drilled by eleven plus book after eleven plus book. The books and papers, however, are not generally designed to promote free wheeling thought. Many of the papers seem to be presented in a series of drills. “Learn these methods of approaching this type of question – and here are twenty more to try.”

This must produce an eleven plus child who is well prepared to enter an examination but not necessarily prepared to think. Is it conceivable that when the children come to sit the eleven plus examination there will be moments when rote learning will be enough? Using the cricketing analogy referred to earlier, a well drilled child should have all the necessary tools for the eleven plus examination. If this is indeed true, then does the present structure of the eleven plus presume that flamboyant thinking and strokes of genius should be neutered?

There could be many very bright and able children who are failed by the `system’ or the `coaching manual’ of the eleven plus. I am not sure today if well meaning MCC coaches still demand a straight back lift and precise placing of the feet. The world has moved on – and cricket has moved with it. Twenty Twenty cricket, for example, has become immensely popular because runs have become more important than defence.

There must be a way to shake up the powers who prescribe the content of the actual eleven plus examinations. Perhaps they need to understand that some children would benefit from being encouraged to think creatively instead of having to perform to drills. Poor children! What a waste of some talents!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Eleven Plus Codes

I have just been working on codes with a bright, able and articulate Eleven Plus girl today. The content was abstract, abstruse and wholly surreal. It was obviousy manufactured and the designer of the questions was clearly trying to be be impressive. Why not offer some codes like this?


Of course every eleven plus child will immediately recognise:

Too wise you are
Too wise you be.
I see you are
Too wise for me.

This type of exercise has a point - and at least some humour.

Oh well .......

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Eleven Plus Intelligence

If only parents knew how to boost a child’s intelligence.

Some parents working with their children will want to be non competitive. “We don’t believe in working through papers towards the eleven plus. If my child passes then that is bonus – but we don’t think that it is right to hot house a child.”

Other parents will be scrapping for every bit of possible advantage. “I don’t mind if he passes, I just want to give him the best possible chance.”

There are even some who approach preparation as if it was a military operation. They leave nothing to chance. There child has every book, every tutor, every on line help and every bit of spare time belonging to mum or dad.

If a parent wanted to try to help their ten year old become a swimmer of note there is a path that many would recognise. The recognised route must be group and individual swimming lessons during the `formative’ years. The child will then eventually arrive in a swimming school where the coach will recognise exceptional talent. The child may progress to the elite squad.

The competitive drive will be honed by a wealth of swimming galas. “Don’t worry dear. Just do the best you can.” The swimming coach will discuss his or her protégée with colleagues. Parents will be given well meaning but conflicting advice from the swimming club secretary, the club chairman, other parents and other coaches. The prospective champion will sail through the maze with a laid back approach – confident in his or her ability and prowess.

Trying to build the ability to pass an eleven plus examination could follow a slightly different path. The screaming, shouting and encouragement that takes place before and during a gala does not take place. Galas come up a regular basis so there is lots of opportunity for a second chance. There is no second chance in an eleven plus examination.

The Eleven Plus is trying to find some form of intelligence or aptitude. Looking at some eleven plus questions is sometimes very difficult to work out just what kind of intelligence is being tested.

Gottfried Reinhardt once said: “There are three kinds of intelligence – the intelligence of man, the intelligence of animals and the intelligence of the military – in that order.” Thank goodness we can jettison the latter two types of intelligence – leaving us with the mysterious intelligence of man.
The problem is that people who do intelligence tests seem to do better on intelligence tests. We presume too that working on verbal reasoning papers helps one to do better in verbal reasoning tests. It had better be right – otherwise think of all those poor children working through paper after paper.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Eleven Plus Finance

One day a number of our eleven plus children may be leading the country. Some of them may be financiers, others industrialists while some may emerge as politicians. Bright and articulate young leaders will be needed in the future.

We need to look back in history to see other occasions when the world was in financial turmoil. During 1930 – 32 the whole financial world was turned upside down. The wholesale prices of commodities fell – especially wheat. Rubber was also a key factor in the market’s collapse. The prices of stocks fell and the holders could not meet their obligations. There was a fall in the volume of orders – and the numbers of unemployed grew rapidly. The value of the world’s income, in money terms, fell by half.

In 1932 the unemployed grew to one sixth of the working population. Britain was in a dire state.

Of course the financiers and the economists could not agree on the causes of the problem. They could equally not suggest a solution. Naturally the banks were blamed. A topical solution was the creation of vast public works. The banks kept saying that they saw signs of improvement. There were cuts in the salaries of cabinet ministers, judges and others.

Britain had to borrow £50 000 000 to balance the budget. It took Britain some time to pay the money back. It would make an interesting Eleven Plus question to work just how much Britain had to borrow in today’s terms!

We can see immediate parallels between the banking crisis of the early 1930’s and that of today. Banks still need to borrow money. Leaders are still being vilified and hounded.

Strong leaders were needed then to drive the economy forward. Perhaps some of our eleven plus children will go down in history if they can save the country the next time a great crisis comes again.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Eleven Plus Lottery

Good luck to all parents and children who will have to be unwilling participants in the approaching lottery for school places.

Polly Curtis, in the Observer, explained that the government is set to review the lottery system for school places.

Graeme Paton in the Telegraph had a slightly different approach and went into detail on what the alternatives were if the lottery system was scrapped.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Talking and the Eleven Plus Lesson

There is saying in education that a lesson is made up of two thirds talk. To some that appears to present a perfectly reasonable ratio. Then comes the crunch statistic – and the important number is that two thirds of the talking is taken up by the teacher. In a class lesson, therefore, the teacher is talking for four ninths of the lesson – or for around twenty five minutes in an hour or around thirteen minutes in thirty minutes.

Teachers also feel the need to question their children on what has been taught. In a carefully prepared lesson – after all the talking and the questions – there must be little time for actual work.

This statement them promotes another series of questions – what is work in an eleven plus question? Is it listening to a teacher talking? Is it working through a series of exercises? Some children will want to break the `lesson’ by looking in a dictionary to understand the meaning of any new and unfamiliar words. Other children will simply nod silently when an explanation is offered and then want to do more questions. Eleven Plus preparation then becomes doing more questions one after another. Conscientious work will vary from lesson to lesson.

When parents are working with their children towards the eleven plus there are likely to be two extremes. One could be: “Do the paper, mark it and then bring it to me so we can go over any problems.” This could be a paraphrase of: “Do the paper, mark it and then take the paper to your teacher or tutor.” The shortened version then becomes: “Do the paper, take to your tutor to be marked. Your tutor will go over any problems.”

Other parents will want to sit beside their children working on the paper together – question by question. Their child therefore gets immediate feedback. This builds great rapport. The benefit of the close relationship between patent and child is immediately obvious. The problem comes in the examination. If the child is so used to working `together’ then everything could fall apart in the examination when there can never be any outside help.

It is unlikely that there will have been much of an opportunity for any research into how many words a child will speak in a typical eleven plus lesson. First of all there can be no typical eleven plus lesson – unless the teacher or tutor is lecturing. Secondly part of a lesson could be new or difficult work where there would be a need for many words. On easy or familiar work the parent or teacher would naturally need to speak less.

Perhaps the only words that need to be monitored are those when the child deviates from the lesson. Every one knows that a child learns best when he or she is stimulated by something of interest. It would be wonderful for children if the content of an eleven plus course could be challenging as well as interesting. Many bright children won’t want lessons that are totally dependant on a torrent of words from the parent or tutor. After all we could easily check the veracity of this discourse by simply asking are children:

“Am I talking too much?”

This then leads to another truism: “Never ask a question if you do not already know the answer.” After all your child may slip through your defences and give credence to the statement: “Never ask a question if you do not want to hear the answer.”

In your next lesson why not sit down with two stop watches. Time how long you talk. Encourage your child to time his or her words. No one can say what the right balance is – but the end result may be illuminating.