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Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Isolation of the Eleven Plus

The eleven plus is a strange examination in today’s world of enlightened education. The `Eleven Plus Authorities’ see their main role as organising an examination that uses tried and tested assessment techniques. The eleven plus examination is not designed to cater for the needs of the underprivileged or the special needs of the less able. The eleven plus is unashamedly an examination where the first few past the post win.

It would be unwise to link all the teachers and tutors concerned with the eleven plus as a single homogeneous body. But the very nature of the examination must hinder any new developments in terms of the need for new and fresh approaches to ability. Why should anyone at all want to promote a fresh approach to the publication and dissemination of new eleven plus materials before there is a substantial shift of opinion as to what constitutes ability?

For those actively engaged in teaching eleven plus children it can be an exciting and eventful journey. It is wonderful to see how bright and able children meet the challenge of the wide range of eleven plus material that is available. We are sometimes blessed by a child or children who bring in materials that have been downloaded from the internet. An example of this is sometimes found in analogy questions. An analogy is an analogy – but some publishers and authors seem to try to make questions not only demanding but wildly obscure.

It is possible to meet analogies, for example, in both verbal and non verbal reasoning exercises. An eleven plus analogy looks at a set of words (verbal reasoning) or symbols (non verbal reasoning) and encourages the child to try to apply this relationship to other words or symbols.

The questions that are set in the actual examination are tried and tested. The children are not faced with a pile of esoteric questions because each question has earlier been used with a group of children of a comparable age and level. The examination is fair and carefully controlled. An open licence is, however, offered to anyone - through guise of the internet – to allow anyone to set themselves up as purveyors of `invaluable, essential and carefully controlled’ practice questions.

Is the eleven plus a sacred cow? Is it carefully protected and carefully managed? In the minds of some, however, there must be a slightly uneasy feeling about an examination that is undertaken in isolation from what is happening in a number of schools.

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