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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Eleven Plus Places

Who deserves a place in a grammar school? Suppose there are two places left at a prestigious school. The Appeal Board has narrowed the large number of contestants down to just four. Just as we see in reality shows, the particulars of the four youngsters are laid out on a table. A choice has to be made. The panel has a welcome cup of tea and a rich biscuit. They put their cups down and gather quietly round the table. A hand is stretched out – the decision is about to be made.

Boy 1
Mathematics Score: Exceptionally high
Accuracy: High
Verbal reasoning: Around average
General Knowledge: Outstanding
Interests: Engineering, astronomy
School: Unqualified recommendation

Boy 2
Mathematics Score: Very good
Accuracy: High
Verbal Reasoning: Very good
General Knowledge: Good
Interests: General
School: Unqualified recommendation

Boy 3
Mathematics Score: Well above average
Accuracy: Very good
Verbal Reasoning: Well above average
General Knowledge: Good
Interests: Many and varied
School: Positive recommendation

Boy 4
Mathematics: Above average
Accuracy: Good
Verbal Reasoning: Excellent
General Knowledge: Extraordinary
Interests: Archaeology, geology, swimming, any sports, camping.
School: Good recommendation

The early arguments and discussions seem to focus on the general knowledge and the interests – after all the boys have only failed the eleven plus buy one or two marks. The academic ability is not in question. All the boys have books and school exercises of a reasonable standard. All the parents have put in impassioned pleas. The head teachers have all written in support.

There must be an unknown or unspecified element that guides the panel into making what they feel is a fair decision. When the panel looks at remarkably similar scores they must make assumptions. They do not need to dwell on scores reached in the examination – but they do need to think about the use the successful candidates will make of their opportunities at grammar school. Naturally a child who is in the top ten percent of the successful candidates deserves a place – whereas a child in the lowest ten percent would find grammar school very difficult to cope with.

The problem all of us have is when the scores are remarkably similar. Does this mean that the tests are actually flawed? Should more than a score on a battery of tests be taken into account? Should a strong literacy bent count for more than a wide general knowledge?

Which of the boys deserves a place? Which would you choose?

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