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Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Eleven Plus, a Fox and a Cat.

We have had a fox at the bottom of our garden. This is not an unusual occurrence as urban foxes are plentiful in England. We became aware of the fox when one night the neighbour’s cat took the fox on at around two in the morning.

We have a cat – called `Cat’. Cat, a mature female, joined us just before Christmas. She was thin and very cold. We did not feed her for two days – but could not take the pitiful looks she kept giving us. We took her in, fed her and rubbed her down. She purred on the third day. We hawked her particulars around our neighbours but Cat was not a local.

The vet did not charge to see if Cat had a chip. The vet knew we would return. Last week Cat was diagnosed with a slight heart murmur. She has objected to the twice a day tablets in an almost human manner.

On Friday our fox disposed of a fat juicy wood pigeon. We have been casting food onto the lawn to feed the birds. It looks as one bird looked for breakfast a bit too early in the day.

At the bottom of the garden we have a garden shed. Just a common or garden variety of garden shed. The paint is slightly faded. Right beside the shed is a wooden compost heap. This is a one metre cubed wooden structure – filled with rich looking compost. The fox dug a hole under the front of the compost heap – and then under the shed. We could see the progress because of the amount of earth that the fox had to dispose of. This was a hardworking and diligent fox!

Just before the weekend we cleared the earth away and covered the ground in front of the compost heap with a layer of fine sand. We wanted to see if the fox was under the shed – or was simply preparing a lair. The rain came – but we added a further layer of sand. There were no paw prints for three consecutive nights.

Foxes have their cubs in March. We did not want to disturb the lair if there were cubs under the shed. We needed to do something about the fox because Cat was becoming rather neurotic about going into the garden. Cat would only walk on the side furthest from the lair. At this stage it needs to be mentioned that Cat is having a little trouble jumping – she scrambles to climb onto a bed. Cat would have no chance against a determined and maternal fox.

We ran a hose down the garden and poured water into the lair for twenty minutes as we wanted to board the hole up – but not if the fox or any potential cubs were underground. The hole filled and nothing came out.

Foxes have a right to live in gardens. Foxes have cubs in March. Foxes dig lairs for their cubs – and we think that the fox was preparing the lair for a litter of cubs. It can be argued that the fox has a right to a lair in our garden.

Our cat is called Cat because she is the ultimate cat. She sleeps for long periods during the day. She purrs and is a lovely little cat. She has rights of access to our garden.

Now follows a completely inconsequential statement. Next door has five cats. There are two further cats on the other side of our house.

Further background detail may be germane. Foxes used to live on common ground behind our house – but civilisation and progress has meant that a modern estate has taken the place of the fox’s natural habitat. The common has gone.


A young fox is called a:



There are, at the moment, no foxes or cubs in the newly prepared lair.


Should the entrance be boarded or do we leave the lair? In other words does the fox have rights to our garden?

Please ask your child for his or her opinion. We will go by majority rule.

Thank you.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Eleven Plus Excuses

“I know what you mean but my teacher does not do it that way.”

“It is not my fault that I got it wrong.”
(Oh yes it was. You did not read the question.)

“My tutor says that my maths is getting better.”
(Of course, because dad explained how to do proportion last night.)

“I am so hungry. Can I have a break?”
(You have only been working for three minutes. Before that you had a sandwich and a drink.)

“Can Jane come and do some eleven plus work with me?”
(The new DVD is fab. She would love to see it because her DVD is broken at home.)

“I have finished as far as I want to go on the paper.”
(You have done three questions. You can not play with your IPOD.)

“I have finished the paper.”
(You have done three more questions. There are still twenty seven to go.)

“I really like maths.”
(You were in tears over maths last night.)

“Would you like some tea? I am making some.”
(I see. You want to stop work now.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Eleven Plus Dyad

Eleven Plus children learn about fairness on a day to day basis.

“Mother, please can we go swimming? We have not been swimming for a long time.”

“Certainly, dear, I would prefer to go the cinema because there is a film I would like to see – and I think the whole family, including you, would enjoy.”

This dialogue has a variety of out comes.

The child can promise not to do another bit of eleven plus work if swimming is adopted by the whole family.

The child can reserve judgement until the title of the film is announced.

The child can embrace the film scenario and endorse the concept willingly.

(Parents will, at this stage, want to add their own child’s dialogue.)

Mother: “Well don’t speak to me like that.”

Mother: “It is the one you have always wanted to see.”

Mother: “You are such a nice child. How accommodating. We will do everything we can to help you with your eleven plus work.”

In the whole two minute conversation some serious trading is taking places. Parents and `The Eleven Plus Child’ can reach agreement on a set of eleven plus rules which will run smoothly most of the time. Of course there will be limitations and restrictions but compromise should ensure that both parties feel that a satisfactory outcome has been achieved.

Mothers will probably deal the winning hand by suggesting that the family can enjoy both events. The agreement that is reached will cut arguments and possibly enhance the rewards – as both parties will feel victorious.

Most able children will readily accept turn taking – and will accept the basic rules of engagement. What some children feel passionately about is whether they have been fairly treated.

What adds to the richness of family life is the understanding that that are factors beyond the control of the parent and their child. What happens, for example, to the feelings of the rest of the family? Their reaction can not be guaranteed. What happens if the rest of the family unite to offer a third alternative?

The eleven plus conundrum can be described as a `dyad’. This is where parents are linked to their eleven plus child. In a pre eleven plus dyadic relationship both parties have to recognise that they are inextricably linked until after the examination.

“Lets agree to disagree, but lets work together.”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Eleven Plus and Birds in Season

Bird fanciers have been called a variety of names over the years. True ornithologists would hate to be called twitchers. I grew up in the Southern Hemisphere so the birds of Britain and Europe are mostly a closed book. I have never really understood why grown men and women would converge on a cold and damp marsh to look through binoculars at a rare and strange bird. Anecdotal evidence seems to point to avid bird studiers crossing generations.

For the second day in a row we have had a visitor we have never seen before. Our copy of `The Observer’s Book of Birds’ has 243 species with 100 colour and 101 black and white illustrations. This is the 1979 edition and on page 171 there is a colour picture of a Sylvia Atricapilla. This is where I have to declare my ignorance – I had never heard of a Sylvia Atricapilla.

Fortunately the explanation of the warbler is comprehensive and entertaining. The warbler is a summer visitor and is expected between April and October. Our one has arrived a little early. We know the bird is a male because of its grey-brown plumage and black cap.

The little bird seems to be attracted by the winter food that is cast onto the lawn on a regular basis. The book says that the bird eats insects, flies and berries. The insects and flies may have been attracted to the garden by the scattered food.

Of course by now every one in Britain will know that we are discussing the feeding habits of a `Black Cap’. (A problem with being attracted to Black Caps is that Judges used to slip on a black cap before sentencing someone to death.)

In time to come children writing eleven plus examinations could be acknowledged by a series of names. Verbal reasoning seems to be a reasonably common eleven plus subject. What about `verbalisers’? There are some eleven plus regions when mathematics and verbal and non verbal reasoning are examined. What about `reasoners’?

We could also include parents in the eleven plus vocabulary. What about `worriers’?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Eleven Plus Play

A number of factors affect children when they are working towards the eleven plus. Even at the mature age of ten children like to play. The games the children play are not the same as they played when they first went to school – and are not the same as their parents enjoy. We still hear stories, however, of children who perform wonderful physical feats when they are with their parents.

Many years ago the Roman Centurions showed themselves as leaders of the infantry. The Centurion did not actually command one hundred men – but was often in charge of around eighty. Centurions lead their men marching from one point to another. The men would march then rest and then march a bit more. The troop would cover incredible distances in a day.

On a one to one basis the child, as well as the parents, can prescribe the pace of a lesson – and the direction of eleven plus work. If the parents and the children were given the opportunity of working together in a competitive environment it is likely, however, that the family would have the opportunity of covering far more work.

It is possible that it is the cadence of the men marching together that enables then to feel that they are a unit. The word `cadence’, when applied to marching, implies a rhythm or a beat. The word `cadence’ when applied to a child working through an eleven plus paper could describe the rhythm the child builds up as he or she works through a mixture of easy and complex questions.

Parents are not expected to play games with their children during eleven plus work. They could, however, consider the rhythm of regular breaks. After all’ an hour of intensive work, after a full day at school, is quite demanding. Parents will naturally hope that the break does not include `just five minutes of T.V., please’. The five could easily become ten and then twenty minutes. The rhythm of the lesson would be broken.

Other parents will naturally worry if the break includes an unhealthy snack. Obesity and passing the eleven plus seems to be an oxymoron. Bribes to engage in eleven plus work should only occasionally encompass chocolate – unless shared with parents!

What the break could be used for is to open a window of opportunity to all concerned to be able to chat about the examination. Possible fears could be dealt with. Pertinent plans could be discussed – and even modified if necessary.

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Eleven Plus Solutions

Will there ever be a recognised condition called `Eleven Plus Phobia’?

One extreme of this as yet un – acknowledged phobia could be a child saying that he or she simply has no desire to do any eleven plus work. The child’s performance at school could be satisfactory, the intelligence could be high and the social conditions surrounding the child at home could be as ideal as possible. The child simply does not want to do any additional eleven plus work.

The high aspirations of the parents could be blamed – but there would be no evidence what so ever to link aspirations and phobia. It would not take long for the whole family to be involved if a child decided against eleven plus work. Some one in the family would know of a remote uncle or aunt who could be invoked as the `arch deacon of anti academic study’.

Some parents may feel immediately that they are to blame. Are we pushing too hard? Should we back off?

Some parents may also worry that their child could lose the ability to achieve his or her potential. What will lie ahead in the future? Will our child develop into a normal adult? Is university still on? The refusal to do any extra eleven plus work may then become a source of concern to some parents.

Is my child being bullied at school?

How well does my child get on with the teacher?

Is this the right school? Should we move?

Is the problem only to do with the selection process and the eleven plus – or is other work also being rejected out of hand?

Have there been changes of circumstances at home?

Naturally most of these and any other concerns will be rejected immediately and thought of as scare mongering. Just because a ten year old does not want to go to grammar school does not imply that there is anything wrong with parents, school or child. It may be that he or she simply does not want to follow one particular path through school. Some children may also be remarkably unexcited by some of the more mundane and rather artificial eleven plus problems.

The child may simply feel rebellious. The more the parents want their child to pass the examination the more the child pushes and pushes to find the breaking point.

It is certainly not a phobia if a child goes off the eleven plus for a period – because examination preparation can sometimes be a long drawn out process. There must be some degree of conflict in the lives of even the most ideal eleven plus children. Most parents will simply want to minimise disruption and avoid overt coercion.

The panacea or solution? Start early in the preparations. Allow time off for good behaviour. Offer lots of praise – when warranted. In other words most parents will try to help their child feel that he or she is worthy of the examination.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Pre Eleven Plus Work

Eleven plus parents may sometimes be tempted to quote the claims of Dr J. B. Watson. He made statements and said that he was able to back up his theories by experimental science.

He systematically observed a large number of young infants. He found that he was able to provoke a limited number or reactions. He could make the infants kick, he could make them squeal and he could make them smile. He also felt that an infant would respond to a wink.

He is important to us today because his idea was that a child was a `tabula rasa’ – an open slate where anything and everything could be programmed. He said that this gave proof that all men were equal. Watson maintained that any difference between one human and another was due to environmental influences.

Dr Watson said that he could develop any infant to become an adult of a certain type. Do you want a doctor? Easy. Would you like your child to become a waiter? No problem. He felt that he could build a world of men and women of genius – and eradicate crime.

There was just one problem in his theorising. Although he was feted in the early days no one could replicate his ideas. In any case he was much too early in his thinking for any eleven plus parents because his hey day was between 1913 and 1925. It looks, therefore, as if parents of eleven plus children will need to rely on more than environmental stimulation.

There may be among us today some parents of pre eleven plus infants. These fond parents will be able to observe their children kicking, smiling and squealing – just like Dr Watson did. What our parents will struggle to do is to ensure that their very young children will be able read improving books, devour mathematics problems and enjoy a rush when faced by a verbal reasoning paper.

Parents of present day eleven plus children will know that early claims of genius are sometimes diminished when a child does not feel like doing any additional work. After all and half decent eleven plus child will be able to adapt intelligently to most given circumstances.

“Do you fancy a trip to the cinema?”

“Oh yes please. Do I have to do a paper first or can we simply go and have some fun?”

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Eleven Plus Predictions

At one time or another we will have used the immortal words:

Red sky at night,
Shepherd’s delight.
Red sky at morning,
Shepherd’s warning.

We all know of sages who are able to predict the weather from signs. Some use fir cones and others seaweed. Meteorologists today use computers to forecast weather patterns.

Eleven plus type questions emerge in the form of rainfall tables:
London 583 mm
Moscow 624 mm
Tokyo 1562 mm
New York 1092 mm
Lima 38 mm
Sydney 1181 mm.

Questions are forced:

What is the difference between the highest and the lowest temperature?
Give the mean of the figures and express your answer in cms.

But predictions are not always entirely reliable. In one sense the eleven plus examination is used to try to predict which children will benefit from an academically orientated education. Just as the weather experts make mistakes it may be possible that the eleven plus examination can also fail some children.

In time a group of eleven plus sayings may emerge:

Won’t read at night,
Mother’s fright.
Won’t read in the morning,
Mother’s warning.

Other children may terrify their parents in a different manner:

Has to argue at night,
Mother won’t bite.
Won’t work unless bribed,
Mum just cried and cried.


Eleven Plus child is very bright
Always studies at night.
Eleven Plus child is very smart,
And has a lovely warm heart.

How easy would it be to be able to predict which child will do well at grammar school? Most parents would hope for a smooth and loving relationship – but children are growing and developing and some are quite happy to rail against the forces of nature.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Eleven Plus Words

Children working towards the eleven plus may need, at times, to call on other disciplines for help. It is naturally of great interest to parents how the words are organised in the brains of their children. Parents are usually aware of the reach and extent of the vocabulary their children possess. But when children are working through some of the more obscure eleven plus questions, they need to know what words mean, how they are spelt and what they sound like.

Psycholinguists are able to use simple experiments to try to gauge the ability to distinguish between real words and nonsense words. A child is placed in front of a computer. A word is flashed onto the screen and the child has to make up his or her mind whether the word is real or otherwise. The psycholinguist can measure whether the word is correct and how long it took to answer.

We would expect a word like `love’ can be recognised very quickly while it might take a little longer to comment on olve. The longer time that it takes to process a word that is almost right is called the frequency effect. It takes longer for the brain to reject a word that is nearly right than a word which clearly can not fit into any dictionary.

A different way of looking at words is achieved through priming a word. We would expect a child to see a relationship between cat and dog much faster than between cat and flower. Words like may and say could possible be linked in the brain quicker than words like may and elephant.

When you expect your child to be able to find opposites he or she may be far more efficient in understanding the connection between familiar opposites even if the words are very different in shape and pattern than words which are clearly not opposite – but are remarkably similar to the correct answer.

Instead of a mother or a father throwing hands up into the air – they could take the time to look at the alternatives and help their child to recognise the pattern – and the intent of the question.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Eleven Plus and Forgetting

Back in the 1960s the Nuffield Mathematics project was the next big hope in raising standards of mathematics. The key to the project were the words:

I hear and I forget
I see and I remember
I do and I understand.

Major debates raged when compulsory education was established in England around 1880. Schooling for all was supposed to help to fight crime and pauperism. Teachers were charged with educating their children to adopt good habits and wide reading. Children were supposed to read the Bible. The theory was that reading the Bible would help their morals.

I once met a mother who divulged how she helped her twelve year old son to combat dyslexia. They sat together every day and read passages from the Bible – on a word by word basis - but backwards.

Understand I and do I
Remember I and see I
Forget I and hear I.

An adaptation of this technique may help some children who are inclined to rush questions. “Slow down, read the question word by word. What are you looking for?”

“When you are trying to solve a problem it can help to work backwards. What is the question asking?”

Which letter of the alphabet comes straight after the third letter of the tenth word?

To answer this question the eleven plus child has to find the tenth word – and then count three letters before solving the answer.

Perhaps when the errant eleven plus child is showing a remarkable unwillingness understand a question – and the patience of the every loving parent is about to disappear in a cloud of fury – there could a reason for moments of contemplation.

We are working towards the eleven plus to try to help my child to do as well as possible academically.

We want our child to have good habits – and lead a life far from poverty and uncertainty.

We wish that our child would read a little wider – even some `improving’ books.

As a parent I must remember to help my child through eleven plus work by encouraging him or her to do more – without having to listen too much to me. (I hear and I forget.)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Eleven Plus Mathematics

In theory we should never ask a question if we do not know the answer. Well I don’t know the answer which is why I am asking the question.

Mathematics is supposed to be one of the most exact of human thought.

In many eleven plus examinations mathematics plays a large part in the selection process. We must presume that a number of the topics that are likely to appear on an eleven plus paper have been carefully selected to allow a child to show the ability to think and reason.

At what stage in the examination do the questions change from attempting to test understanding of a group of skills to investigating thinking and reasoning?

Do we dare hope that there are questions on the paper that will not have appeared in a sample paper – and are therefore designed to try to find children who can think beyond the bounds of a so called eleven plus syllabus?

When I was once in Baltimore,
A man came up to me and cried,
‘Come, I have eighteen hundred sheep,
And we sail on Tuesday’s tide.

‘If you will sail with me, young man,
I'll pay you fifty shillings down;
These eighteen hundred sheep I take
From Baltimore to Glasgow town.’

He paid me fifty shillings down,
I sailed with eighteen hundred sheep;
We soon had cleared the harbour’s mouth,
We soon were in the salt sea deep.

The first night we were out at sea,
Those sheep were quiet in their mind;
The second night they cried with fear –
They smelt no pastures in the wind.

They sniffed, poor things, for their green fields,
They cried so loud I could not sleep:
For fifty thousand shillings down
I would not sail again with sheep.

This wonderful poem by W.H. Davis has so many elements we can admire - and has the potential for a multitude of eleven plus questions:

How many legs were on the ship?

What is the difference between fifty shillings and fifty thousand shillings?

The questions could march on.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Morality of the Eleven Plus

Will the eleven plus examinations ever be able to take into account the interests of bright children? Surely exercises taken from verbal reasoning and non verbal reasoning books and texts would not rate particularly highly on the league of interests of many eleven plus children?

Among the educational objectives of the eleven plus there must be at least one which stresses the need for the tests to be able to select bright children for an academic education. How much these needs are deep seated in children – or are simply a result of social pressure could be explored at length by academics and practitioners alike.

The eleven plus examination does, however, create an interest in verbal and non verbal reasoning exercises. But maintaining and sustaining this interest can not be part of the long term strategy of the eleven plus. We presume that children at the age of ten are reasonably malleable – and we know that they are generally prepared to study and work for a goal that not all will achieve. The eleven plus examination, will not however, serve the interests of all the children who prepare.

We have to accept that eleven plus examinations have the potential to guide children in learning methods of acquiring skills that could be useful in later life. The habit of study and the need to be competitive must, for example, be encouraged.

An eleven plus child has to know what an analogy is – and be able to apply this in both verbal and non verbal reasoning exercises. We presume that being able to solve analogies demands higher order skills. We know that parents and teachers can show children how to solve analogies. But how do children go about solving the analogies in the actual examination? Should the child start at the bottom and build towards an answer? Will the answer appear from the sky in a parachute?

If mother and father have gone over analogies at least fifty times before the examination – and the child can not work out the answer on the day, does this mean that the child has been badly taught or possibly does not have the predisposition to be able to learn in a grammar school environment? It may be that the examiner has looked at all the available literature and has invented some new form of presentation – or delved deep to find abstract and abstruse questions and answers.

The eleven plus child will often be forced to deduce an answer. If the act of deduction is an abiding objective of the eleven plus – then we hope that some will agree that the examination is worthy. If, however, the end result of a deductive process is simply achieving the right answer on a competitive and public test – then the examiners need to think again.

Some eleven plus children are highly moral by nature. They are not only moral in themselves but their parents are also prepared to follow and live by moral virtues. The eleven plus examination, however, does not attempt to entertain questions involving morality. There is an inherent problem – one man’s morals is another man’s immorality. Why can’t grammar schools seek to find bright children who are good at analogies – and have a strong sense of morality? These two events would not exclusive but may give rise to a new type of eleven plus question.

The ability to think and ponder on morality may engage the interests of eleven plus children far more readily than being able to provide an answer to an eleven plus question on analogies.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Eleven Plus and Time

A question that could conceivably come up in an eleven plus examination is adding seventeen minutes to a stated time. “If the train is going to be seventeen minutes late, and it was due at 9.50, what time will it arrive if it able to make up two minutes on the journey?”

A different type of question could be: “Add the number of days in the fourth and fifth months, and take away the number of days in November.”

Now we know that there are 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46.08 seconds in a year. This is the time it takes for the earth to revolve around the sun. Past civilisations have related this to the moon’s phases – or the time between the two moons which is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 2.8 seconds.

The eleven plus questions can now add a little eleven plus bite.

Express your answer in the Julian calendar.

The Julian calendar has 365 days but every year whose number is divisible by 4 has an extra day.

Express your answer in the Gregorian calendar.

All years divisible by 100 are ordinary years, not leap years, with the exception of years divisible by 400.

Express your answer in the Muslim calendar.

The Muslim calendar gives the moons precedence. There are twelve months of alternately 30 and 29 days.

The eleven plus question then becomes alive if we know what the year of the question is.

The time question could develop further mileage if we expected eleven plus children to be able to remember three different rules that can be applied to a question. Opponents would argue that this is learning by rote. Supporters would say look at the multiple choice answers. Eliminate the answers which simply can not fit. Select the correct answer and march forward!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Message From Your Eleven Plus Child

Some of you children seem to approach your eleven plus papers grounded in the theory that your answers are likely to be right. You are at pains to point out that you have sound knowledge of the results of elementary random efforts. If you are not sure of the answer, and you have eliminated any other possible answers, you often find yourself down to the last two answers. One is right and one is wrong.

Your parents have conducted the experiments with the unbiased toss of a corn with you. You know that if you toss a coin enough times it will come out heads about half the time and tails for 50% of the time. You, as an eleven plus pupil, therefore know that you should be able to select the correct answer at least half the time. (This is provided that you have been able to eliminate correctly the other two answers which were set as red herrings.)

Suppose your parents start on some crazed system of reward and punishment with you.

You are given every assistance in learning how to eliminate answers which simply can not be correct. This has been a great help. You are, however, still making elementary mistakes.

Your mother then starts on one of her long and involved lectures. She reminds you once again about the snail. You almost know the story off by heart. You tell the story with your mother:

Mother: Jerk the board as the snail moves along the board.

You: Watch the tentacles withdraw.

Mother: Continue jerking the board.

You: Watch the withdrawal gradually diminish.

Mother: Increase the intensity of the jerks.

You: There is an immediate response by the snail – but repetition is diminished by exposure.

(Allow a period of rest.)

Mother: Start the jerking of the board again.

You: Bit by bit the snail learns to ignore the unwelcome stimulus.

You then turn to your mother and say very patiently.

“Mother if you nag too much I may stop listening. I can not be right all of the time – but I can be right some of the time. You have used the words `repeated elicitation’ too often. I know that logic will prevail – after all I am an eleven plus candidate. It is my right to guess some of the time – and use logic some of the time. After all, Mother, the word reasoning means drawing conclusion from facts. So Mother, we need to set some ground rules:

No more nagging.

Your use of tired and specious arguments must cease.

Respect my ability to guess some answers.

Remember – my ability to reason may be better than yours in some areas.

Above all, please do not stop my pocket money if I get less than 80% on a paper.”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Eleven Plus, the farmer, his dog and his sheep.

We are on a remote sheep farm. A one track road runs between the main road and the farm buildings. There are high hedges on either side of the road. The farmer is driving his sheep from one field to the other. He hears the sound of a van approaching. He can not turn his sheep around easily. He has to make a decision. Twist or turn.

The farmer is well used to country life. He has been driving his sheep along this road for many years. He calculates the speed of the van, looks at his sheep – and whistles to his dog. The dog bounds ahead and edges the sheep into the one little hollow in the road. The sound of the van grows closer. The dog waits, the sheep wait and the farmer waits.

The van drives past – now travelling slowly. The driver glances at the dog and the sheep, and waves to the farmer. The farmer inclines his head. He knows that his delivery of the post will bring good news.

If the sheep had been driven by a townsman it is unlikely that the dog would have been given the right commands. If the sheep had been upset by the speed and the disturbance caused by the vehicle then they may not have been prepared to wait patiently. If the farmer had not trusted his dog then he may have asked the driver to reverse or he may have turned his sheep.

The farmer showed that he had the ability to reason and solve a problem. His reasoning was fortified by his past experiences of the road, his dog and his sheep. The one unknown was the reaction of the driver. The driver had to reason that he too knew the road, and that he was expecting the farmer to be driving his sheep at around the same time every day. The delivery of the post and the passage of the sheep were exclusive activities – but the outcome was united by reasoning.

The farmer, while he waited for the post, was probably doing an eleven plus question in his head. His daughter, you see, was writing her eleven plus. As he watched his sheep waiting patiently he thought to himself:

The sum of the series of consecutive odd numbers, beginning with unity, is always a perfect square. Thus 1, 3, 5 and 7 give 16 – which is the square of four.

The farmer then had a choice. He could urge his sheep to move towards the gate – so that they would be off the road by the time that the post van returned. He could also wait for the postman and then drive his sheep on.

Should he try another trial and see if the same rule held out? 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 gives 25 – and the square root of 25 is 5.

The farmer then has to do a little more reasoning. He has been able to confirm the numbers rule. He is confident that he can explain the rule to his daughter. He knows that if his daughter can demonstrate true versatility of reasoning she should be able to pass the eleven plus. He knows too that if he makes his daughter go on and on working on this question she will possibly become bored and demonstrate a complete lack of sensitivity. The farmer has to be aware of his daughter’s boredom thresholds. A characteristic of some bright children is a lack of patience.

The farmer waits for the van to pass. His dog drives the sheep into the field. The farmer closes the gate. He walks back to the house, fondling his dog as he walks along. He thinks of a cup of tea. He is happy – he has had another delivery of eleven plus papers. The eleven plus is one step closer.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Teaching to the the Yesterdays of the Eleven Plus

Eleven plus children do not simply burst eager and willing on the scene. Neither do they unfold like awakening flowers. The eleven plus process, however, starts well before the ninth birthday.

It would be easy for most mothers and fathers to remember the early stages of development. Of course the candidate was able to raise his or her chest at two months. Naturally he or she was able to sit with support at four months. Standing with help? Why of course – around eight months. Crawling and walking too took place between ten and eleven months. (Some eleven plus children will have walked at seven months – but then some children who did not enter the eleven plus race will also have walked at seven months.)

This is possibly a little gap in fond memories up to the age of five years old. What is the significance of reaching five? For many years people used to think that reading readiness used to start at six years old. A five year old reader does not come about without input from mum and dad! A six year old brought up in a savage tribe does not suddenly become ready to read. Other elements of mental development must have taken place.

Some eleven plus children may have been able ready to learn to read at three or four years old. Parents would not have ignored these early signs of promise. Piles of books would have continued to grow at home. Television would have been controlled. The bed time story would have become much more complicated and convoluted.

The eleven plus process would be firmly under way.

If your child walked at seven months – does it mean that he or she was `more ready’ or `readier’ to start on eleven plus work?

If your child read before he or she started school, did this imply eleven plus readiness?

The only crumbs of comfort that the parents of eleven plus children could feed off were that early signs of readiness probably indicated possible potential.

If only eleven plus tests could look at the potential to development. Good marks on an eleven plus test do show that a child has the potential to do well in a grammar school environment. Passing the eleven plus means that a child is ready to learn in an academic environment.

Working towards the eleven plus does not, however, necessarily mean that a child is eager and willing.

There was a wise, old Russian psychologist – Vigotsky – who agreed that teachers could determine progress through tests. He maintained, however, that teaching to tests was teaching to the yesterdays of a child’s development.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Eleven Plus and Management Positions

A number of parents of Eleven Plus children will have embarked on a Masters Degree at one time or another. There are a wide number of master’s programs so there is no single method of studying towards the examination.

Modules – linked by in-service (sometimes).
Eleven Plus
Some parents will start before birth. Other parents start the week before. Most will work out a sensible solution.

Selection Criteria
In general applicants must hold an appropriate honours degree – or equivalent
Eleven Plus
The child must be able to demonstrate ability and drive to fond parents.

Selection Method
Interview, C.V., psychometric tests (some).
Eleven Plus
“We should pop into W. H. Smith and pick up a few papers.”

Course Content
Modules - including management, enterprise and strategy.
Eleven Plus
On and off line papers, tutors, parents and tests

A range from `on the job’ to residential
Eleven Plus
A range – with a list as long as your arm.

Senior management
Eleven Plus
Grammar School – leading to Senior Management (in time)

Is a person more likely to land up in a Senior Management position if the person has been to grammar school?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Eleven Plus Buzz

We need to assume that humans are better than computers at interpreting complex information from other humans. It is may, however, be likely that in time an eleven plus child working through an on line eleven plus paper, can smile at the machine, and say: “I am enjoying this!” Naturally we would expect an immediate reaction from the computer.

What a computer can do is accept results of children’s work and then made adjustments to what is taught. A computer can also pass information to a wide range of children and parents. A computer can time exercises and slow down or speed up the information that is being delivered to the child. It can also attempt to motivate the children.

Parents will sometimes open up a range of online eleven plus papers or assessments in the hope that working through the programs will serve to motivate their children. Some eleven plus children and their parents will be using the internet for information. There is also the opportunity to communicate through forums, blogs, twitter, face book and the like.

Google invited me to join Buzz today – and offered my Google mail contacts up as `friends’. Will technology like this ever be able to affect eleven plus study in the future? Possibly – we will have to wait and see.

The one application that could be of interest to some eleven plus parents is the location app. Many of our mobiles already have location software linked to the internet. One of the Buzz mobile applications will allow parents not only to know where their child is – but also receive updates from people close by. This could mean that some families will not be so dependent on generic eleven plus papers.

An analogy could be that eleven plus parents would not need to rely on a shotgun approach – but could hope and dream of the single rifle shot that homes on the problem.

I already have some friends on Buzz – and have signed up to `location’. No one, as yet, has buzzed me through Buzz about the eleven plus. Please be kind enough to give me a buzz when you do break through.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Eleven Plus Changes

What would be needed to be set in motion in order to change the shape and format of the present eleven plus examinations?

First of all there would need to be a collective sense of purpose.

Parents, teachers and administrators would need to feel that they were being innovative – and consulted.

Not all authorities would agree on the mechanism of change because there are so many different interpretations of what the words `Eleven Plus Examinations’ mean.

People, who are able, qualified and willing to participate in determining change, would need to be established and engaged.

The change would need to appreciate the present position – and be able to look ahead to the future. (Some eleven plus questions have been retained a remarkably similar state for around fifty years.)

There would be a strong case for research and experience to add to the potential recipe. (Perhaps a university?)

Schools would need to be involved – at the primary and grammar school levels. There would also be educationists within the comprehensive system who could, if they chose, help to determine the future success of changes to the examination.

One question could be:

‘Does the structure and the validity of the eleven plus examinations need to change – if so what changes are needed?’

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Eleven Plus Bulges

When the eleven plus examinations are marked the mark on each paper does not simply sit there waiting for something to happen. It is gathered up into a frequency distribution. This is essentially a table showing the marks each candidate is given.

If there are eighty questions on a paper the examiner marks the master paper from 80 to 1. The examiner then makes a tally for each candidate who has obtained the mark. For convenience sake every fifth tally is crossed across the preceding four to make a gate. Each gate is worth five tallies.

The total number of tallies should be equal to the total number of scripts.

Years ago conscientious school masters, school mistresses and clerks would have calculated the tallies and found the mean or average. The average is not really the average mark – but is the arithmetic mean.

Today the whole operation must be carried out by computer. This must reduce the kind of errors than may have crept in years ago.

In some verbal reasoning tests the examiners try to increase the effectiveness of the examination by throwing a large number of questions at the children. It is no good, however, making the questions too hard because then few children would benefit. The examiners also have the weapon of speed.

Every parent has said, sometimes rather plaintively, “If the question is too hard, then leave it, and go on to the next question.”

If an eleven plus examination is too easy then a bulge of correct answers would appear at the bottom of the table. In theory the examiners are trying to have half the questions answered correctly. They can then set the pass mark where ever they want – because to all intents and purposes the actual test has been as fair as possible. The pass mark can then be adjusted to take into account the number of places in the grammar schools.

One school can then set a pass mark higher or lower than another school.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Eleven Plus Hugs and Kisses

Do you remember the bit towards the end of Act II of Sleeping Beauty when the young prince, with some of his court, goes on a picnic to the forest? Gallison, the Prince’s aide, tells of seeing a stag. The Prince’s companions hurry away to join the hunt.

The Prince decides to stay – and dreams of romantic love.

The Lilac Fairy appears and shows him a vision of Princess Aurora – who is fast asleep. The Prince follows the Lilac Fairy to the palace where Aurora lies. He enters the palace and awakens her with a kiss.

The magic spell is broken.

There can not be one single eleven plus parent who has not read this story to their much loved child.

There may be a few parents, when they give their child a final good night kiss, who wish that something would happen to awaken the true potential. How do parents know that their child has `true potential’? There are signs.

He or she is possibly more interested in science than most other subjects.

It is feasible too that he or she knows more than other children of the same age. This could be possibly because he or she has read a much wider range of books.

He or she is often `hard’ on any potential failings on the part of the teacher – and is quite capable of expressing his or her views on schools in general and teachers in particular.

There may be sweeping visits to a wide range of after school activities – until something strikes a chord.

The parents of an eleven plus child will be vitally interested in any progress – and will be able to recall each and every single social, emotional, intellectual and physical event.

Of course eleven plus papers will be coped with easily. Sometimes it may look as if the drive towards excellence is slipping – but this may be down to test fatigue rather than a temporary lessoning of ability.

At times too it may look as if motivation is a problem. This may be very difficult for parents to cope with.

But parents are wiser than their children. Parents know that they must be confident and not force confrontation. Every parent knows that what ever has happened during the day will be forgotten after the last good night hug and kiss.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Eleven Plus Children Need Cats

I read an amazing article yesterday but did not comment on it as I needed a bit more information. I have spent the last twenty four hours trying to find out just how many cats there are in the country that eleven plus children may be able to adopt.

According to an article by Matthew Moore in The Daily Telegraph, on the 6th of February 2010, scientists felt that cat owners were more intelligent than dog owners. Does this mean that you need to get hold of a cat before your child can pass the eleven plus?

The article does not claim that cats are more intelligent than dogs. It simply found that there were more university graduates in homes where cats rule supreme.

Do homes with cats succeed with eleven plus verbal reasoning tests? If any one has ever heard of a cat answering an eleven plus question - I would be more grateful if you would be kind enough to share this with me.

We do know that a dog will sit beside your child while he or she is doing eleven plus work - but a cat will sit on it.

We remember Mark Twain who maintained that cats are more intelligent than people believe and they can be taught any crime. (I am sure this is not true of any eleven plus children.)

Finally, and for this we have to be grateful to Alfred North Whitehead, "If a dog jumps into your lap it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing it is because your lap is warmer."

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Eleven Plus Standardisation

If a select number of children receive help towards the eleven plus examination does it mean that the norms associated with eleven plus examinations are meaningless? After all when the tests were standardised did the cohort of children who made up the sample of children include children who had been offered top quality extra tuition?

If any coaching is given towards a test then the norms must become suspect and possibly unsatisfactory. Years ago the promotion of teachers, and the payment of teachers, was based around the results their children obtained in school. Think of the outcry today if a group of children in one class were given extra tuition – and so helped the school teacher with promotion and / or payment!

Familiarity with a test must lead to artificially high results. We hear of eleven plus teachers who base their whole teaching around one particular type of paper. Will this help their charges to be among the elite? It is very hard to call.

A cry must then be heard. What is the actual potential of the children compared with those the eleven plus tests were standardised on? Parts of verbal reasoning tests rely on good reading and vocabulary skills. Children who do not come from homes where parents read are possibly handicapped. A boy or a girl who has been read to from an early age and has a desire to read for reading’s sake is likely to enjoy grappling with many parts of verbal reasoning tests.

When eleven plus results are published schools quite rightly take lots of the credit for the number of children who pass. It is likely that an eleven plus candidate, who has been offered the very best of eleven plus opportunities, and has, therefore, benefited from good teaching at school and at home, will enjoy the whole build up towards the eleven plus.

We are not told about the standardisation of the actual eleven plus tests – other than knowing that standardisation is an effort to make the tests as fair as possible to all children. Perhaps in the final analysis we do not need to know about who the tests are standardised on. What we must be concerned with is that the content of eleven plus tests is becoming so predictable that some children must be force feed into trying to pass while other children must become no more than passive learners.

There may be a case for more transparency about the nature of the questions within the actual eleven plus examination – and more openness about who the tests were standardised on.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Eleven Plus Questions

The nature of the final eleven plus examination determines the organisation of the preparation for the examination. There is little value, for example, in an eleven plus child learning Mongolian – if Mongolian is not tested in the examination. (Looking at some eleven plus questions, however, makes one think, at times, that an eleven plus child may better off learning Mongolian than struggle through some poorly phrased questions.)

The eleven plus papers that children work through are really statements of the objectives of the examination. It is possible to be a good eleven plus teacher by teaching only to the eleven plus examination. It may be possible to be a better eleven plus teacher by teaching towards the examination – but also including work that has greater depth and purpose.

Most, but not all, eleven plus tests are multiple choice. If a school has been trying to encourage a child to show both understanding and the ability to generalise then the rigid eleven plus curriculum is likely to force some children down narrow paths.

The analysis of a number of eleven plus practice papers suggests that some elements of the eleven plus look only at facts and methods of solving problems. There is no place for a diagnostic eleven plus test on the day of the actual examination.

Some multiple choice eleven plus questions allow little opportunity to diagnose why a child has made a mistake. If a question asks for an answer in metres – and centimetres is selected then this could be as a result of a number of reasons.

It would be very difficult to mark vast numbers of essay or expository type questions which asked ten year olds to organise their thoughts and give reasons for their answers. This would, however, offer the potential to reward good teaching at school.

Think back to the days when you were at school and you were encouraged to write the General Paper. Your teacher would have reminded you that pupils who were taught to write good essays were also better at answering multiple choice questions.

If only elements of the eleven plus tests could examine general reasoning and judgement rather than relying solely on directing an eleven year old to learn a prescriptive 19 or 21 different types of reasoning questions.

Memo to the constructors of current Eleven Plus Papers:

“Could do better.”

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Eleven Plus Ambition

You may care to ask your child why he or she really wants to become a doctor. After all most parents would swell with pride if their child stated that becoming a doctor was the most important reason why he or she wanted to go to a grammar school. It may be possible that parents will have more influence on their child’s career choice than the teachers at primary school.

The first reason that a child may offer in support of the `I want to be a doctor’ statement may be `for the money’.

A child may come into contact with someone in the family who is associated with medicine. “My mum is a doctor, so is my dad.”

An interest in science may trigger a desire to study medicine.

In some cases it may be the pressure of ambitions parents who will want their child to join a most prestigious profession.

There will have been characters in history like Florence Nightingale and Marie Curie who could possible have stimulated an interest in medicine.

It could be that the school a child attends plays a part in the choice of a career when senior school is reached.

One thing, at the eleven plus stage that is very clear, is that it is the high achievers who will have most chance of becoming doctors.

Noses to the grindstone please.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Eleven Plus and Poorer Families

In 1965, when a few of our current eleven plus parents may have been but a twinkle in the eye, the Public Schools Commission was set up under Sir John Newsom. The august body was tasked with finding the best way of integrating the public schools with the state system.

The Secretary of State felt that the government intended that public schools should make the greatest possible contribution to the country’s educational needs. There was a strong desire, in some quarters, that public schools should be progressively open to boys and girls irrespective of the income of their parents.

In the autumn of 1967 the commission was asked to extend its review to look at the direct grant grammar schools.

If fees were paid by the local authorities, the commission felt that it would take only about seven years to overcome the `socially divisive’ nature of schools.

By all accounts this was not a popular solution. One fear was that the `maladjusted’ would be favoured – and thus gain entry to the hitherto elite schools.

There are scholarships today that the very brightest and the most capable can apply for. The scholarship examinations that children meet today are often demanding and are set to stretch.

The present fee barrier, however, compels many schools to attract the children of those most financially able. The grammar schools were intended, in the early days, to provide opportunities to bright children whose parents were less well heeled.

In the great rush towards the eleven plus the children of parents who can afford books, papers, tuition, broadband and computers are probably going to do better in an eleven plus examination than children from poorer families. In today’s world this is patently unfair.

The content of verbal reasoning papers should be examined to try to ensure that the questions are not biased towards children who have ability – but not the opportunity to study on a level playing field. In my work I meet clever children who could struggle with some questions on a verbal reasoning test because their vocabularies are not strong enough. The must be more to passing an eleven plus examination than having a strong reading vocabulary.

If, however, a strong reading vocabulary is a key component – then some parents should be urged to encourage their child to read as much as possible.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Eleven Plus Results

There have been great technological advances in recent years. Many different tests and papers have been developed and a whole industry has built up around the eleven plus examinations. The tests and exercises, however, look only at restricted aspects of entry methods to grammar schools and do not look at the whole child. A verbal reasoning test result can not be used to gauge if a grammar school child will turn out to be lazy and unwilling.

Tests are used to rank children in a particular order. Testing at the eleven plus level can not measure loyalty or perseverance. After all, eleven plus tests results only report on a child’s progress at a given point in time.

We have girl who is with us working towards her SATs tests. When she was working on pre eleven plus mathematics back in July and August she found the work hard. She was a little more confident as the examinations approached. She can now tackle almost anything that is thrown at her. For her the eleven plus examinations arrived about 120 days too early.

We had a different girl with us last year. She failed the eleven plus by one mark. Her father wanted to appeal. Her mother, however, did not want her daughter to go to the grammar school. The school were willing to support an appeal – but the mother maintained that if her daughter had been meant to go to grammar school she would have passed first time.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Eleven Plus Siblings

The Italian criminologist, Cesare Lombroso, came up with the theory that genius is akin to insanity. He also had many other theories – but none of them would apply to any normal eleven plus child. He thought that insanity and instability – and in some cases degeneracy – accompanied genius. We are fortunate that much of his work is unproved.

Genius includes only the topmost fraction of 1% of our population in terms of both ability and achievement. The Eleven Plus examination does not even come close to investigating ability at this level. Children who score full marks on eleven plus papers could be investigated – if their parents wanted another label. A genius is someone who excels in performance. A near genius misses out by a matter of degree.

Francis Galton learned to read at two and a half. He signed his name at three and wrote a letter when he was four.

"My Dear Adele,

I am four years old and can read any English book. I can say all the Latin substantives and adjectives and active verbs besides 52 lines of Latin poetry. I can cast up any sum in addition and multiply by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10. I can also say the pence table. I can read French a little and I know the clock.

Francis Galton
February 15th 1827”

Many of our eleven plus children can also write letters telling of wonderful achievements.

Dear Francis

I am but six years older but I can also read. I do verbal and non verbal reasoning exercises – and advanced mathematics as well. I am expected to work under pressure of time – and answer lots of questions very quickly. I have also learnt where and when to use paragraphs.

My sister says that I am mad to try for the eleven plus. She is already at grammar school but says I have no chance. I keep telling her that I am a genius in disguise – but she does not listen.

Eleven Plus Candidate
February 2nd 2010.