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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Bruising Eleven Plus Experience

We all probably have a number of names for a game which has rather simple rules.

One child holds out his or her clenched fist. The other, friend or foe, hits the knuckles as hard as he or she can with his or her knuckles.

As the game proceeds the knuckles become more and more bashed and bruised. Neither side can give up. The first one to withdraw is called a baby.

There are a number of names for this game. Some call it `knuckles’, others `knuckleduster’. It is likely that that there are many different names for the same trial of bravery and fortitude.

We worked last year with an extraordinarily bright child. She should have sailed through her eleven plus – but instead she failed her verbal reasoning paper. This is a girl who consistently attained high marks in any of the standardised test we offered – and in all the tests she worked through at school. It is difficult to recall if she ever needed help with any verbal reasoning exercise. She had good comprehension and a broad reading vocabulary.

I had an opportunity to ask her what had gone wrong. With remarkable insight – and some degree of sadness - she explained.

“I was enjoying the paper. I suddenly realised that time was running out. I panicked. I tried working quicker but kept looking at the time. I started guessing. The girl beside me started crying. I could not concentrate. I just guessed.”

As a teacher, and as a tutor, I am sad that this wonderfully articulate and deserving girl is not enjoying the fruits of a grammar school course.

Her parents did not ask for help with an appeal. Unfortunately there was no place in the grammar school for a girl who ran out of time. The children who did pass deserved to pass because they did not run out of time.

The inflexibility of the eleven plus system, however, feels a little at times like the game of knuckles. It is possible, sadly, for bright children to fail the examination. It is possible that some potential scholars leave the eleven plus saga feeling bruised and bashed.

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