I am very fortunate to have a copy of Mr. F.F. Potter’s `The Practical Junior Teacher’ Volume 1 1933 Edition. In it (page 28) he maintains: “The selective examination at the end of Junior School has tended in the past to dominate the whole curriculum, with the result that in some schools education in its true sense has had to be abandoned in favour of continual practice in the basic subjects.”
He argued then that enlightened educationalists were trying to find a way of selecting children without the usual examinations of Arithmetic, English and General Intelligence at the age of 11.
The thinking was, back in 1933, that it was preferable to decide on the future of a child’s education by assessing potential rather than attainment.
Nothing much has changed over the past seventy years!
It looks as if is still difficult for the people who compile the actual eleven plus tests to be able to move on and think of new ways of testing ability and attainment levels.
It is easy to remember the feelings of John Dewey – who was a reformer, teacher and philosopher (1858 – 1952).
“The intelligence testing business reminds me of the way they used to weigh hogs in Texas. They would get a long plank, put it over a crossbar, and somehow tie the hog to one end of the plank. They would search all round until they found a stone that would balance the weight of the hog, and they’d put that on the other end of the plank. Then they’d guess the weight of the stone.”
Our children are still faced with questions where they have the nineteenth letter of the alphabet, count back two letters and then miss out the vowels. We can recognise that a question of this nature could have been highly relevant many years ago – but today’s children have been brought up with different expectations. We meet, for example, a question where the eleven plus child is asked to add the next two letters to the series:
R S P Q N O L M.
It must take some degree of mental acuity to be able to decipher the code – but children can be taught how to execute an answer of this indication by rote. It does not bear thinking that a child can win a place in a grammar school simply because he or she has been taught how to answer a question of this nature.
Parents have access to vast resources of information about tests on the internet, as well as through books, papers and tutors. Of course parents who are able to give their eleven plus child every help and assistance are to be applauded. Good luck to them and their children.
Many parents, however, would hope for more than the spectre of their child being placed like a bound hog on the end of a slippery log. Let today’s test writers find more than a stone to balance the fairness of the eleven plus. Let us have concerned announcements on potential rather than a self satisfied `we know best’.