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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.

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