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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Passing the Eleven Plus

The eleven plus is used as an examination to select children for grammar schools. Parents and tutors use a variety of means and methods to prepare children for the examination. The use of the internet, for example, has allowed early monopolies on eleven plus materials to be broken.

In one session today a boy confused the word minute with minute. Eleven plus scholars will immediately recognise the source – and will be able to point out that minute was to do with size while minute was an angle of measurement. (It is only sad that the weighty eleven plus question could not bring in the use of the word minute as a record of a meeting!)

If this happened in an actual examination – and this poor boy made a mistake on the paper and subsequently failed his eleven plus – then should the veracity of authors of the test be investigated? After all would it not be morally wrong for children to be deliberately misled?

Is a good eleven plus question one that stimulates thought and judgement? Can an eleven plus question only rely on reading vocabulary and comprehension? Should questions which draw children into mistakes be banned – or at least scrutinised?

There is a continual need to question both the means and the end of the eleven plus examination. Some parents, when confronted by apparently inane and inapposite questions, could be comforted by the words of T. H. Huxley. He once remarked on undergraduates that they came to university to pass examinations rather than to increase knowledge and understanding.

“They work to pass and not to know. But science has its revenge. They do pass and they don’t know.”

Our eleven plus children are not in a position to question what they are being offered by parents and tutors. Parents know that their child needs to reach certain levels in order to pass the examination. Teachers and tutors are obliged to do their best within the constraints of the so called `eleven plus syllabus’.

It is a salutary thought to consider that some bright and able eleven plus children are working to pass and not to know!

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