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Friday, November 20, 2009

The Wonder of the Eleven Plus

An allusion is a figure of speech that compares aspects or qualities of counterparts in history, mythology, scripture, literature or popular culture. If this is true then are the words `Grammar School’ an illusion or an allusion?

Early grammar schools grew out of medieval education – and were designed to promote spiritual and social order. Education in those early days did not end with school because youngsters with technical ability were offered apprenticeships. Grammar schools, however, were founded under many different guises. Some were cathedral schools while others were founded in monasteries. Some grew out of the need for hospitals to be able to educate. One grammar school was even established by a soldier. Enlightened nuns developed school for girls. Many schools were free – and girls had a very good chance of a sound education.

Rivalry between establishments was as fierce then as it is today. Gloucester Grammar School wanted a monopoly in the city and in the neighbourhood – and argued that a rival school master could not set up a school to compete.

The Grammar School did not win – because a judge maintained that; `To teach youth is a virtuous and charitable thing to do, helpful to the people, for which a teacher can not be published by law.’ The church fought back by saying that anyone who did not hold an `Episcopal Licence’ was not fit to teach.

During the Revolution there was one grammar school for every eight thousand people. This dropped to one grammar school to twenty three thousand in the Victorian era. Today children work hard to get into grammar schools where the ratio of places to population must be incredibly higher.

When I was a child I was fascinated by the concept of the Seven Wonders of the World. I regret that I have only visited the sites of three of the wonders – the Pyramid of Cheops, the Pharos of Alexandria and the Colossus of Rhodes. I very much regret missing the Hanging Gardens of Nebuchadnezzar as I would have loved to have seen the irrigation by the hydraulic pumps. My grandfather used to irrigate some of his crops - so delivering water to crops was very much part of his life.

Are grammar schools part of today’s Seven Wonders of Education? There are so few grammar schools that they could appear to be an illusion. The impact on children who do not pass – but deserve to pass - must be profound.

In the Hanging Gardens water had to pumped to about 350 feet above the water level. Some eleven plus children have to learn Eleven Plus subjects and topics way above the levels being taught at school. The chances of passing must, to some, to be an illusion – far beyond what is expected of them at school.

When the Statue of Olympian Zeus was excavated Zeus was sitting on a throne and carrying a Nike or Victory in his right hand. In his left hand he held a sceptre.

Parents and children can not expect to suffice with a soft shoe approach when tackling the eleven plus. Some parents must expect to have to help their children to climb veritable mountains before their child can allude to a Nike in their right hand and a sceptre in their left.

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