After the Second World War, when the eleven plus was being established, the education in England was vastly concerned with the separation and distribution of powers between the central government, and local authorities, and schools. The eleven plus was just one of many initiatives trying to offer the best possible education to the widest possible number of pupils.
When later Governments brought in the National Curriculum it was believed that it could combine higher standards with better management of resources. A school’s results could be recorded and measured with elements and degrees of uniformity. It became possible to compare schools within authorities – and indeed parents could even compare the effectiveness of different local authorities.
The Government of the time did not want a comprehensive testing and assessment service. Their plans, however, were attacked. Today the standard assessment tasks (SATS) are still under heavy criticism. We have seen, for example, the forced abolition of SATs for fourteen year olds. The eleven plus examination, however, has persisted. The SATs tests tried to offer formative as well as summative assessment. The Eleven Plus, however, is different. It is a battery of tests conducted over a few days, at set times, regardless of the weather, how a child is feeling and the amount and degree of preparation.
The present eleven plus examination is, however, set by the market. Parents want to feel that their child has been well prepared and has gained enough insight and knowledge to be able to do full justice to the demands of the examination. For some parents the golden goal is measured by how many papers their child has worked through.
Somewhere along the line the eleven plus may possibly be supposed to be able to bring into line a bright child’s rights and educational needs. After all, the eleven plus is supposed to be able to cater for many bright children sitting the same examination. There is still some degree of uniformity of the nature of the eleven plus. At a highly practical and pragmatic level children writing different eleven plus examinations have to be prepared in slightly different ways.
Parents can not call upon the government to act to develop a level playing field. Would any parents offer the consoling words: “If you can’t stand the fat, keep out of the kitchen?”
Other parents may argue, “If you think the eleven plus is unfair then leave the conversation.”
In one sense it is great to be outside of the control of central government. In another sense, firm and fair direction may help to deliver a more level playing field.