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Saturday, July 11, 2009

How fair is the Eleven Plus?

In English elementary schools the principle of an annual examination conducted by an impartial outside examiner, in the person of an inspector, prevailed from 1862 for about thirty five years. The examination was individual in key subjects – and by class or group in other subjects. The amount of Government subsidy was determined by the results of the examination. This was the plan called `payment by results’.

In those days there was little connection between examination and payment. This was in effect the idea of an external examination – that it selected children who would do well in secondary and elective schools. There was, as there is now in the eleven plus, a clear distinction between educational and competitive examinations.

Competitive examinations like the eleven plus are not meant to be educational. They are meant to select children for entry to grammar school. In some schools the influence of the eleven plus begins in reception.

The eleven plus is designed to be fair for children who are in the top twenty five percent. Some questions, therefore, may be unfair for children who are not of above average ability. The problem with the present eleven plus, however, is that forces within the school – and outside of school – can affect the results of children. In other words an able child attending a good school dedicated to helping children to do as well as possible academically, along with involved parents and the possibility of a good tutor may have a better chance than a child who is not give similar help and support.

There will always be stories of able children who do not pass an eleven plus examination. Back at H.Q. we often talk about an outstanding girl who failed one eleven plus examination but passed a second with extraordinary results. She did not want to attend, under any circumstances, a mixed eleven plus school which was near to the home – but wanted an all girls school.

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