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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Eleven Plus Prospects

Politicians have become more accountable in recent times. We now know what they earn from their various ventures into public life. We also know what they spend their money on.

Teachers are also more accountable these days because of the introduction of school based tests. One result is that some teachers have had intolerable pressure put on them to reach certain prescribed standards. From what we read in the papers some highly gifted teachers have chosen to leave the profession. It is not only the weak teachers who have been pilloried and held up.

Back in Zimbabwe, in the early days, a child was judged to be ready to read when one of his or her front teeth had fallen out. This offered reading readiness. In parts of British West Africa, years ago, a child was thought to be ready for education when he or she could reach over their head with their right hand and touch the left shoulder.

Can you picture the scene? A white coated doctor, from a famous teaching hospital, peering into the mouths of prospective eleven plus candidates, and counting teeth: “Yes, you are ready to go to grammar; you have the required number of molars.”

Some parents would immediate react by ensuring that their children had the required number of teeth – with one spare one in case something happened. Other parents would maintain that their child should be able to pass the eleven plus without any extra care to their teeth. “Yes dear, I don’t mind if Jane’s mum makes Jane brush her teeth thirteen times a day. You only need to brush yours after meals. That is enough.”

The 11+ tests are designed to categorise children into pass or fail situations. (Some children even have to enter the `Never Never Land’ of being: “Nearly got a place. On the waiting list!” We know that Never Never land was where Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys Lived. Thank goodness that J.M. Barrie wrote the book before the introduction of the eleven plus. We might have had the Fairies bringing the Lost Boys to Never Land where they had to work on verbal reasoning papers – as well as be poor lost orphans.

One very big problem with the eleven plus is that the examination is on a set day at a set time. It requires considerable effort on the part of parents to bring their child to a peak on the right day, at the right time. If a child is not doing all that well then he or she may simply be in the middle of a development stage. Think of the worry you would have to entertain if you were aware that your child was just arriving at a `learning spurt’ while the eleven plus examinations were taking place.

One of the reasons for having eleven plus tests is that the tests are supposed to be predictive in nature. A child that passes the eleven plus – and has a place in a grammar – is therefore likely to leave school with good `A’ level results.

A prediction, however, is no more than a guess. For some children the guess will be an intelligent guess – but for others the guess will need to be treated with caution.

After all, if your child is `away with the fairies’ on the day of the examination, then you may need to adopt the persona of that dreaded character in Peter Pan – the awful Captain Hook. You may need all his devious and underhand methods at your disposal as you try to prepare an appeal for your child. Can you imagine the appeal board looking at YOU and wondering if you can tap your head and rub your stomach at the same time? (All eleven plus parents know that this is the criteria for a successful appeal.)

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