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Thursday, March 17, 2011

What Price the Eleven Plus?

Many years ago the Germans, the French the English and most of the rest of the world were at war. The war was won – the French went their way and the English theirs. Robert W. Service published his book of poems about the First World War in 1916 called `The Rhymes of a Red Cross Man.’ He dedicated the book to his brother Lieutenant Albert Service who was killed in action in France in August of 1916. I am remarkably lucky to have a very early edition of this book. One poem stands out in my memory:

The Little Piou-Piou

Oh, some of us lolled in the chateau,
And some of us slinked in the slum;
But now we are here with a song and a cheer
To serve at the sign of the drum.
They put us in trousers of scarlet,
In big sloppy ulsters of blue;
In boots that are flat, a box of a hat,
And they call us the little piou-piou.
The laughing and quaffing piou-piou,
The swinging and singing piou-piou;
And so with a rattle we march to the battle,
The weary but cheery piou-piou.

He was writing about the French Tommy who was also hurled into battle.

In the end France was liberated at great cost. The French went their way with their own style of education and the English went theirs. France has adopted a form of education where children are expected to strive and work hard. The English, in some areas, have the Eleven Plus which seeks to find children who want to get into a grammar school.

What would the men and women who died in such dreadful circumstance have thought about education today? Was it worth the sacrifice?

I worked with a remarkably bright little girl today. She treated the team of teachers and teacher assistants around her with a clear glaze and a confident smile. I like to think that those warriors from the past would have been delighted to have met her.

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