Is the eleven plus like a pigtail to some children? They know that the examination is there but they are not quite sure what it is all about. The children know they have to pass the examination and go to grammar school and get a good university education and then a good job with a big house and two new cars. This is the dream. What happens to a family if the hope can not be realised?
Thackery may have been writing about the Eleven Plus when he penned `A Tragic Story’
There lived a sage in days of yore,
And he a handsome pigtail wore;
But wondered much and sorrowed more,
Because it hung behind him.
He mused upon this curious case,
And swore he'd change the pigtail's place,
And have it hanging at his face,
Not dangling there behind him.
Says he, 'The mystery I've found -
Says he, 'The mystery I've found!
I'll turn me round,' - he turned him round;
But still it hung behind him.
Then round and round, and out and in,
All day the puzzled sage did spin;
In vain - it mattered not a pin -
The pigtail hung behind him.
And right and left and round about,
And up and down and in and out
He turned; but still the pigtail stout
Hung steadily behind him.
And though his efforts never slack,
And though he twist and twirl, and tack,
Alas! Still faithful to his back,
The pigtail hangs behind him.
This is another of the poems we were encouraged to learn by heart in our final year of primary school. (Before we went to the Big School.)
Three of the children in that class, as far as I can recall, were orphans. The orphanage was a large white building with dormitories for the boys and the girls. The children wore shoes to school and were then encouraged to spend the rest of the day in bare feet – to make the shoes last longer. It is difficult to think that how the children ever had the time and the desire to learn poetry. Older children would have looked after younger ones. Dreams and hopes may have been cruelly extinguished. Yet some of the orphans must have gone onto bigger and better things. The Fairbridge Orphans were sent to Rhodesia to be given the chance of a better life. We can but hope that at least some of the orphans went on to lead happy and fulfilled lives.
A large number of eleven plus passes, we are told, go to educated families living in good homes. Yet children do pass the eleven plus coming from unhappy and stressful homes. These children would need incredible ambition and a burning desire to do well. These characteristics are not the domain of the middle class. Yet some bright children seem to view the eleven plus as an exercise in frustration. It is almost as if they can not find their pigtails.