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Friday, May 08, 2009

The Philosophy of the Eleven Plus

There was a time when it was considered to be sensible to allow bright children to be accelerated. For some children this meant jumping a year. A few other children were allowed, or even encouraged, to gain greater depth in a subject.

The trend today is for the school to feel that the junior teacher has sufficient resources to be able to cater for a wide range of children. Ideally class sizes should be smaller so that teachers do have time to be able to cater for the needs of the more able.

The old Greek philosopher Socrates had the right idea – he worked, sometimes, with small groups and employed a question and answer technique to encourage and develop thought and reasoning. It is a bit difficult to see how his approach would work with some verbal reasoning questions. If only the eleven plus required a child to be forced to think and reason – instead of being able to answer a fairly narrow range of questions.

If the scope of the eleven plus was broadened then it seem likely that the role of some eleven plus teachers would then need to change. The eleven plus teacher would then not need to dispense facts – but try to stimulate activity and thought.

Suppose, for example, a crucial element of the eleven plus was to encourage children to slow down and think before uttering or submitting an answer. Questions would need to be phrased in ways where thought – and common sense – were examined. Children would then be encouraged to dig for truth – and then make up their minds before stating a conclusion.

In time the grammar schools must benefit from children who had spent their junior school days in research and discussion – rather than as passive recipients of facts and methods of working out various verbal reasoning questions. No wonder some bright children find the whole eleven plus experience rather tedious.

At the school open day the head teacher will encourage the precocious piano playing ten year old to offer a piece for the attention of the visitors to the school. Parents and teachers will all applaud talent – and live for a moment in reflected glory.

Parts of some eleven plus verbal; reasoning papers, however, do not even seem or pretend to require superior language skills. Some questions can be answered with a simple mechanical application of `rules’. It seems, therefore, necessary to change the philosophy of the eleven plus before attempting to re-educate teachers, children and parents.

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