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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Eleven Plus Parents

Eleven Plus teachers have a much wider influence than solely working with eleven plus candidates. Outside of the eleven plus lesson other people have expectations of the role of the eleven plus teacher. There could be a teacher in a school who hates the whole idea of the eleven plus – and believes passionately that grammar schools should be abolished. Your child, in his or her eleven plus year, could be taught by this teacher. There could be a head teacher who operates his or her whole school on trying to help as many children as possible through the eleven plus. Your child, for example, could be `super’ tutored in the head’s spare time.

Outside of the school the eleven plus child’s family must also play a part. Parents could have differing views on the eleven plus – with one `party’ in support and the other in denial. The extended family of uncles, aunts, grand parents and cousins can also play a role in taking an interest in the progress of eleven plus preparations.

Then we have the school community. It can lie in the ebb and flow of the school playground. Eleven Plus tutors can be discussed – and accepted or rejected. (One man’s meat is another man’s poison.) A tutor who can be wildly successful with one child may not be as effective with another. A mother chatted to me yesterday. She explained that her older two children had had lessons with us – and that both had passed into the grammar system. She was now entrusting us with her third. I said `Thank you’.

The little eight year old popped up with: “My mother says that I am the brightest of the lot.”

She, the little girl, then went on to write a story about a girl who had a red hand bag with a magic potion inside. We enjoyed paragraphs and even direct speech. Many eleven plus boards have given up the idea of an examination in written English having the ability to select children – but her story would leave no one in any doubt that a fertile imagination, a wide vocabulary and the ability to communicate in writing could play a part.

Many teachers in Britain work under a national system – with a nation wide salary structure and universal standards of entry. Eleven plus teachers, outside of the system, however, can set their own hours, charge what they like and are largely unregulated. Eleven plus teachers are removed from administrative control. There would also be very little community control of his or her professional activities and leisure pursuits.

Perhaps the informal eleven plus `playground’ community could be augmented by a more formal `Eleven Plus Parent Teacher Association’? I had the privilege of being invited into a school sometime ago where there was a sign: “No parent is allowed through this door without permission.” Some Eleven Plus teachers would enjoy a much more relaxed relationship with parents. I remember reading, however, many years ago, a report by Jackson and Marsden (1962) which pointed out that some of the working class parents of grammar school children were rather hesitant to enter the school to discuss their children.

The role of parents in the eleven plus saga has not, however, been carefully documented. Yesterday I met another mother who was reading a book and listening to a tape at the same time. She had borrowed the book and tape from the library – and explained that she had come to England some years ago, was still struggling with English, but really wanted her daughter to pass the eleven plus.

Hearing this tale of effort and dreams reminds me of a poem I read many years ago. Parents have to make choices about their children – and some choices are not easy. Parents just want the best possible lives for their children.

Twaalf jaar oud, toe gee my pa
Die sekel in my hand:
“Die somer sal jy kromstaan, seun
Jou sweet laat op the land.

Twelve years old, my Dad then put
The sickle in my hand:
“This summer you’ll stand bent, my boy,
You’ll sweat into the land.

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