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Friday, April 30, 2010

Eleven Plus and Inheritance

In my second year of teaching as a primary school teacher my headmaster said to me: “You listen to music. You take the choir.” He then walked away. Two days later I was the choir master to 675 children in the music session after assembly.

Behind every good man is a better woman. Mrs Marion Conacher in this case. She took me under her wing. We dispensed with a baton – as we agreed that this was beyond me. In time choir and the school’s singing improved. I was never sure if progress happened in spite of me or because!

Professor Carl Seashore, at the University of Iowa, separated music in pitch, time, consonance, rhythm and tonal memory. The components were then tested against competent musicians, aspiring but mediocre musicians and a random sample of the general public.

It was found that training in music did not make much difference in the test results. The professor concluded that inheritance is an important factor in the musical abilities shown in the most competent musicians.

The results also showed that aptitude in specific musical element was not correlated. Just because someone was good at pitch did not mean that they would also be good at rhythm. It is possible to have good pitch and poor tonal memory – or superior rhythm accompanying poor pitch.

Just because your child is able to do analogies does not mean that he or she will be able to find hidden words. It all makes sense doesn’t it?

(In my case just because I liked music did not mean that I would be a good conductor for four years!)

If this rather tenuous premise about lack of correlation in different types of music is correct then some families may need to be wary the genes they pass onto their children. Imagine if it was the mother’s fault that their child could not do analogies 0- but the father’s fault for hidden words. Poor eleven plus child!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Tomato, a Zombie and the Eleven Plus

The wonderful thing about the eleven plus is the ability to offer surprises, laughter, fun and enjoyment. A rather serious mini minority may take issue with a statement of this nature and feel that it reveals a bigoted and narrow approach to a deadly solemn examination.

It all revolves around a tomato. Why is a tomato a fruit when it is eaten but most often it is a vegetable? Is a tomato an exception to the rule or is the rule there to be broken?

These are not the actual words of the discussion – and readers will need to read within the lines. We call vegetables a vegetable if it is used for food – be it a leaf, a root or a flower. A tomato is a vegeratable.

The ovary of a fruit is used for food. A tomato is a fruit.

We eat a vegetable during a meal and a fruit, most often, at the end of a meal.

If you eat a tomato during a meal it is a vegetable – be it raw or cooked. A tomato after, or before, a meal is a fruit.

To clear the kidneys a tomato is used with cauliflower, carrots and ice.

To help the skin a tomato is mixed with red peppers, cabbage and parsley.

To make the Eleven Plus Zombie

3 Ice cubes cracked
1 measure dark rum
1 measure white rum
1 measure apricot brandy
2 measures pineapple juice
1 tablespoon lime juice

The Zombie is then decorated with slices of tomato, cocktail cherries and brown sugar.

Of course the question may arise: “When does an eleven plus parent feel like a zombie?”

The answer? “When trying to explain when a tomato is a fruit and when it is a vegetable.”

“When should an eleven plus parent have an Eleven Plus Zombie or two?”

“Before, during and after.”

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Magic of the Eleven Plus

Some of us will remember the romantic legend of Charles Atlas. The story goes that he was a rather skinny young man on the beach when he had sand kicked in his face by brawnier brutes. He developed a system using weights and pulleys to build his muscles. Subsequent advertisements showed him having sand kicked his face – but working hard on his body and growing to where at least two beautiful girls followed his every word and movement.

There must be an eleven plus equivalent. What about a child, not all that good at school, sometimes ridiculed by his or her classmates, thought to be a `dimmie’ - and not the most popular person in the classroom or playground?

Along comes the equivalent of a fairy godmother who galvanises the child into feeling good. The child begins to flower and develop. Work becomes more than a panacea – it becomes almost an obsession. The new attitude is recognised and rewarded by the teacher. The child is urged into the top groups. New friends are enjoyed.

The eleven plus becomes possible. Both parents are overwhelmed with gratitude. They can not stop singing the praises. Their child’s education and intellectual integrity have been saved. Grammar and university awaits.

Many of us would wish we knew that magic ingredient!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Eleven Plus and Houseman

As some eleven plus children feel a little `put upon’, at times, over the amount and the extent of work that is expected in preparation for the eleven plus, it may be as well to recall the words A.E. Houseman.

And how am I to face the odds
Of man’s bedevilment, and God’s?
I a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.

We want our eleven plus children to be properly brought up. We demand that they say please and thank you. We expect them to be polite to their elders and respect the opinions of others.

We don’t want them to be overwhelmed by eleven plus work and become moody and unsatisfied. We hate the idea that instead of doing eleven plus work at the proper time they may want to disappear off to engage in unsavoury activities that are not for the common good. We do not want an eleven plus child to feel miserable and `put upon’.

Very few eleven plus children will go to the trouble of rebelling against work. In the great majority of cases our children will respond to love and affection. There is certainly no reason for eleven plus work to bring up feelings of despair and fear. Having said that it is conceivable that some children will rail against the iniquity of extra work outside of school.

“Why me?”

“Because children who go to grammar school will potentially earn more money than children who go to a comprehensive.”

“But Auntie Jemma never went to grammar school or university and she earns more then any one else in the family.”

“But Auntie Jemma is very bright, and she had to get her qualifications after school and while she was working.”

“Well I don’t like doing eleven plus work. It is hard and makes my brain hurt.”

“There is something that we have talked about before – it is called tough love. As your mother I am telling you to do your work and stop prevaricating.”

“Yes mum. Thank you mum. I am off now.”

(Whispers quietly as the much loved child leaves the room to work, “Thank you. Thank you and thank you once again.”)

Monday, April 26, 2010

An Eleven Plus Breakthrough

Parents of eleven plus children are both eager and willing to have their children tested. This makes them into a select and rare breed of humanity. After all the idea of a child being tested in order to gain entry into a selective school will surely be regarded, in time, as being archaic, dated, unnecessary and outmoded. (Unless you are the parents of a bright child and there is a local grammar school in your area.)

The assessment of past attainment – and that of future potential are essential ingredients in eleven plus testing. Assessment is essential in order to maintain a form of selection for secondary school. The eleven plus examination is deeply ingrained in some areas. Parents of eleven plus children cannot avoid subjecting their child to an assessment of some form or another. All parents can hope for is that the better the preparation the less painful the examination.

The eleven plus examination still does not command wide agreement. Sometimes the examination is castigated for social reasons. Many of us will have heard stories of very bright children being rejected by a grammar school – adding to concerns about the efficacy and the efficiency of the eleven plus examination.

One day there may be a breakthrough and the present form of the eleven plus may be frowned upon. Assessment began with children being tested on a one to one basis, then came the group tests like the eleven plus. Who knows what lies ahead!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Eleven Plus Parents

One of the arguments against the eleven plus is that undue familiarity with a test can produce artificially high results. If children work on the same sort of papers week after week and have to record and compare their results, then they may gain too much familiarity with the papers. This can lead to test fatigue as well as artificially high results.

Of course parents will react in different ways when they are trying to bump up marks on selection papers. Parents will probably stick to the papers and methods they are comfortable with. By the time their child is ten, few parents will have any illusions about how well their child will do in the eleven plus examinations

Parents will know that praise and reward will work at times.

A number of parents will react with horror at the idea that their child may need a stiff talking to.

Eleven plus children should not be made to endure their work when it is accompanied by a genuine fear of punishment.

Criticism is possibly occasionally used to try to correct mistakes. A parent may feel that their criticism is fair and justified – whereas their child may feel that the criticism is unwarranted and untimely.

Some children react confidently when they are put under pressure of time – but others look as if they hate the sound of the clock ticking the seconds away.

Some children will enjoy multiple choice questions. Others may prefer a true / false situation.

Some children may hate the restriction of test papers but flower when they have the opportunity to present a case or write an imaginative essay.

The eleven plus examination has to be all things to all people. It has to be fair – but demanding.

The eleven plus child has to rise above praise, reward, fear, criticism and perceived restrictions. The eleven plus child has to work to time limits and be confident and precise. It is quite a lot for some ten year old children to try to aspire to.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Fairness of the Eleven PLus

Parents must sometimes wish that they had a little more information about the eleven plus test results. We have to take for granted that the interpretation of the test results is fair to all children.

It would be very useful for an up to date study on the factors influencing eleven plus test performance and test scores. It would be very unfair to reject a child if the test was not administered properly. Would it be equally unfair if one child could not read as well as another?

The person who administers the test, the school policy towards the eleven plus and the condition that the tests are taken in are some variables that can affect test scores. It is not a primary goal in some schools to prepare children for the eleven plus. A bright child could miss out on a grammar school education by simply being in the wrong class with the wrong teacher. In other classes good eleven plus test results may appear to be almost an end in itself. Some may be able to argue, with conviction, that a good test result may provide a poor general education.

Parents of bright eleven plus children may sometimes wonder if less able children are receiving more attention. Some schools may have a higher percentage of special needs children. We also hear of schools that weed out children they do not think will pass the eleven plus to try to ensure as high an eleven plus pass mark as possible.

Is it fair on other children if a skilful eleven plus teacher is able to teach to the test? Some children could benefit from the teacher’s expertise and thus obtain artificially high scores. Is it then questionable practice to teach just the items that will come up in the test?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Discipline and the Eleven Plus

There may be a faint chance, every now and again; that one or two of our eleven plus children may be exposed to a child who does not really fit in with the rest of the class. At times the poor school teacher may have to put up with disorderly behaviour. The education of our eleven plus candidate may be affected.

Teachers and schools must have had discipline problems since the beginning of time. In one school of around two hundred and fifty pupils, back in 1928, there were 328 floggings in one week. This gave an average of 65 beatings a day in the school.

Parents will probably all recall the story of the teacher who whipped every boy in the room on the first day of term. Teachers used to tie children to their seats, use sarcasm and soap in the mouth to try to maintain the peace.

Even back in 1950 teachers still used outmoded methods of maintaining control. The climate of opinion was, in some schools, that children needed to be policed and controlled. We are remarkably fortunate today that teachers recognise that there is often a cause behind poor behaviour. This understanding does not, however, always help the would be academic candidate who simply wants to get on with his or her work.

We can all probably remember stories about enlightened teachers who waved a caring wand at mischief makers and helped to turn their lives around. It is possible that one or two of us may have been regarded, on occasions, as being nuisances in the classroom. We may be able to think back to how words of wisdom changed our lives.

No amount of looking back, however, can help the bright and academically gifted child from sometimes being treated unfairly at school. Some might be bullied, others may be mocked for knowing all the answers and some may feel put down (sometimes inadvertently) by the culture towards the able in the school.

What can parents do to help their child?

Of course parents will try to help their child to talk about their experiences and problems.

Some parents may need to be vigilant and responsive to mood changes and alterations in behaviour patters.

The school needs to know and to listen. You and your child can only hope that action takes place. After all you simply want an atmosphere of study and endeavour in the lead up to the examinations.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Eleven Plus Security of Mind

I wonder if there is a parallel in the minds of some eleven plus parents when they ponder the practicality of taking on an eleven plus tutor. Do you remember the story?

Faced with a bill for treatment in a private London hospital a patient questioned the anaesthetist’s charge which seemed excessive. “£500 just to put me to sleep?”

“No, it’s to make sure you wake up again,” she was told.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Questioning the Eleven Plus

Where would we be without the thinkers on education of yesteryear? There are a number of proclamations from the past that could apply to our present eleven plus children.

“Not everyone is called to be a lawyer, a physician, a philosopher to live in the public eye; nor has everyone outstanding gifts of natural capacity.” This was not written in the last fifty years but by Da Feltre who lived between 1378 and 1446.

A more contemporary call on our present eleven plus sensibilities was made by Locke (1632 to 1704) who maintained that “everyone’s natural genius should be carr’d as far as it could, but to attempt to put another upon him, will but Labour in vain.”

We have a boy with us this year who, back in October of last year, scored in the low 20% range on the initial standardised tests of mathematics and abilities. He parents only wanted to `give him a chance’. The same boy is now up in the late eighties. He is at the same school – which does not support the eleven plus.

This lad is adamant that he wants to `go to grammar’. The fact that he is outside any logical catchment area is incidental. His parents are already looking at houses near to the grammar school. They are talking about leaving their son at his present school when they move, as they hope to do in reasonable time before the eleven plus.

The eleven plus examination attempts to measure a child’s ability by comparing performances on a test against that of other children taking the test. A question that is suitable for the majority of ten year old children may not serve as a question that can select children who need to pass an eleven plus examination.

A class teacher at school is teaching for the good of the class – as well as the well being of every very single one of his or her pupils. The children can not all learn at the same rates. The same applies to the rate at which eleven plus children learn.

The eleven plus, because it is aimed at selecting a certain type of child, attempts to classify and grade children. Is it very wrong to try to find children who have the ability to be lawyers, physicians and philosophers? After all, someone has to do it!”

Is it also wrong to offer children the chance of reaching their potential? Few teachers and parents would argue against that – it is just that some do not like the idea that the eleven plus is the preferred method.

Eleven plus ability is measured only after many assumptions. Eleven plus potential is also subject to a variety of theoretical contributions. Some may have also felt for a long time that questions like: `Find the odd one out: run step write hop walk’ is a bit odd too!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Voice of the Eleven Plus

We all use different tones of voice at different stages of the day. An eleven plus child would need to concentrate in different way to the following vocal cadences.

“Come on. It is time to go. Turn the T.V. off and pick up your bag. Come on!”

“Of course dear, there is nothing I would like better. That is so thoughtful of you. Thank you once again.”

We punctuate our speech and language with the voice. Parents are very aware that a moment of silence is often remarkably persuasive – sometimes even more effective than a shout. With some children a few seconds of silence in the house – punctuated by the slam of the car door – can galvanise even the hardest headed and recalcitrant child.

Parents also use the dreaded `episcopal boom’ in during attempts at effective and directive conversations with their children. This is when parents make their voices sonorous and meaningful. The boom is not usually used when asking for the salt to be passed – but is employed when trying to make a child appreciate the importance of completing an eleven plus paper. “But it is for your own good!”

There is also the artificially sweet tone of voice which can be used in a pleading or soulful manner. “Please dear, you only need to complete another few questions and we have got that nasty paper out of the way. Just think you will be able to watch your favourite programme. Please dear, just try to make me happy.”

A different technique employed by parents is to make utterances in a monotonous manner.

“Now dear, it is 4.18 precisely. Verbal Reasoning Paper 2, question 23 to 48. You time starts now.”

“But mum!”

“No buts – questions 23 to 48. You are using up your time.”

“But mum, you never look at me when you are telling me what to do. I am not a machine. I can’t even do question 23 or question 24. You know that. That is why we stopped yesterday. Please mum.” (Breaks down sobbing piteously.)

Being an eleven plus tutor and a parent is not always an easy path – but it is a rewarding experience. “Dad! Dad! I know how to do it now. Please come and look. I know how to do it! Thanks.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

Eleven Plus and Reading Lists

Teachers, parents and eleven plus tutors are always banging on about reading.

“You need to read to try to help your comprehension and reading vocabulary.”

“I have bought you all those books and you won’t even read one. What is the matter with you?”

“I can’t keep up with all the books you read. You are ten years old and you should not be reading adult books.”

We need to look back to 1844 (Graham) to find a debating topic on reading.

Reading for Amusement

Some books are read merely with a view to pass the time – novels etc.

This kind of reading may be innocent but has bad effects. History and poetry are preferable.

Our information depends not on the quantity but the quality of the books we read.

Light reading is more allowable to those who are advanced in age.

The young should never indulge in this sort of reading.

What would Mr. Graham have thought of Harry Potter? The Potter books are long and involved! Lots of light reading there!

Reading to pass the eleven plus must be, at times, rather soul destroying. Some children could rightfully complain that reading for enlightenment – and merely to pass an examination paper – must be pointless and a consummate waste of time.

Dear Librarian

Please help me. I have twins who are about to sit the eleven plus. They have different interests, my daughter loves horses and dancing, in that order, while my son likes action adventures.

My children have just turned ten. They are both Level 5 at school in English but the teacher said they needed to read more. They don’t seem to like the book that their father and I buy for them.

Please help. I don’t want to put them off reading for ever but I do want them to read a bit more.

Thank you.

Worried Mum

Some questions that the librarian may try to answer:

Is any reading better than none?

Should we encourage our children to read uplifting and seminal books?

Is quality more important than quantity?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Eleven Plus Feelings

Version 1

William: Oh dear. I did not do very well on the maths paper today.

Mother: Are you upset?

William: Of course I’m upset.

Mother: Are you disappointed?

William: I’m afraid that I won’t pass the eleven plus exam.

Mother: I suppose you feel that there is nothing that you can do about it?

William: You mean I need to do more papers?

Mother: More papers should help. Have you done your corrections?

William: I don’t know where I went wrong.

Mother: Well, look back over them and we can try them later on.

Version 2

William: Oh dear. I did not do very well on the maths paper today.

Mother: I’m sorry to hear that you did not do well on parts of the paper today.

William: Yes – it was the ones we went over last week. You know those hard ones.

Mother: Well there is something we can do about it then. Where can I help?

William: I don’t want to do another paper.

Mother: Quite right, you should not need to do another paper until we have those few areas sorted out together.

William: I don’t know where I went wrong.

Mother: Let try just one now and we can look at the others later on.

In first version the mother was describing be own concerns with the eleven plus. Should her son be doing more papers? What could he do if his marks were low? The mum is also helping her son to procrastinate.

The mother in version 2 is acknowledging her son’s problems but is working actively with her son to remedy the situation.

On the recent Easter holiday course one girl did remarkably well on a non verbal reasoning exercise – with around 92%. We all saluted her in an appropriate manner. The girl thanked us and then said: “My mum won’t be pleased and she will want to know why I didn’t get full marks.”

I am not sure who we should feel most sorry for – the girl or her mother!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Steak and the Eleven Plus

A perennial and pressing question that runs through the minds of parents is, “How well will my child do in the eleven plus?” Parents think constantly about the activities and the events that their child will need to work on as the examinations approach. They must also worry about what their child has to give up. Is too much time taken away from studying for the examination?

One key area that seems to need attention is the relationship between parents and their prized candidate. Does love and respect continue on both sides? Relationships between parents and children change all the time as children grown from need to independence. Some find a seismic change in their children after the eleven plus. Mother and father relax. The child feels that some of the pressure is off.

Some children enjoy a very happy relationship with their siblings during the eleven plus year. Some poor second children may have to put up with the cast off of the older one. Some children may even need to `put up with’ slightly dog eared eleven plus papers. The smug confidence from elder brother or sister who did secure a place in a grammar school could pervade and invade many conversations and conversational nuances.

Some children will enjoy a comfortable relationship with their teachers at school. Other children may get on well with a tutor or other figure of support. The role of parents and the significance of the examination will vary from child to child. Some children could receive unqualified support from their teacher at school. Others may be less fortunate. The lives of some may be enhanced by a supportive relation like an aunt or grand father. Other children will have the benefit of the patience and experience of a trusted next door neighbour.

A minority of parents may feel that there is a real need for an esoteric and highly theoretical pre eleven plus structure of work and play. Some children may respond in a positive manner – enjoying feeling conforming and controlled. Other children may respond better with for a more laid back and divergent approach. Some children may appear to be subdued by dogmatic and overbearing parents – but in reality are happy – because that is all they know.

Trying to predict the outcome of an eleven plus examination by looking narrowly at home background and the relationship between parents and their children seems to be doomed to failure. There are simply too many variables that need to be taken into account.

How can there be tension in a family if all are involved in solving an eleven plus conundrum?

An eleven plus family were planning to hold a barbecue. The family grill, however, only help two steaks at a time. Dad announced importantly: “It takes ten minutes to grill one side of this beautiful steak.”

Mum, who never liked to let an eleven plus opportunity pass asked; “What is the shortest amount of time to grill three steaks on both sides?”

Grill one side of two steaks for ten minutes.

Flip over steak number one. Place steak number two to one side. Add steak three to the grill. Grill for ten minutes.

Steak one is now done.

Replace steak two and flip steak three. Grill for ten minutes.

All three steaks are done. Easy?

Friday, April 16, 2010

An Eleven Plus Metaphor

The end of the Easter Break is drawing nigh. Thoughts turn to school. Some children may even need some new clothes. Your thoughts turn to what might have been accomplished. You say to yourself that you did your best under difficult circumstances. Suddenly you revive yourself thinking about contradictory proverbs.

You remember the time the family tried to solve that eleven plus problem and Auntie Edna, who was sure she was right, muttered: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

You may also recall that her husband, Uncle Bill, consoled us with: “Two heads are better than one.”

Auntie Edna then demanded: “Out please. You are not helping. Out of sight out of mind.”

You then started thinking that perhaps contradictory proverbs are a metaphor for the eleven plus.

“When children stand quiet, they have done no wrong.” (This follows the command to go to the bedroom and begin on a paper – or else!)

“Practice makes perfect.”

“The fairer the paper, the fouler the blot.”

And finally:

“Zeal is fit only for wise men, but found mostly in fools.”

Of course there is no proof for these statements – but it is possible that one or more of them may apply over the eleven plus year. The rider is that there is a limit to the forgiveness of parents. However wise, tolerant, loving, supportive, experienced and intelligent parents are, there could come a moment WHEN it all comes together. A parent may simply feel like stepping aside. This then is the wrong moment to take solace in a tasty little glass or two of `you know what’. Remember:

“What soberness conceals, drunkenness reveals.”

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Eleven Plus Warning

Ogden Nash wrote:

Family Court

One would be in less danger
From the wiles of a stranger
If one’s own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.

He must have been writing about the internet!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Eleven Plus Rewards

“What is a square root?”

“If you multiply a number by itself you find the square. The square root is just one of those numbers.”

“I still don’t understand what you have said. I’m sorry.”

“The square root of 100 is 10.”


“What is the three squared?”


“What is the square root of nine?”


“Would you like to do some more?”

Learning like this is called `signal learning’ and can be likened to learning definitions. If the eleven plus child is willing to learn definitions – and learn to apply them - he or she can acquire some of the tools necessary to pass the eleven plus. Leaning like this does not guarantee that the child will be able to recall what a square root is on the day of the examination. Constant repetition would help!

The constant repetition would help to consolidate remembering the definition. Unless the child became proficient in the application, then it is possible that even an able child could forget under pressure.

What would help considerably are the rewards that could be offered for remembering the definition – and remembering how to apply the definition. Usually a tick beside a piece of work is a strong enough reward.

Sadly bright children become a little bored, sometimes, if too much is made of the task. Parents and teachers sometimes need to wander along a remarkably fine line. No one would argue, however, that reinforcement really does work. Children can learn to develop a successful answering technique through signal learning that could be surprising resistant to becoming extinct!

“What is a squared number?”

“What is a square root?”

Well done!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An Eleven Plus Moral

Would this make a fair eleven plus question?

James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three.
James James Said to his Mother,
"Mother," he said, said he;
"You must never go down
to the end of the town,
if you don't go down with me."

Do you remember this poem from the wonderful A.A. Milne on `Disobedience’.

The last verse reads:

(Now then, very softly)
W.G.Du P.
Took great
C/0 his M*****
Though he was only 3.
J.J. said to his M*****
"M*****," he said, said he:

Could you expect an eleven plus child to complete the gaps?

(In eleven plus terms completing the gaps is called the Cloze Procedure. A number of different types of verbal reasoning questions rely on completing gaps.)

If, by chance, your much loved eleven plus child upsets you – then you could always read the poem together and reflect on the moral therein!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fair Eleven Plus Questions

You have two hourglasses – a four minute glass and a seven minute glass. You want to measure exactly nine minutes. How do you do it?

Is there a place for questions like this within the eleven plus?

In the first place the Eleven Plus Curriculum is what is taught, how its taught and how the outcomes are assessed. By having an actual examination it means that parents, teachers and children are concerned what is learned and how it is learned.

It is more likely that changes to the Eleven Plus Curriculum will be made if changes are made to the way that eleven plus children are assessed. At the moment of writing, however, there does not seem to be a groundswell of desire to change the present eleven plus examination system. Is this inertia? Is it apathy? Is the present test fair to all?

It is likely that most children, who are on an eleven plus journey, will do better at school as a result of the extra stimulation and enrichment. Some could ague that progress is made simply because of the pressure of the approaching examination. Others will maintain that children on eleven plus courses generally receive good tuition. Others will be glad that their bright eleven plus child flourishes because of the extra individual attention.

The eleven plus does provide clear objectives for teachers, parents and children. The ability to meet the objectives is clouded by the content of the examination. At the moment parts of the eleven plus examination can be made up of questions based on facts. This can lead to some children being drilled. Children who are receptive to being drilled could potentially do better on some parts of the paper to children who prefer to think their way through the examination.

What kind of child can solve the hourglass question?

Turn both glasses over. When the four minute glass runs out – turn the glass over. Four minutes have passed.

When the seven minute glass runs out, turn it over. Seven minutes have elapsed.

When the four minute glass runs over eight minutes have gone by.

The seven minute glass has been running for one minute.

Turn it over again.

When it stops, nine minutes have elapsed. (8 + 1 = 9!)

Is a question of this nature investigating the ability to learn to think or is it testing a skill that can be learnt? Some would argue that the question is a bit of both. If so, is this a fair eleven plus question?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Factors Affecting the Eleven Plus

One of the advantages of the eleven plus examination taking place when children are ten and eleven years old is that at that age a pleasant proportion of the aspiring candidates are still malleable and responsive. Of course there will be the occasional child with a behaviour problem but most children will be eager and willing to learn.

Each eleven plus child will be following his or her built in growth pattern and timetable. Some children will be mature and ready on examination day. Others may need a little extra time. Parents will be aware of the growth patterns of their own children. Over the years there will have been spurts of physical growth and advances in vocabulary and emotion stability.

Not all children will develop in the same way and at the same speed. Some children may offer evidence of emotional maturity as the examination grows closer. It is likely, however, that the eleven plus candidate will be physically active.

Some of the girls may be advancing through prepubescence.

It is likely that the eleven plus child will have many interests. Sometime this breadth and depth could potentially get in the way of completing eleven plus studies. This is where some children may need considerable support and understanding.

There will be times when our eleven plus children will need to feel secure and loved. Without question the children should be approaching the examination free of guilt and free of fear.

But how malleable will our eleven plus child be?

It depends.

What does it depend on?

Many factors.

Can the factors be controlled?

It depends.

Will parents every feel loved, respected and appreciated?

It depends.

What does it depend on?

Many factors.

Can the factors be controlled?

It depends.

Is this an easy time for parents?

Who knows!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Eleven Plus and Streaming

Some schools do not take children who have passed the eleven plus. These schools have a wide variety of names and ways of coping with, and educating, a wide range of children. Some parents may be heartened when they drop their child off at the first day of their senior school career because they will have heard that at some stage or another children will be put into some form of an ability sets. Years ago this used to be called streaming.

The ideas are that children are put into homogeneous sets according to their capability to do well academically.

The children who are placed in the lowest set or stream may have some difficulty with learning, or may have special needs. This in its way can cause an unstimulating class room environment.

When I was at school I was put in charge of the ninth cadet platoon. I was called the sergeant. The boys in my platoon were the boys who had difficulty in marching, did not always wear, or want to wear, the right uniform and most of them had a rather sceptical attitude to authority. These fifteen and sixteen year old boys were not interested in doing extra marching practice. They did not want to go to the firing range as a reward for extra practice. They certainly did not want any homilies from me about working together as a team and trying hard.

What ever problems I had caused the teachers at my school were avenged when I was put in charge of the ninth platoon. At this stage you must be waiting for a happy ending. No chance! On the final march past our platoon was last to move. They had seen prizes given to the glory boys. They had listened to uplifting words from some visiting dignitary. They were hot and tried.

The eighth platoon march off in good order. Left right, left right.

Some of our platoon did not start off on the correct foot. By the time the platoon reached the saluting point we were out of step. Two boys had fallen behind and were running to catch up. The command “Eyes Right” was ignored by some. I was told afterwards that two boys had turned their heads to the left.

Sadly, some of the crowd laughed. This did not go down very well. There were mutters and softly spoken words. The cadence was completely destroyed and there was no effort to march to the stirring music. For a few precious moments we were a team. We were a band of brothers. We were united in our hatred of the system of cadets, school and the world in general.

When I had received my sergeant stripes I was unconsciously proud. Possibly I was to learn that pride comes before a fall. When we stripped off our uniforms and handed them in after the parade I was proud and very relieved. For the rest of my school days I was not offered any position of responsibility.

Would group of boys from the ninth platoon in a grammar school behave differently? Would they be more mature? Would they respond to any special educational treatment? Would they volunteer for extra duties? Would they strive to be the best?

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Eleven Plus and Personality

Suppose the eleven plus examination was broadened to include personality testing. This would enable the grammar schools to select children with the right personality. Exactly what is the right personality for an eleven plus child is a matter for a wider discussion. A happy, cheerful eleven plus child may land up a happy, cheerful sixth former – but few would bet big sums of money on it.

Words like culture and adjustment may need to be taken into account.

Would there be a great discrepancy between the observed personalities of bright eleven plus children? Would high achievers be able to demonstrate a measurable personality at the age of ten?

The makeup of the Eleven Plus Personality Test ( EPPT) could be argued over infinitum.

Would the test be paper and pencil, delivered over the internet, a group session or conducted on a one to one basis?

Would the cues be delivered mainly through conventional words and pictures or through Twitter like utterances or even fast action videos?

Would the questions need to be phrased differently for boys and girls?

Can there be a category for fantasies? Will one be needed? Should ten year old children be fanciful?

Should the test attempt to measure anxiety, confidence, optimism,, bravery and cowardice?

Does the personality test need to look at the ability to solve problems?

Should parents be told what is in the test?

Does culture need to be taken into account?

Should eleven plus pre personality books and exercises be allowed?

Should the scores of the EPPT be added to the other eleven plus results?

Should the test rely on the Sentence Completion technique?

“If I was in charge of the eleven plus . . . . . . .”

“When they asked me to be in charge of the eleven plus . . . . . .”

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Value of the Eleven Plus

Is 56 on a paper good, bad or meaningless? It all depends! The idea of the eleven plus examination is to judge whether children can reach a pass mark.

The purpose of the eleven plus is to try to find children who will benefit from a grammar school education. The worst part of the eleven plus would be achieved if children had to commit facts to memory. It would be even worse if the eleven plus examination gave children facts – and then asked them to apply the facts.

The eleven plus could possibly be judged as a good examination if it produced results that were of value to the grammar schools. Some will argue that the purpose the eleven plus is bad – thus the examination would also be flawed. If selection is wrong then the eleven plus examination may also be wrong. But this can not be true because eleven plus children are expected to think and develop.

Of course there are stories of children who can pass the eleven plus without doing any extra work. There will also be children who can swim a length at a very young age or play an instrument or ride a bicycle. This is not to say, however, that the examination is worthless. It is still highly prized – and very worthwhile.

The great majority of children who pass the eleven plus have had to work very hard. They have to rise far above standards set at school. Their parents have to be involved and committed.

Every child who aspires towards the eleven plus needs to be commended.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Eleven Plus Dreams

What do children think about the eleven plus? Robert Louis Stevenson had an idea about what a seven year old thought of life.

He wrote “A Child’s Thought”

At seven, when I go to bed,
I find such pictures in my head;
Castles with dragons prowling round,
Garden where magic fruits are found;
Fair ladies prisoned in a tower,
Or lost in an enchanted bower;
While gallant horsemen ride by streams
That border all this land of dreams
I find, so clearly in my head
At seven when I go to bed.

An eleven plus child would be thinking about volume and area.

Stray thoughts about `The odd one out’ would pass through the consciousness.

The favourite verbal reasoning book would lie beneath the pillow.

The child would fall asleep holding a wrist watch murmuring: “I must move on.”

Pictures of the gates of the grammar school would glow in the darkness.

Exhortations from anxious parents would ring in the brain: “You will get a better job.”

The room for imaginary places and ideas would be curtailed.

“Seventy questions in fifty minutes. You can not afford to slow down.”

No castles, no dragons, no rescues, no gallant warriors, no fair maidens. Just work and work and work.

Bring back Robert Louis Stevenson.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Some of the Needs of some Eleven Plus Children

There are two arguments that are often put forward about the value of the eleven plus. The first is that the nature of the eleven plus examination will direct children to work harder and reach greater heights. A second reason is that it is hoped that the tests actually measure the ability of children. The problem is that some forms of the eleven plus do not set out to test true ability – but do test the ability to answer certain types of question.

The present form of the eleven plus allows grammar schools to find children who have reached certain levels. An achievement test tells how much a child has achieved. An attainment test tries to describe how much a child has attained. Elements of the present eleven plus seem to mix attainment and achievement. This could be unfair to some children who may have true ability but do not have the opportunity in the examination to show their prowess.

Parents, schools, eleven plus tutors, publishers and other interested parties are all involved in trying to help children achieve the present high standards of the eleven plus. The high standards are sometimes achieved by drilling children. Eleven plus children, however, have to be ready on examination day – regardless of what has happened previously.

If their child does not do well on papers or in the actual examination parents may, at times, feel let down. But the eleven plus requires parents to understand that the examination will not cater for their child’s creative and imaginative ability.

Boredom and resistance may, sometimes, creep into a child’s mind as he or she is expected to complete question after question. Very bright children may become accustomed to putting just enough work into a paper to keep his or her parents satisfied. A drive to achieve even higher marks may need to be weighed against the perils of having concerned parents an un-necessary set of tools.

“What do you mean you only achieved 78%? Last time you reached 83%. This is not good enough. You will need to try harder next time.”

We should want eleven plus children to be attentive, interested, involved and motivated. It would be wonderful if a set of eleven plus questions can be developed to cater for the needs of some of our brightest children.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Value of the Eleven Plus

It would be interesting to hear the views of parents, eleven plus teachers and children about the extent that working towards the eleven plus changes the lives of children and their families. After all the children are in the process of leaving primary school and going to secondary. Some children will pass the eleven plus and others will find themselves in a wide range of local schools.

A key question must be based around the extent to which preparing for the eleven plus helps a child to be ready for secondary school. A place in a grammar school should, in theory, provide the springboard to a wide range of opportunities. It is hoped, for example, that a grammar school will help children to develop their own talents. In some cases these developed talents may even ultimately help and benefit elements of society. A balanced look at education will insist that some children who attend other forms of secondary school will also be of advantage to mankind. It does seem, however, that a wider choice of career can be offered to those children who have the tools to be able to advantage of their education.

Does working towards the eleven plus actually give children skills they will be able to use in later life? Successive governments have insisted that strength is needed in numeracy and literacy. Eleven plus children studying mathematics are expected to achieve a higher standard that the majority of the rest of the children of the same age group. Enlightened eleven plus teachers and parents will be teaching towards the examination but also trying to provide the groundwork for any future career involving mathematics.

It also seems to be very important that eleven plus children do not become passive learners. We want our children to be articulate and able to express themselves. If this sometimes appears to look like confrontation it could be no more than a child trying to learn his or her limits in a changing world. Some children may also need to learn how to be good listeners. Years ago a teacher or a parent could say: “Shut up and listen to me!” Today a more understanding and diplomatic vocabulary is needed.

Some eleven plus children may need to learn to make a greater contribution to the family. For some children it could be something simple like picking up the dishes. Other eleven plus children may need to learn to be tolerant and forgiving. After all not everyone in the family may be blessed with the same natural intelligence. Eleven plus children, like all other children, need to feel a degree of respect for authority.

If some eleven plus children learn to work imaginatively and responsibly then it does seem likely that the act of eleven plus preparation is of value. Honest and diligent hard work may help some children to become a little more mature. Remember that bit by Keats?

The imagination of a boy is healthy, and the mature imagination of a man is healthy; but there is a space of life between, in which the soul is in a ferment, the character undecided, the way of life uncertain, the ambition thick-sighted: thence proceeds mawkishness.

We hope that attending a grammar school will help to fill the space.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Eleven Plus Zone

You would like to give your eleven plus child some advice about how to behave in the actual eleven plus examination. You should remember that every single one of your reactions to hard and almost impossible eleven plus questions will be mirrored in the examination. Any harsh words, muttered expletives and un-wholesome thoughts will be replicated. One further word of warning – if you are accustomed to leaping swiftly out of your chair to make a quick cup of coffee – then warn your loved child not to get up in the examination to take a short break.

If your child does meet horrible questions then suggest that he or she moves on. It is no good feeling frustrated and upset – there are lots of questions – try it and move on. Remind your child not to utter imprecations under the breath because they may become magnified in the silence of the examination hall.

Tell, no order, your child to feel good about the questions that were genuinely easy. Suggest that a mental pat on the back could help to build confidence. It is not clear if back scratchers are allowed into the examination hall. If they are your child could have a tremendous advantage over all the other children who would be watching your child to see if the questions were easy (two pats with the scratcher) medium (one pat) or hard (no pats).

Remind your child to relax. This is not the application of yoga in the middle of the examination. No sitting down in the lotus position while completing the paper. Mention that balancing on the shoulders with legs crossed may prove to be a little too much for the examiner. It is, however, something that you can do while waiting beside the car - provided you are not wearing a skirt.

Tell your child that he or she is bound to meet a few really bad questions on the paper. If the correct mental anticipation in place, the shock will be lessened. Leave it and move on! Repeat after me: “Leave it and move on.”

Warn your child that the examination hall will not be an environment of familiar household noise and hustle. There could be other children in tears, possibly some vomiting and certainly the squeak of other chairs. The T.V. will not be on in the other room. The washing machine will not be going through a cycle. The percolator will not be percolating. Keep calm. Keep focused. Do NOT whisper to your child that the only bad thing that can happen is failure.

Discuss the zone. This is the state of euphoria you hope your children will reach along with calm confidence. Astronauts achieve the zone prior to take off. Heavy weight boxers enter the zone as they stride towards the ring. A bride enters the zone as she is walking up the isle. You want your child to enter the zone when sitting waiting for the instruction to: “Turn over and begin.”

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Five Eleven Plus Rules

Is it too late to start eleven plus preparation at birth? Naturally when glances cross across the room for the first time men and women will view each other with interest. It could be a smile, or the sound of the voice or a flick of the hair – but deep down the initial reaction must be: “Could my prospective mate bear me a proud eleven plus child?”

Later on in the relationship the unborn child will be offered music, the correct food and a stress free life. Some parents may even start reading War and Peace and explaining the vocabulary – but this may be a step too far for some.

The first formal eleven plus instruction will need to be rather informal. After all the new born child does not learn the mother tongue in the same way that he or she will learn to do percentages in later life – there is a more gradual assimilation of language and knowledge. A few hours after birth a baby will offer a cry when feeling discomforted. Parents should not confuse this sound with those made when arguing about completing yet another eleven plus paper.

Naturally mother and father will respond to any characteristic sounds – they will sooth and try to alleviate discomfort. A gurgle of pleasure from the baby may be accompanied by chuckles and laughter from the parents – often followed kisses and hugs. Parents who are aware will remember these early precious moments – and carry them forward in their eleven plus preparation.

Rule 1 – Alleviate discomfort in the eleven plus child

Rule 2 – Lots of hugs, kisses and smiles

As the child becomes more articulate, then he or she will use words to express pleasure, misery and joy. Later on words may be used as tools in eleven plus arguments and discussions. “I am only doing it because you made me. I do not really want to do the eleven plus. I do not want to go to grammar.”

Rule 3 – Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Eleven plus children sometimes use manipulative language to declare their feelings. On other occasions they may choose to declarative language. The difference between these two forms of language may not need to be explained. (Some parents call declarative language arguing and manipulative language wheedling.)

Rule 4 – Don’t give in to promises. Parents need their child to understand that the eleven plus requires deeds not words

Rule 5 – Win some eleven plus arguments and lose some. Remember Demosthenes? He maintained that he who fights and runs away will live to fight another day.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Happiness and the Eleven Plus

At one time or another many families would have aspired to owning the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Thousands of people must have educated through the pages – long before internet search engines and wikipedia. An early contributor was James Mill (1773 – 1836) whose father was a village cobbler. Mills had nine children – and this is may have been one reason why he needed a continual supply of money. He was a tutor for some time to several Scottish families.

He became interested in a scheme to found a University of London and published an article on `Education’ in the fifth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Mill stated that the aim of education was to render the individual happy to both himself and to others. He did, however, acknowledge that the nature of happiness was a matter of controversy.

He selected:
Intelligence (knowledge and sagacity)
Temperance (command of natural appetites and desires)
Justice and generosity (benevolence)

Is there any connection between his ideas and those of our current eleven plus children? Naturally our eleven plus child must be intelligent and must be able demonstrate temperance (especially when called upon to do an unwelcome or untimely eleven plus paper). In addition the prospective candidate must be able to demonstrate justice and generosity – especially when one or either parent stumbles over some arcane eleven plus question. (They did their best.)

Mills maintained that a mere knowledge of facts was not enough. He wanted children to be able to develop the power to choose and develop ideas. There is great preoccupation in some eleven plus areas, for example, about the twenty one types of verbal reasoning questions. The current `educational’ theory is that if a child learns to cope with the twenty one types then he or she is fit to cope with a grammar school education. Shame on the protagonists of this narrow view of the eleven plus!

Mills himself started his three year old son on Greek and started teaching him Latin at eight. He also did not allow his son to have any holidays in case the habit of work was broken. (Shame on Mills!)

Is there a new eleven plus mantra for us to pursue? We want:

A happy child
An intelligent child
A child who can cope with pressure
A child with an inquiring and inquisitive mind
A child who is tolerant of the strengths and weaknesses of his parents – and who is not afraid to say thank you for what you have done for me.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Eleven Plus Change

Other teachers are often a most fruitful source of ideas. Some eleven plus teachers, however, have little opportunity to interact with each other. If one of more teachers gets a really good idea, then it could be hard to develop a scenario where other eleven plus teachers could share that idea.

When teachers get together the talk is often about school. Would eleven plus teachers be as eager to share their ideas? We would hope so because after all their common ground is helping their children to do as well as possible in the eleven plus examinations.

Most serving school teachers are likely to be used to a system of bureaucracy. They have their senior teachers, deputy heads and head teachers. This `system’ allows a fertile ground for developing strategies, testing ideas and receiving peer to peer feedback.

The continuous stream of new ideas about the National Curriculum offers long suffering school teachers the opportunity to communicate and think about change and the effects of change. Dedicated and involved teachers, however, have the chance to plan, design and evaluate ideas.

Eleven plus teachers who are outside of the school system do not have quite the same opportunities. This does not mean that the ability to help children to pass the eleven plus is lessened in any way. It simply means that some of them will not have the same opportunity.

The eleven plus examination in some areas appears to be a fairly set and closed type of exam. Aspiring eleven plus children have to learn a relatively narrow set of skills. There is little need for teachers to engage in continuous development. “I have used the same method for the last ten years and all my children have passed.”

It would be not be too hard, however, to imagine that every single one of these hitherto isolated eleven plus teachers would welcome the opportunity to interact with other teachers and have access to a wider stream of outside help. If these teachers had the time and the energy it is likely they would accept innovation and change.

We had a situation a few years ago in Bexley where children were only tested in mathematics and verbal reasoning. Non verbal reasoning and English were dropped. We had to change the way we worked in a number of centres. There was a major benefit in that there was more time to offer children work in greater depth, along with wider opportunities for revision and consolidation.

Bexley did not leave parents with ambiguous and general information. Their pronouncements and guidance notes were clear and uncluttered. The changes were easy to implement. We were all aware that there would be lots of questions that had to be answered very quickly and accurately.

If there were more planned changes to the eleven plus examinations then this could lead to a ground swell of demand for reform and restructuring. The `authorities that be’ may not, however, welcome change. Some parents, however, may welcome change and should be involved in any dialogue.