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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.

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