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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Eleven Plus Luck

Lucky eleven plus children! Some parents may find it difficult to offer help and advice to their children - who have the skills to be able to cope effectively with a rapidly changing world. New technology has had a profound impact on accepted modes of eleven plus preparation.

The revolution in communication, with the impact of the internet, has shown a spectacular increase in methods of interaction. It does seem as if the eleven plus examination bodies are not able to cope with the change. Few children, for example, will have approached the eleven plus without having taken at least one on line eleven plus test.

Naturally many parents will embrace new technology at a faster pace than their children. Communication with a family is, however, changing. At one time the family sat around the table for the Sunday roast. The pace of the day would have been determined by a desire to embrace the whole family in a key event.

Today conversations on a Sunday can be around a table but some form of social networking can embellish and add to the day. Add an email, throw in a tweet, mix a little MSN and see the missing members of the family on face book. The family can still sit around the table – but the conversation can start well before the meal and continue strongly afterwards.

In just the same way today’s eleven plus children do not need to rely on traditional methods of preparation. Lucky children!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Teeth of the Eleven Plus

How doth the little crocodile...

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

At what stage does the eleven plus become additive for parents and children? There must be something seductive about the books, the papers, the websites and the tutors that draws ordinary and sensible parents into the jaws of the examination.

The trumpet call goes out:

“We need more papers.”

“We need harder work.”

“Please give me more advice.”

“My fears keep building. What happens if?”

The eleven plus has the potential to rip into the homes of normal families and cause havoc and mayhem. The quest is there for those elusive, yet magical, marks. Parents and children know how much work they need to do and can calculate how much has been done. The one key, and very grey area, is that we do not know what the actual questions are going to be in the real examination.

Parents have to face key questions in their lives:

“Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?” It would be a mistake to be facetious at this point in the ceremony.

“Do you know the speed limit in built up areas?” There would be a price for not knowing that answer.

“Why did Thor Heyerdahl sail the Kon Tiki between South America and the islands of Polynesia?” This must be essential reading for eleven plus children.

Can any eleven plus parent tempt fate, spurn the hype, and let their child just do their best? Of course they can. The problem is that those little smiling teeth are sharp.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Eleven Plus Knots

Some parents may occasionally feel deep frustration that their bright, articulate and promising eleven plus candidate does not seem to be grasping an intelligent, knowledgeable and succinct explanation. (In other words, “What?”)

When a parent is teaching, or working through an unfamiliar procedure, then a primary aim is to build a good attitude towards the exercise. Parents will be trying to build knowledge, skills, confidence and attitude.

The frustration may come about for a number of causes. Did the eleven plus candidate simply not understand the various steps of the explanation or discussion? Was the work too hard or too easy? Would the over burdened child rather be doing something else? Were you, as a parent, in a slight hurry because you had a further thirty five things to do before YOU went to bed?

Of course you will realise that when you are working on an unfamiliar task you have wisdom, experience and, hopefully, a whole lot more ability than your child. All you have to do is to maintain a constant reappraisal of your behaviour. It is no good hurrying because it will take longer in the end. It is no good delaying providing a solution, and relying on the much loved partner, because you never know what and when something is going to happen.

When you are learning something with your child you are not starting from scratch. You already have a body of knowledge. You also have the confidence that you have solved bigger problems than one stuck in the middle of an obscure eleven plus paper.

Do you remember when you were teaching your child to tie shoelaces? It was fun. There was much laughter. You were patient. You allowed for constant repetition. Sometimes you even sang a little song. (I don’t remember the words or the tune – but think that it was something to do with rabbit ears crossing over.)

If you don’t tie the knot in the right order, however, the shoelace comes undone.

This will probably be last time in your child’s life when you are in such a position of power over learning. After all how will you keep up with the knowledge required for twelve A* grades at GCSE? How will you help with all of the necessary driving lessons? (You may, however, get a call one Sunday morning from university asking how long it takes to roast a leg of lamb – but that could be sporadic help rather than a sustained push.)

If some parents do start feeling that their child can learn – but won’t learn - then they are not alone. Parents are, however, rather cunning. Do you remember the time you helped your child to tie that shoelace for the first time – and the little beauty then pulled the lace out of the shoe? Do you remember what you did? It is unlikely that you allowed an argument to develop – all you would have done is tie a knot on each side.

Of course if your eleven plus child won’t learn you could mutter: “Oh, just tie a knot in it!”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Fairness of the Eleven Plus

The protests over the Biology examination that were posted on Facebook are entirely relevant to the present system of the eleven plus.

Can an eleven plus examining body pose questions in new and different ways? Of course they can. But is it fair? How would you feel if your eleven plus child complained that there were unexpected questions? We ran eleven plus courses for around six hundred children last year. One mother (out of the entire cohort) complained because her daughter met a section of work that was not in the `official Eleven Plus syllabus'. As a mother she had every right to complain because her child met unexpected work. We were told that her child had done all the eleven plus papers - and that the addition of something unexpected could knock her child's confidence.

We add bits and pieces to courses because we deal with some very bright children - who expect to get full marks. Their eyes sparkle when they meet something unexpected. Their antennae quiver. Their brains engage - and solving an unexpected problem gives an obvious thrill.

Do eleven plus teachers teach towards an `average eleven plus pass' or is their role to try to cater, occasionally, for the very brightest?

Do the upset `A' level students have a case? Of course they do. Why should an examination board experiment with the futures of so many?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mums and Dads sometimes worry about the speed that their children are answering questions. It could be useful to look back at the work down in 1957 by Schonell. (Diagnosis and Remedial Teaching in Arithmetic – Oliver and Boyd) The Schonells were immensely important in their day because of their original and ground breaking work.

The relevance for today is because their heyday was around the time the eleven plus was being established. They explained in a fresh manner the reasons why general intelligence was an important factor in determining success in arithmetic.

“We no longer set the bulk of our pupils of 9 – 10 advanced problems requiring a mental age of 11 to 12 years, and examination papers for the selection of pupils for secondary schools no longer contain the unfamiliar problems that caused difficulty to the teachers themselves.” (Schonell, Page 7 in my 1958 Impression.)

In some areas in England the eleven plus has been moved to September to allow the Authority to mark papers and give out results. Parents can choose their schools for their children on the basis of published eleven plus results. To pass the eleven plus comfortably children writing mathematics papers do need to be able to calculate at an age of 11 to 12 years.

Eleven plus parents will understand the reasons why general intelligence contributes towards ability in solving problems. Sample eleven plus papers, however, sometimes contain material that has not yet been taught at school. How then is a child supposed to be able to answer the problems – much less do the work quickly and confidently?

If children are pushed too quickly through eleven plus work they can, sometimes, lose a little confidence. No wonder their work slows down at times.

A great problem with the eleven plus is that it is an examination that some children `have’ to pass. If the eleven plus existed to broaden the experience of children before their move to secondary school then it would be possible to allow our bright children to develop in their own time. Sadly a host of bright children have to rise to the occasion on the same day at exactly the same time.

A slight hesitation on a question that has been covered in a lesson, or on a sample paper, or through the hands of a capable teacher and especially by fond parents, then timing can be compromised. Some bright children just love to solve problems. A nice juicy little problem, where the answer is tantalisingly close, could help to cause the clock to run down.

Eleven Plus Mums and Dads will recall Chris de Burgh’s `Timing is Everything’.

“Just like when you are finally near the lover of your dreams,

And as you stand there waiting she turns and walks away,

And you discover that timing is everything,

You’ve got to get it right, timing is everything in life.”

As you tuck your prize eleven plus candidate into bed, sing the words in your favoured Chris de Burgh voice. Then settle down to explain the meaning of the words. You might be surprised by your child’s response.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Significance of the Eleven Plus

A very pleasant mother came in today and looked over her eleven plus daughter’s shoulder while we were marking a rounding exercise. Mum started arguing with her daughter about the difference between rounding and significant figures. The pair agreed to ask the father to be the final arbiter – and that both parties would agree on his decision. The mother then smiled, and said very quietly: “My maths result was better than his.”

The daughter, then smiled and said: “We agree on rounding, but not on significant figures.”

When a measurement is given as 124 cm we know that this is an accurate measurement in terms of centimetres – as no millimetres appear to be involved. 124 is correct to three significant figures.

A number 0.00897 is correct to three significant figures because it is possible to ignore the leading zeros.

When a zero comes between other digits we then count it. 0.0205 is correct to three significant figures.

0.230 is not correct to three significant figures since the 0 is not significant.


123.73 – 34.63 = 89.10 – so the zero is significant. (But 89.1 is significant to three significant figures.)


43.56 times 1.8 = 78 because the product of two approximate numbers has no more accurate significant digits than the smaller of the number of significant figures. (I would be very interested to hear your explanation of this last statement to your nine year old!)

It may be politic to suggest to your child that it would be better to calculate the question using all the digits – and then try to sort out if they are significant or not.

Those of us who had to read Macbeth at school will remember Macbeth talking about Lady Macbeth’s death. He starts off: `She should have died hereafter. There would have been time for such a word.’ Macbeth then goes on to declaim: `Out, Out brief candle’. This is followed by, `It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’

If your significant other is brave enough to argue with your explanation of significant figures, simply remind `the other’ of what happened to both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Eleven Plus Epigenetics

Time Magazine, January 2010, had an article about epigenetics. I had heard term used in describing gene mutations but had not realised the implications for our children growing up today. Up in the northern part of Norway there were years of famine and overabundance. Dr Lars Olov Bygren built a random sample of individuals born in 1905 – and went back to look at their parents and grandparents. The doctor and his colleagues worked out how much food was available.

We have long held that evolution took place over millions of years – but it looks as if starvation can leave an imprint on genes. The research by Bygren, showed that boys who went from ordinary eating to gluttony in a single season had sons and grandsons who lived for shorter lives. At first it looks as if the gap was six years – but checking and rechecking developed the gap to an average of 32 years. The research was replicated in a slightly different way with girls – with similar results.

A single winter of over eating could initiate a biological chain that could lead to the death of children and grandchildren years earlier than could be expected.

This is where the mother and fathers of eleven plus children will need to look back at their own lives. Was there a year at university when more alcohol than food was consumed? Did the year out, travelling to the Far East, living on rice and moon shine promote the foundations for the early demise of future generations?

We already know that smoking and over eating can cause us to live shorter lives – but it looks as if these habits can, to a degree, to be passed on to our children. The Time Magazine article looked at research done in England – published in 2006. The 166 men who smoked before they were 11 produced children who were fatter than other children.

Are there implications beyond obesity and longevity? Are children who work on eleven plus papers likely to have children who work on eleven plus papers? We hope so. If, however, mum and dad didn’t eat the right foods, and drank and smoked too much, then it is possible, but we are not sure how likely it is, that their children will struggle with eleven plus papers.

But – and there is always a `but’ – epigenetic changes do not represent evolution – it seems possible that they are a biological response to an environmental change. We all remember Augustus back in AD 402 who said: ` For many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.’ Children will argue: "Not too many papers please!"

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Eleven Plus Analogies

Have you ever wondered how eleven plus questions come to be written?

First of all there is a little story to tell.

When Kenya turned up to play Uganda in 1935 there was a small problem. Both teams had white rugby jerseys. An enterprising woman spectator, by chance, had a bottle of black dye. She used the physio’s water bucket and changed the colour of the home shirts. The Ugandan team have worn black shirts ever since. The woman’s name is probably lost to posterity – but her legacy lives on.

Much the same thing must have with eleven plus questions. One writer will develop an analogy `white is to black as hot is to …’ A different, and possibly more enterprising, eleven plus writer will try hard to develop the theme. It is also as likely that the writing of the eleven plus question will have been done by a woman. It is more likely that the teaching of the eleven plus question will have been done by a woman.

When the original eleven plus questions were written girls had the opportunity of going to grammar school. Over the years the curriculum in girls’ schools has changed. Many sixth forms combine with boys and girls being offered equal opportunities in the depth and breadth of examinations. It is likely that forty years ago more boys than girls would have gone to university – but this is changing today.

It is likely that in time more women than men will be employed – and it is possible that by the time this present crop of eleven plus girl grow up - that women will be the primary breadwinners.

Especially in today’s hard economic times women hold the key to the family’s fortune. Working mothers will have their own car - which they are paying for. Eleven plus lessons and material will be paid for by the mothers – not out of housekeeping as would have happened forty years ago – but out of money earned for themselves and the family.

It is possibly of even more importance that the present President of the United States was raised by a single woman. There is no doubt that mothers on their own are often passionate about trying to ensure that their child has the best possible opportunity at school. These are mothers who can not argue about who gets to clean the bath and empty the rubbish. They just have to get on with it. They hope that their eleven plus children assimilate the same values and determination.

Now for a few eleven plus analogies. Please supply your own solution.

White is to black as woman are to

Rugby is to sport as woman are to

Girls are to the Eleven Plus as woman are to

Eleven Plus questions are to the Eleven Plus as woman are to

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Eleven Plus and Looking Good

It has never got easier for men and women. If they are dissatisfied about a portion of their body all they have to do is make an appointment, draw a large amount of money from the bank (or credit card) and submit to the knife.

There are even some forms of body enhancement, I understand, that can be accomplished in the lunch hour. Some eleven plus parents may feel the need to rush home to help their child with a paper – so an `after hours solution’ could be difficult. Imagine the decision – a Botox top up against an eleven plus paper! There would be no contest.

Some procedures, again I understand, are completed within the space of a film. It is therefore possible to re-watch Bridget Jones’s Diary while having a little lipo suction on the stomach. Of course the surgeon would advise you not to laugh at the funny bits in the film – but that could be a matter of choice.

We will all remember the story of Jocelyn Wildenstein who spent just on two million dollars in her efforts to improve her body. She tried to make her face look more like a cat in an effort to keep her husband’s interest.

If Jocelyn had had two million to spend on her face and body – just think of what she could have done in the world of the eleven plus.

Section 1
Full face lift £3000 (but can cost up to £9000).
Ten eleven plus free papers.

Section 2
Botox Treatment £300
Three eleven plus books £21

Section 3
Porcelain veneers £20000
A tutor for a year £1000

Section 4
Breast Augmentation Package £3500
Help from Mum and Dad £0

There will always be parents who are lucky enough to have an eleven plus child who does not need to work through papers, rejects a tutor and passes with flying colours. There may also be some parents who balance the cost of buttock implants against additional help for their child.

Good luck to the cosmetic parade of the parents of some eleven plus children. Good luck to their children if one of the parents does have cosmetic surgery. After all it is important to look good at the school gate.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Eleven Plus Respect

At one time or another we are all going to have to read Barack Obama’s `Dreams From My Father’. There is a moving passage were he writes about his grandfather. There is an interesting section which ends with the words: “And because of his politeness and responsible ways, he became an elder in Kendu and many came to seek his advice.’

Mr. Obama described how before the white people came to his home country each family had their own compound, but they all lived by the laws of the elders. He commented on the role of the elders and maintained that the words of the elders were followed strictly – and that any that disobeyed would have to leave and start anew in another country.

How do eleven plus children respect their elders? Some will work unstintingly with never a cross word. Others will feel aggrieved at the very idea of doing any work. Some parents will be respected others may have to work hard to earn the respect of their children.

I well remember coming to see a doctor with one of my children out of hours on a Sunday morning. I was surprised to be greeted by him as he was not wearing any shoes, he was clearly unshaven and his shirt was hanging out of his trousers. I respected his expertise as he drew the symptoms out of my child. He was extremely patient and he clearly liked children as he immediately struck up a rapport with my decidedly unworldly and miserable child. He was on call – but on call on his terms.

I recently met a head who described the confusion in the staff room when he argued the case for all the male teachers to wear ties. His cogent argument was that children would respect authority – if authority respected children,

Barack Obama commands respect because he personifies responsibility and leadership.

The doctor commanded respect for his expertise and his obvious interest in children.

The head demanded respect because he was prepared to take on the might of the staffroom.

How can parents command respect while eleven plus work is going on? Some will earn respect because of their ability to separate and combine the dual roles of teacher and parent. Other eleven plus parents may, on occasions, need to demand respect – especially if the child forgets that his or her parents are adults, parents and bread earners.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Eleven Plus and Chess

One game that has been played all over the world - and at many different levels - is chess. Over the year there have been many writers on the subject and many newspapers carry daily comment on past and present games.

Chess is all about the triumph involved in the words `Check Mate'. You are trying to create a situation where you develop your pieces to try to capture your opponent's king. You need your own army. How many people in real life can create their own warrior army? To force mate you need:

King and Queen
King and Rook
King and two Bishops
King, Knight and Bishop

Chess is about attack and defense. There are moves that can be studied and learnt. There is a place for revision and consolidation. There is the challenge of trying to beat an opponent. At times a chess player could play against a vastly superior player.

As many people know, there is considerable potential pleasure in teaching some one else to play chess. Helping some one else to do well in the eleven plus examination must be a similar experience. Eleven plus papers can, to some, present similar exciting challenges to the learner and the teacher.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Eleven Plus Criteria

There is a website that advertises that they are an independent organisation specialising in scouting young players for professional football clubs. The scouting is done, according to the website, by professional coaches. At this point I need to declare that I know nothing about the organisation other than what is available on the website. I can not endorse or condone any activity. I just like the idea of professionals taking time to look at children with ability and potential.

The cost appears to be little. It is but £5.00 to register and £20.00 for the trial day.

“Mother, please let go on the trial day. It should be so much fun. I really want to play football professionally.”

“The literature does not say if girls can also attend. Perhaps we can contact them. I know you love football. Surely you would prefer to pass your eleven plus?”

We must wonder if something like a trial day can be organised for the eleven plus. There is so much more to a child that a single overall eleven plus pass or fail mark.

Parents could simply register their child for an eleven plus day. Teachers from a number of local grammar schools could meet the children and watch interaction and communication. The teachers could look for leadership skills and the ability to organise oneself. (Has he or she remembered his or her coat?)

Specialist teachers could meet key children and discuss common interests. Suppose, for example, there is a bright and highly musical child with outstanding musical skills but relatively poor mathematics. This child may not pass the eleven plus. Enter a champion from the music department of the grammar school who could argue a convincing case for the child to be offered a place. It is always galling to hear of a bright ten year old being rejected for the eleven plus – in spite of extraordinary ability in other fields.

A different ten year old, wishing to win a place in a grammar school, may be uncommonly suited to life in a canoe. This child may have the potential to be picked for an England canoe team in a few short years time. Of course it can be argued that first of all the child had to prove academic potential by passing the eleven plus. The discussion could then continue that once the child is in the grammar school he or she could then develop with both sport and academic studies. The same child, however, if a grammar school place was not offered, could lose interest in learning and academic studies. The physical education specialist at the grammar school, after observing the child in action, may want to do build a case for the child’s inclusion.

“Young Ben (or Sarah) is clearly outstanding at canoeing. He (she) has an impressive physique at this stage – and should certainly be part of our rowing team over the next few years. His (her) marks at school are sound. He (she) is clearly motivated. If he (she) reaches a good enough grade, we should serious consider making an offer.”

The eleven plus pass mark could then be broadened to include observations by specialist teachers who could mentor precocious candidates. Grammar schools must want the best candidates.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Eleven Plus Goals

“Mother, I am very grateful to you for all the eleven plus work you are doing with me. Can we sit down and chat about it?”

“Of course, dear, what do you want to talk about?”

“Well Mum. There are some things that I can do on my own. Yet you want to help me. But I don’t need any extra help on some things.”

“Oh dear. Do you think that I am interfering?”

“Well not always. But it is hard when you try to help with verbal reasoning. You know you are not as good as Dad. It just takes so much time when you try to work out the answers.”

“Well I am better at maths than your dad.”

“Of course, Mum. I was just saying that I would sometimes prefer to try on my own.”

“You are a clever and a sensible child. Thank you for sharing your feelings with me.”



“The other thing that I hate is when you tell me to set goals. I hate setting goals.”

“I don’t understand. You Dad and I are always setting goals. And they work!”

“But I always feel that the goals I set are the goals you want. If I have to set goals, why can’t I set them with out you trying to change them?”

“All right then. What gaol do you want?”

“I just want to get to level three on my Christmas game.”

(At this stage the play ends. The final scene shows a mother beating up her eleven plus child with a big pillow. Do children really know how to wind their parents up?)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Eleven Plus Boys and Girls

The Eleven Plus is a rather particular examination – in the sense it is one piece of culture that has not been exported all over the world. It is possible that the European Community would have offered opinions on the role of human rights within the circle of the Eleven Plus. In America and other countries in the world, children are not faced with a potentially challenging examination. Why do some parents feel the need push and pull their children to pass the examination?

The Sioux Indians may not have been able to offer opinions on the Eleven Plus – but we may learn something from them. Soon after the fifth birthday brothers and sisters had to learn to avoid eye contact and were never allowed to talk to each other.

“You are a Sioux; you may not talk to your brother. Just leave him alone. Do not look at him.”

Sioux girls play games in preparation for life as a virtuous mother. Contact with males is kept, when possible, to a minimum. Girls had to learn sew, cook and conserve food.

Life was different for boys.

“Mother, one day I will catch a rabbit with my bare hands. I will bring it you.” This is not boasting. This is preparation for a life time of hunting. Boys of course called on spiritual powers to help them to hunt, seek food and fight off intruders or the enemy. Before a boy could show that he was good fighter he had to touch a dangerous enemy in battle.

What happened in the Sioux family was that a boy would bring the best of the kill to his sister. She would do her best to prepare as good a meal as possible for her brother. The family bond was strong.

Some parents must wish for a strong bond within the family as one or another of their children approach the eleven plus. Some children find pressure from siblings hard to deal with.

How often have Eleven Plus mothers had to say to their daughters: “Do not talk to your brother. Leave him alone. Do not look at him. He is working. Stop teasing.”

How often have eleven plus boys said to their mothers; “Don’t worry mum. I will pass. There is nothing to worry about. Please tell her to leave me alone!”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Eleven Plus Snowman

The Magic Snowman

It all started when I built the snowman. The snowman had a funny face, his face was upside down, and he had a sparkly hat.
When night time came he came to life.
I was asleep and I woke up to see what was happening as I heard a crash. I came rushing downstairs and the snowman was alive. I was shocked.
I went to call mum and dad but the snowman stopped me and said, “Don’t tell your parents, I am your secret.”
The snowman sprinkled some magic snow and quick as a flash we were at the dockyard. We went on a steam paddle boat. The boat went over a lake that leads to a steam museum.
Then he sprinkled some more magic snow and all the stuff that had been invented came to life.
We watched the steam machines work as they did in the olden days.
I said to the snowman, “Are you thinking what I am thinking?”
“Yes” said the snowman, “Let’s go to the war museum.”

The snowman sprinkled more magic snow and they were soon on a steam locomotive.
The locomotive did not have much power so the snowman sprinkled some more magic snow and the locomotive went a thousand miles an hour.
After the snowman had sprinkled more magic snow the figures came to life and the tanks began to work. The tanks shot at the bad tanks. The war planes came to life and soon they were having a dog fight. Pretend bombs started to explode.
The snowman said, “I think we should go to another museum as this is getting a bit rough!”
Bang bang boom boom! Off went the bombs.
A good tank launched a missile and it went down the barrel of the bad tank and after a few minutes the tank exploded. BANG! BOOM off went the bad tank when it exploded into lots of piece of burnt metal.

The snowman sprinkled magic snow on himself and onto me and we started to fly and we flew to the science museum. We looked at the rockets and the snowman filled up the engines with rocket fuel. The rockets started to go all over the place. We were dizzy because they were circling around us. And then the snowman sprinkled some magic snow over everything else in the museum and everything came to life. Cars were driving about and trains were all over the place and lots of science experiments began to work on their own.

The snowman sprinkled some more magic snow and suddenly we were home and I was asleep and the snowman was outside.
In the morning I went to see the snowman but he had melted at night time.
The End!

Dictated by Kai (Six and a half years old.)

On course for the Eleven Plus?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Eleven Plus Reinforcement

A basic concept in eleven plus learning is that of reinforcement. Every eleven plus child will easily recognise the relationship between the words `reinforcement’ and `reward’.

“If you work hard towards the eleven plus you will get your reward. You know you want a place in your grammar school.”

Common sense, however, tells us that reinforcement is a matter of continual progress – whereas the concept of a reward being a grammar school place is more abstract. Parents will try to make a place at the grammar school the long term reward – and can try to reinforce the position by driving past the grammar school every day. Walking through the doors of the grammar school on the front day is a reward – but there will need to have been many steps in between.

Positive eleven plus reinforcement can be any stimulus that will encourage a child to work towards the examination. Negative reinforcement can be the thousand and one little niggles along the way that can turn a child off learning and studying.

A parent can start, for example, with the best of intentions by offering three pounds for every completed eleven plus paper. After the child has accumulated twenty odd pounds, he or she may begin to weigh up the effort of `slaving’ for another three pounds against the prospect of earning a bit more money. Some children may be prepared to work for nothing – while others may possible call for an increase in payment.

If the money is only supplied on an irregular basis – then again the prospect of adding to the piggy bank may appear to be too remote to be of interest. If, however, your child has had some positive reinforcement over the past hundred eleven plus exercise – it is likely that you will have built up a reservoir good will – and this should act as a positive bridging agent.

Just because your eleven plus child does not perform well on a paper does not mean that your child is not learning properly. It could mean that the paper is not testing what has been taught or learnt. Eleven plus children must wish, sometimes, that he or she is tested on what a has been learnt rather than establish what has not yet been learnt.

Parents check, and reinforce, what has been learnt by trying to repeat similar exercises. The reward is then the satisfaction of being able to do the exercise, or the pat on the shoulder or the extra trip to the cinema.

Parents will earn their reward from that carelessly thrown `thanks’.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Eleven Plus Questions

What is the ultimate purpose of the eleven plus?

Should the eleven plus consider wider aspects than that of simply addressing the ability to pass an examination?

Is the raison d'etre of the eleven plus to help children to learn to think?

Does the examination exist to try to challenge children to solve problems?

Has the examination become distorted by the publishers of eleven plus material?

Does the examination rely too much on old fashioned methods of teaching?

If the eleven plus changed would grammar schools need to change?

Should there be extra eleven plus papers for very bright children?

Will there ever be a drastic reappraisal of the eleven plus>

Will the eleven plus ever return to cover the country?

Is there a place for opponents of the eleven plus?

Is there a taste for the reform of the eleven plus?

Do bright children sometimes fail the eleven plus because the type of examination does not suit?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Eleven Plus Chatter

Back at Bett 2010 again.

The conversations I shared were about how to give a child the opportunity of determining the content and order of work. In other words an eleven plus child has to follow a certain specified syllabus. In theory there needs to be a set teaching order. It would be difficult, for example, for some children to learn how to do division of fractions before learning how to add fractions. Of course there will be some experts who maintain that eleven plus child do not need to learn how to do division of fractions! They could be right!

Think of an eleven plus child being encouraged to rummage around and work on something that appeals! This could be regarded in very poor taste by the old guard of eleven plus teachers. After all it is difficult to learn how to do percentages if the `candidate’ does not know how to multiply fractions and then bring them to lowest terms.

“Good, now class of eleven plus children we are going to learn how to do ratio today. Open your books to page 27. Let us read the rule together. Look at the board now; we will do some examples together.” Teachers have been encouraged to teach like this for years and years. Indeed OFSTEAD would be horrified by a lesson that did not follow a similar path.

“Look Mum, this looks fascinating! I would love to learn that? How did they do that?”

That is a different conversation to that of the teacher saying: “Open your books …..”

Some bright children would prefer to be told what to do.

Other bright children may prefer to think for themselves.

What would your child prefer?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Software and the Eleven Plus

We demonstrated our software called etcACTION at the Bett 2010 show today.

We will be launching the online software later this month. Around twelve hundred eleven plus children have already used elements of the package. We used the show to demonstrate to teachers, heads and the key figures of authority.

Although we work towards the eleven plus we also link activities when we can to the National Curriculum - especially Level 5 SATs work. This help to give a sense of purpose to elements of the so called `Eleven Plus Syllabus'.

The on line mini tests - which check on progress - were particularly well received.

We hope we see you there!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eleven Plus Chances

Psychologists used to publish tables with common descriptive words for the classifications of intelligence. Parents of children writing eleven plus examinations need to be careful of applying these classifications. A pass mark at the eleven plus level can be fixed (and then argued over) where as it must be impossible to arrive at an all encompassing definition of intelligence.


00 - 19 Idiot 1%
20 - 49 Imbecile
50 – 69 Moron 2%
70 – 79 Inferior 6%
80 – 89 Dull 15%
60 – 109 Average 46%
110 – 119 Bright 18%
120 – 129 Superior 8%
130 – 139 Very superior 3%
140 – 179 Gifted 1%
180 and up Genius

A bright child with 110 – is remarkably close in ability to a child with 109.
A bright child with 110 is quite far removed from a bright child with 119.

The majority of gifted children show their ability at a very early age. It is likely that in most cases gifted children go on to achieve academic excellence or hold important office. There is quite rightly considerable help for parents with children at the lower end of the intelligence scale – but less for very able children.

At one time people used to believe that the size of a person’s head determined intelligence. Many men have brains bigger than that of women. The claim that men are brighter because of the size of their brain is obviously patently false.

One of the problems with verbal reasoning tests is that they are used to determine what kind of education a child can have. We all know, however, of people who work very hard and do well – and never ever considered university.

We can surmise, but undoubtedly incorrectly, that a child who scores 100 on a verbal reasoning test – but comes from a poor educational environment – will not do as well as a child who scores 100 – but comes from a favourable environment.

Working through lots of eleven plus papers won’t make a dull child bright. Working through lots of eleven plus papers won’t make a bright child into a genius. Working through eleven plus papers may, however, give a bright child a better chance.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Eleven Plus Trolley

Eleven plus children are soon going to be buying the latest eleven plus gadget. It looks rather like a trolley on wheels. There are five shelves. On the lowest shelf is the large easily chargeable power unit. The technology is based on the power units used in battery powered cars. The Eleven Plus unit needs a good power supply to drive the computer and the phone.

The special eleven plus printer lies on the second from the bottom shelf.

The next shelf up is for books. Here a collection of eleven plus books and files are assembled. There is a special bookend for dictionaries.

A drawer follows. Spare eleven plus sheets are thrown into half, the other half holds pens, pencils, rulers, rubbers and other essential eleven plus stationary.

The next shelf has special compartments for the phone charge, the phone, the headphones, the writing tablet and the cable to the computer which lies comfortably on the top. The computer is connected wirelessly to the internet.

Underpinning the whole eleven plus gadget is an ingenious device to help the trolley climb stairs. (Few eleven plus homes have lifts – so for once the eleven plus has to cater for the masses. Of course I may be proved wrong.)

The unit tries to help stop eleven plus clutter within the home. There is less need for books and papers to be scattered all over every working surface in the home. (Look Mum, I have tidied up!)

Ownership of one of the patent eleven plus boxes will give your child an advantage over every other eleven plus child. Think of the time you will save.

Mother of Eleven plus child without the special trolley: “Where did you put those papers? I told you to put them away.”

Mother of child with a special trolley: “Good dear, we are ready to go. Enjoy yourself!”

The trolley is compatible with all eleven plus sources. It does not matter which examination board is setting the examination – because the trolley can take care of every eventuality.

Research will show, in time that children who have the trolley are up to five times more likely to do well. (Well this does have to be proved.)

A trolley is a small cabinet on castors. It is also used for moving weights. In America we can get a trolley bus. Air hostesses hate being told they are trolley birds. An Eleven Plus Trolley is that warm feeling that embraces a family as they work together, as a team, towards the eleven plus.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Eleven Plus Opportunities

Some of us may recall the stories about the Rector John Worlidge. He lived between 1630 and 1693. He was an erudite man – as are many rectors, imams, shamans, wise men, seers and scholars. One of his essays was on fertiliser.

Place the skin, horns and hooves of cattle into a pit. Add some tanned leather. Sprinkle with salt, lime and the bones of the beast. Mix the concoction with an equal potion of earth. Water occasionally.

This recipe gives excellent compost.

He also used rags from deceased paupers in London. Women, old people and children were employed to tear the rags into small pieces. The rags were ploughed into the soil. Instant fertiliser!

We would be frowned upon in today’s world for using women, old people children to work on poxed rags from the dead of London. How many extremely bright children, all those years ago, were forced to work in conditions like those described above?

One of the foremost early planks of the eleven plus was the desire for grammar schools to offer opportunities to the poor.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Eleven Plus and Personality

Similar types of eleven plus papers are used by parents and children. The home environment, however, is not uniform. The attitudes of parents and children will vary considerably towards the amount and the degree of work that needs to be done. There will be cultural differences as well as social and economic influences.

Within a family a mother and a father will demonstrate different personalities and attitudes to work and to study. I was surprised one year to work with a family where a mother and a father started arguing with each other in the middle of the initial discussion on their child. I then noticed that the child was wearing a frown – as did the parents and the older sister. As the lesson progressed this pretty little ten year seemed to be perpetually frowning.

Of course we must expect children to acquire the likes and dislikes – and the responses and habits of the family. Children, however, will never totally conform. It does not necessary follow that a hardworking and essentially moral family will have a child with the same characteristics.

I also remember a family rent by divorce. In the early days of the lessons the whole family arrived to pick up the eleven plus star. The parents made a point of having a little chat with the teacher. They were always appreciative and receptive.

One day the father was not there. A few weeks later the child left the lesson and walked downstairs to the mother sitting in the car. One week the child did not talk at all. It transpired that the father had left the marital home. There were problems with the house and money.

In the end the bright and engaging little girl chose not to write the eleven plus examination – even though she would have passed easily – with or without any extra support. We think the family moved. There is no doubt that the family became dysfunctional and disrupted. We can but hope that the girl survived. We know that most children are pretty tough – but her world was turned upside down.

A child’s personality must be a product of the interaction of heredity and environment. A child’s ability to focus on trying to pass the eleven plus must also be a product of the interaction between heredity and environment.

It is impossible to generalise about the type of child who will pass the eleven plus. There must be at least one common factor, however, and that is the unstinting support of the adults in the family.

Friday, January 08, 2010

True Eleven Plus Bliss

How many times do we need to encourage eleven plus children to revise and relearn eleven plus topics? On eleven plus courses some children are often confronted by new and unfamiliar topics. Parents may need to look back to their children learning the two times table. It is likely that some considerable time was spent helping their child to learn and understand why four times two makes eight. How much time needs to be spent revising at the eleven plus stage?

It is probably pointless trying to encourage a child to have perfect understanding of a particular eleven plus question – mainly because we never know just how the eleven plus examiners will set the question. What parents are trying to do is make their child more confident and positive about confronting an unknown question.

As the examination grows closer, and similar types of questions have been revised over and over, then parents will hope that their child approaches the examination in an organised manner. When an eleven plus topic was learnt for the first time there may have been a period of guessing and trials.

“No, dear. You can not say the first number that comes into your mind.”

“But Mum.”

“Read the question slowly. Break it up. What is the question actually asking?”

In the examination you will hope that the same topic, and a similar question, is approached systematically. If you insist on too much repetition you could lead to test fatigue and boredom.

To reach absolute perfection could take more that your child is physiologically capable.

A period of `Eleven Plus Stagnancy’ could develop. The word `ennui’ springs to mind.

Parents may need to develop new incentives and strategies over the course of eleven plus preparation.

On the actual day of the examination you want a perfect performer. He or she must be untrammelled by the past – and excited the about the opportunities that the examination could open.

“Mum, do you remember that question where I kept guessing and you got so cross?”

“Yes dear, I have a faint recollection.”

“Well I met a question like that today. I was lucky because we revised it only last week. Thanks Mum.”

Is that moment exquisite bliss?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Rights and Wrongs of the Eleven Plus

It is likely that at this time of year that some parents’ minds may turn to the type of career that their eleven plus child could enjoy in years to come. We could do worse that to reflect on the ups and downs, as well as the trials and tribulations, of Pip in Great Expectations.

We all know the story. Pip came to believe that he would one day be the recipient of `Great Expectations’. Of course he had the faithful backing of Joe and Biddy. He also learnt to pay full respect to Magwitch. Naturally his mind was messed around with by Estella – but that is the lot of many men.

Pip left England and `lived frugally and paid his debts’.

He worked for a concern that had to labour for profits.

He was fortunate that his partner was cheerfully industrious and ready to work.

He then reached an important conclusion. Perhaps this has a resonance to all of us in eleven plus terms?

(Volume 3 – Chapter 6) “I often wondered how I conceived that old idea of his inaptitude, until one day enlightened by the reflection that perhaps the inaptitude had never been in him at all, but had been in me.”

What do eleven plus children think of us as they see us struggling with some rather difficult eleven plus questions? Do they sometimes feel that we are inept? Are eleven plus children ever offered the time to reflect? Could an eleven plus child ever accept that he or she could be wrong?

Every eleven plus parent will immediately, and rightly, answer `Yes’ to all and any of the questions. Some may even be prepared to ask their children.

“When we are doing eleven plus work, do you ever feel that I do not know all the answers?

“Would you like some time to think about all the work you have to do for the eleven plus?”

“Do you ever think that I could be right and you could be wrong?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Eleven Plus Children

We may sometimes hear comments, and possibly make comments, about the ordinal position of a child in the family. At this stage I have to declare my interest, as I am a second child – and a middle child. (In other words there were three children in our side of the family.)

If your eleven plus child is an only child – this is supposed to influence examination results.

Of course an only child will have certain other advantages and disadvantages. I have no idea what these are in the actual examination.

Naturally the youngest is always felt to have special powers that lead to examination success. Again I must plead ignorance.

The oldest child is supposed to be more adult orientated. He or she is felt to be more confident – and more serious.

Middle children are, by all accounts, a problem. (Poor children.)

Only children seem to want attention and are likely, according to legend, to be rather excitable at times.

I am sure we would all be grateful for further information about birth order and the eleven plus. If any one has ... Please ….

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Eleven Plus Syllabus

The issues associated with the development of the eleven plus are long standing. The eleven plus syllabus is essentially a form of relationship between the the men and women who set the examination and the eleven plus children. The examiner can explore broad areas - and at the same time focus on a surprisingly limited aspect.

Teachers, parents and eleven plus tutors play their part in developing strategies they think will help their children to pass the eleven plus. What is taught in an eleven plus lesson is what the teacher or the parent thinks will be needed at a certain time. Teachers and parents, at the present time, can not alter the content of the eleven plus.

It is uncertain if any grammar schools wish to change the content and the form of the eleven plus.

One major problem in effecting change in the eleven plus is that the tests that are used have to be examinable. This places limitations on assessment.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Family and the Eleven Plus

The next time you will get all the family to meet will be at a wedding or a birthday. You will need to do some preparation, of course, but after catering for all the family (and some friends) over Christmas and the New Year you should be well versed in the art of keeping the peace. It is likely, at some time another, that a discussion arose over which sex was better at washing up. From this point it is likely that there will be a discussion on whether females are more able than males. Thankfully there is a sound method of arriving at a definitive answer. It is called the Wilcoxon Matched-Pairs Signed-Ranks Test.

The Wilcoxon gives more weight to a pair that shows a big difference than between pairs which show a small difference.

Of course the whole family will be inordinately proud of your eleven plus candidate. In fact it is likely that it will be your progeny who will suggest that the males and the females take part in a competition based on elements of a timed verbal reasoning test. (Great cheers from all concerned!)

To renewed load applause you find the anagram section in an eleven plus paper. Quick as a flash, and again to load applause, you build a list of four letter anagrams. You print the list – and make twenty copies. You give ten copies to the males of the family and ten to the females.

The rules are simple. No collusion. No copying. Write down your time as soon as you have completed the exercise. Your eleven plus child is the final arbiter of fact and opinion. (After all, his or her presence on the team would offer an unfair advantage.)


As each member of the family rushes up excitedly to your child, he or she will write down the time it took to solve the anagrams. This creates a record of the order in which the different sexes completed the test.

You will now need to work out the difference between two matched pairs. This could be the difference between the scores of Aunty Ingrid and Uncle James. We now arrive at a new list with the difference scored as a plus or a minus. If we add all the + and the – signs it becomes easier to work out if the females of your family are better at solving anagrams than the males.

(If there is a tie then the results are dropped from the analysis.)

Of course it may have been easier to have put the two teams against each other doing the washing up – but think how your child will be offered praise and support for having to cope with pesky anagrams in his or her eleven plus test.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Eleven Plus and the Binary System

It is a matter of great sadness, to some, that the Binary System is no longer considered to be important enough to be included in any current eleven plus mathematics system. After all this is the language of computers. We use ten digits (Base 10) when we are doing mathematics – as we use numbers from 0 – 9. Computers use 0 and 1.

1 = 00001
2 = 00010
3 = 00011
4 = 00100
5 = 00101
6 = 00110
7 = 00111
8 = 01000
9 = 01001

It is possible to apply the four rules with binary numbers. 2 + 3 = 5 so 10 + 11 = 101.

The binary system is also used for letters.

The letter A, for example, is represented in the binary system by A = 01000001.
The word eleven then becomes E = 01000101 + L = 01001100 + E = 01000101 + V = 01010110 + E = 01000101 + N = 01001110. (We must be thankful that there are so many `Es’!)

Eleven plus children already need to know their tables in our current base 10 system. It may only be a matter of time before the children have to learn 10 times 11 = 110.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Eleven Plus Instructions

Very few of us will remember back to 1752 when a number of people thought that they had lost eleven days of their lives. The day after 2 September 1752 became the 14 September 1752. It would be a strange eleven plus year if the eleven plus examinations were `lost’ in a similar transfer of days. A decision was made to change the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar.

Thank of the language of an eleven plus boy on being told that he had missed his examination because the dates of his examination had been swallowed up: “Oh! I thought that the papers were rather easy.”

Every eleven plus teacher is a language teacher. It does not matter if the eleven plus student is working on a reasoning paper or mathematics or even English. Work still has to be corrected. Spelling mistakes still have to be pointed out, rectified and learnt.

Throughout an eleven course children are learning new words, ideas and concepts. The speed the child can assimilate this new information does indicate, to a degree the child’s readiness for the examination.

Parents may need to consider, at times, that their eleven plus work with their child needs to rely heavily on helping their child acquire necessary language skills. Because of the multiple choice nature of most of the eleven plus examinations there must be a feeling, at times, that selecting the correct multiple choice answer is the key eleven plus factor.

It is only a matter of time before the modern influences of texting, blogging, face book and messenger start filtering through to eleven plus papers. On the day of the actual examination very few eleven plus children would be fazed if they were told to:

Read d instrctions carefuly.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Eleven Plus Wisdom

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge. In order to pass an eleven plus examination children need some knowledge. Children writing an eleven plus mathematics examination will need to know that to find ten percent of an amount he or she will need to divide by ten. A child working on a verbal reasoning paper may need to understand what the word `opposite’ means.

As the children acquire more eleven plus knowledge and information they will be building a structure in their minds about how to tackle different types of questions. As the examination grow closer eleven plus teachers and wise parents have to be careful that they are not supplying unnecessary information. The emphasis needs to shift to encouraging the child to organise his or her thoughts – and attack the question in a calm and logical manner.

Some parents may need to look beyond the particular question – and think about where their child is in the eleven plus journey. “How close is my child to the destination?” Of course parents, who have been working with their child, will have a fair idea of where their child is up to.

Parents are always able to use the touch paper of eleven plus exercises to provide continuous assessment. Most parents are also able to diagnose, reasonably confidently, where their child is likely to have a problem.

An eleven plus mantra for this year could be: “The family must try to avoid training specific performance but work to promote understanding.” It is no good training a child to achieve 80% on an eleven plus paper if the same child can not understand how to answer an unseen eleven plus question.

We all remember our Tennyson where he wrote: “Knowledge comes but wisdom lingers.”

We all want our eleven plus children to be wise little examination candidates.