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Friday, September 30, 2011

Eleven Plus Learners

It is possible that, at times, some of us must wonder just how eleven plus children learn. Parents, teachers and tutors will all approach the act of learning in a different manner. There must, however, be some common elements.

The degree and extent that child are prepared to talk about the examination. Is the language sometimes a little more hostile than on other occasions? The method a child uses to be assertive about learning. “No mum, I can do it. Please leave me to try these on my own.”

How often a child refers to past eleven plus experiences and exercises. “Oh yes. I remember. It was slightly different – but I think I can try these on my own.”

The way a child resorts to reason – to demonstrate that he or she can offer solutions to problems without asking for help.

The manner in which a child maintains: “I don’t know how to do this.” Is the child going to do something about working on a solution or simply rely on an explanation?

The way in which the child going to be able to cope with differences of opinion. This is not necessarily about what and when to work – but could be about methods of learning and teaching. “My teacher does not do it in that way.”

How flexible the child is prepared to be. Will he or she actually listen?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Eleven Plus Partnership

The eleven plus is sometimes a judicious partnership between parent and child. As in any partnerships there will be rifts and disagreements as well as co-operation and `partnership’. Children have to cope with the anxieties and resistances of the parents. Parents have to take into account their child’s attitude to the eleven plus, extra work, possibility or failure and the sheer enormity of the task. Some words work both ways.

“Don’t worry dear, you will be all right.”

“Don’t worry mum and dad, it will be all right.”

Parents and their children have to keep regrouping and working on their relationships. For parents it must be very difficult, at times, to try to keep slightly detached from what has to be learnt and the manner in which it is learnt. If parents agonise too much over a wrong answer they could be sending the wrong message to their child. In the examination a child may find that he or she needs to `have a go’ at a demanding question. (Is `having a go’ the same as a guess?) Children, however, may need to understand the need for order in their parent’s lives. After all if we can’t completely order our own lives we can at least have a go at ordering the lives of our eleven plus children!

Is it possible that some parents may, at times, be guilty of a little introspection? Do I have the right papers? Should I believe everything I hear in the playground? What else does my child need to do in order to show independence and conscience? I am sure my child has the ability – but why is he or she so laid back? Should I take the pressure off for a bit? Should I take the pressure off all together? Why am I putting myself under so much pressure?

Years ago friends and family may have suggested therapy and psychoanalysis. Today most parents can twitter or blog their frustrations to the world. They can face book their friends and vent their worries to a wide audience – in the hope of therapeutic help and advice. The couch of the psychoanalysts of Freud’s era has for many been replaced by the prospects and dangers of our current technological world.

“Come now, Eleven Plus Parent. Lie back, place your phone to your ear. Phone a friend. Now close your eyes and think of pleasant things. The sound of water in a stream. The hum of wind in the trees. Your child saying, `Don’t worry mum, I won’t tell dad. I will do my best. I will work hard and pass.’.” You may gently side into oblivion bolstered by your child’s comforting words.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

An Eleven Plus Diary

How can eleven plus teachers evaluate what their pupils think about them? Children, as well as parents, are likely to want to know that they are on a satisfactory curriculum and are being taught in effective ways. It may be that widespread monitoring of the experiences of eleven plus children could help to bring about changes in the eleven plus.

A child knows that he or she is going to arrive at a tutor – or work with parents. There may even be some remarkably lucky and able children who do not need eleven plus preparation. “My child never opened a paper and still passed.” Other children may be cared for by siblings. Aunts, uncles, grandparents and neighbours who will all, surely, make some form of contribution. The internet offers endless papers and learning experiences. Who can take on each of the child’s experiences and help the eleven plus child to assess its relevance?

What happens if the eleven plus has simply evolved into an examination where children are expected to spend their eleven plus time working on papers, revising mistakes and learning new concepts? Surely there should be more time for discussion?

I remember reading about an evaluation of a lesson where pupils spent most of the first sixteen minutes listening and observing. The last fourteen minutes were spent in writing, sometimes talking – generally in a sitting position. Where would the children have been most attentive? While the teacher was talking or where the children were engaged and active? Does this then mean that a child sitting for half an hour working through a paper is engaging in a pointless exercise? We must all hope not – otherwise a whole industry would be decimated and wiped out. It must be reassuring for parents to have the evidence of the labour of thirty minutes – where their child was quiet, absorbed and visibly engaged.

It may be that an eleven plus diary could be a valuable tool in understanding a child’s view of the eleven plus. How many children would start their daily diary with the words:

“Dear diary. I was called to do my eleven plus work. I did not resist because I knew I had to do the work – and anyway I wanted to do the work. ”

The diary could, possibly, go on to say: “I love it when my parents sit beside me while I am working. I don’t mind if they don’t speak – but I do like their company. I find it reassuring.”

Would a diary comment on the quality and extent of eleven plus papers? “My mum keeps saying that it is only twenty minutes a day. But some papers are a bit similar. I never meet anything new or interesting.”

Possibly the diarist would talk about friends at school. “My best friend never has to work on eleven plus papers. Well that is not quite true. My friend only works on a Sunday morning between eight thirty and nine. I have to do twenty minutes every day – which is one hundred and forty minutes or over two hours a week. I think that my parents are trying too hard – but don’t please tell them I said so.”

Is a bright and able eleven plus child qualified to comment on the effectiveness of their eleven plus teacher? Should the child’s comments be listened to? Would an analysis of five hundred diaries give us something new to think about?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Eleven Plus Learning

Will experiential learning ever catch on in the preparation of children for the eleven plus? One understanding of the term could be to try to help eleven plus children understand and make use of their own experiences in preparing for the eleven plus. The teacher, or the parent, has to take into account the emotional side of learning or revising a topic. Does the child need more support to be able to make use of what has been learnt? Is it enough to offer an explanation and hope that what has been taught will be retained – and will be ready for use in the actual examination?

A different sort of experiential learning could be role play – here the child could act out, for example, preparing for the examination – as well sitting the examination. Once again the emphasis would need to be on trying to help the child emotionally and intellectually. Some children may respond to being taken to the gates of the grammar school to look at the buildings, grounds, the pupils and the teachers. Here the child’s parents could discuss what it could be like to travel to the school, the sporting facilities that can be seen and what attending a grammar school could mean.

Experiential learning could try to provide a powerful and effective experience – that could be both realistic and meaningful. After all, if we can involve a child in a way that influences intellectual development, then we may have found a way to involve feelings, values and attitudes. Could this be part of the secret of successful eleven plus teaching?

As teachers and parents we may prefer to use the tried and tested methods of teaching topics, using selection papers and imparting information. It may be easy, for example, to set part of an eleven plus paper, mark the work and then discuss the results with all concerned. It may be far more difficult to try to think of ways of making the` candidate’ think and talk about what has been learnt.

Eleven plus children no longer need to rely on a set of eleven plus papers – because their learning can come from many different sources. Eleven plus teaching needs to try to keep pace with the changes and nature of learning.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Eleven Plus Confusion

There are some words that some parents do not need to hear: “We do not do it that way at school.”

Do you remember hearing about the `Naughty E’ and `Tired Letters’?


This is usually found at the end of word, following one consonant. The vowel sound changes in the word to the `name’ sound.

(Is your explanation different? Would the school have used different words?)


Tired letters are k as in knight, w as in write and b as in comb. There are others at odd times.

Suppose your child meets a perfectly ordinary eleven plus sum. “37 men, each do 7 hours and 35 minutes work a day. For what total working time, in a week of six days, does their employer have to pay wages?”

Your eleven plus child will immediately tell you that this could not happen in France – as the working week is much shorter. You will also be informed a seven hour day is not possible under EU laws. Your child may then go onto tell you that he or she has already worked hard at school and under present EU laws the extra eleven plus work is illegal.

You then proceed to work out the answer. You will arrive at 683.5 hours very comfortably. Your child will inform you that the school do not do it that way. “We do not do it that way at school.”

“Dear we have discussed this before. All I was trying to do was to show you an alternative way of arriving at the right answer.”

“Yes but I am confused.”

“Do you understand that all you have to do is to multiply the seven hours and thirty five minutes by thirty seven and then by six?”

“Of course, what do you take me for? But can’t I multiply the thirty seven by six and then multiply out the 7 days and 35 minutes?”

“Yes dear. You are correct. Well done for thinking for yourself.”

“I am still confused. I don’t understand your method of multiplying. We don’t do it that way at school.”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Role of the Eleven Plus

Does the eleven plus examination rely more on diagnostic ability than on intelligence and ability? The eleven plus tests attempt to measure ability – and the tests rely on a notion of what intelligent children should be able to achieve in a public examination. How some bright children must long to meet tests that transcend the practice papers they have working through so assiduously?

There could be a strong case for parents and concerned educators to push for an examination that tests children in new and exciting ways. If, however, you want to know how bright a child is then simply ask the grandmother. The grandmother of a four year old will be able to tell you how well the mother or the father did at school. The grandmother of a ten year old will be able to remember the outstanding accomplishments of the whole family – and will be able to advise the parents the likelihood of the present eleven plus candidate being able to pass the examination.

We call an infant ` intelligent’ if he or she appears to be bright and alert. A lively and inquisitive child can also be called intelligent – especially if he or she appears to have a sunny disposition. Would we call a stubborn child intelligent? Do eleven plus children need to be stubborn?

We give our eleven plus children lots of practice in working through papers and exercises. We offer the best possible tutors and opportunities. We hope that all this extra work will transfer to the test situation. We just hope that while our eleven plus child can learn to perform well on a practice paper – we can never be quite certain that he or she has learnt enough to be able to perform well in the examination. So is there a case for different type of eleven plus examination? Does our present eleven plus, for example, rely too heavily on our vision of the present role of grammar schools?

Perhaps an example can help to explain this thesis. In Canada, during the Second World War, the army tried to develop parallel tests for French and English speaking personnel. The hypothesis was that there should be no difference in test results between French and English speakers. It was quickly evident that a test was developed for a French speaker could not be standardised in the same way as test established for an English speaker. It is not that held there were differences in the ability of the French and the English soldiers – but that the tests discriminated poorly.

In our melting pot of present culture – can we sure that the present eleven plus tests are culture free? The present eleven plus may be weighted in favour of one type of child. It is possible that grandmothers from other cultures would favour one type of intelligence over others. Many years ago the Ideal was that the eleven plus would be able to find intelligent children from all walks of life. The eleven plus at its inception was supposed to be able to select candidates from isolated, underprivileged and restricted communities.

Do our present eleven plus tests favour children from urbanised environments? Would there be any mileage in trying to develop new tests that stretch children from wider horizons? Should the present eleven plus tests be trialled with children with other language skills? Should the observations of grandmothers be taken into account when offering a place? (“Your uncle Gary, a few years older than you, was very good at playing and acting – but we could not rely on him. He never made much of himself. We hope that his new wife will be able to straighten him out.”)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Eleven Plus Mathematics

What type of mathematics questions could inflame the imagination of eleven plus candidates? At some stage children will enjoy the reassurance of a set of mechanical exercises –while at other times they will enjoy the challenge of problems.

A gap year student travelled, as a tourist, 50% of his journey by car; 25% by train; 12.5% by ship; 10% on horseback; and the rest, 5 kilometres, on foot.

1. What percentage did the tourist travel on foot?

2. What distance did the tourist travel altogether?

3. What distance did he travel by car?

4. What distance did he travel by train?

5. What distance did he travel (a) by ship (b) on horseback?

Do we concentrate on the question or do we take the opportunity of discussing the pros and cons of the gap year and talk about our own experiences? Is there time in the eleven plus year to make digressions? Do we try to impress the child with stories of strange foods and fleas in unlikely places?

At what stage of the eleven plus approach should we expect the eleven plus child to say: “I know – I will add up all the percentages”? Is this question suitable for a very bright Year 4 child or for an eleven plus candidate just before the examinations?

How quickly can we expect a child’s mind to see the relationship between the percentage travelled on foot and the distance on covered on foot – then work out how to translate this information across the whole question?


1. 2.5%

2. 200km

3. 100km

4. 50km

5. (a) 25km, (b) 20km.

Our eleven plus children have to know about fractions, decimals, percentages and how to manipulate numbers. Without this knowledge the gap year question above would remain shrouded in mystery and frustration. Perhaps we expect too much of some eleven plus children yet others will relish the challenge of a juicy problem. You could, for example, ask your child to solve the problem set by Augustus de Morgan:

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite them

And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Eleven Plus is but Days Away!

Monday's child is fair of face

Tuesday's child is full of grace,

Wednesday's child is full of woe,

Thursday's child has far to go,

Friday's child is loving and giving,

Saturday's child works hard for a living,

But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day

Is bonny and blithe and good and gay

Does the day of the week your child does his or her eleven plus have a bearing on results? We know that the month a child is born in has a bearing on standardised scores. On a given test standardised scores are worked out to try to take into account the age of a child.

Age 10.5 Standardised Score 120

Age 10.6 Standardised Score 119

Age 10.7 Standardised Score 119

Age 10.8 Standardised Score 117

Age 10.9 Standardised Score 116

But the day of the week?

Would a child born on a Thursday have a better chance of passing the eleven plus than one on a Wednesday? What happens if a child is born at 23.59 on a Wednesday? Does that child almost fall into the category of who will and will not pass?

There is not all that much most parents can do about the day their child is born. Would some parents favour a hard working eleven plus child to one that is fair of face?

Can parents demand that their obstetrician ensures a delivery of their child on a favourable eleven plus day? Think of the saving on papers, tutors, transport, courses, mock tests and the like!

“Please Doctor. I would like a hardworking, but nice looking child who will grow up to go far.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cats and the Eleven Plus

When your child tries to solve a problem you may find that sometimes he or she is trying to formulate a hypothesis. Your child may not always make random guesses at an answer – and sometimes a seemingly random answer may be an attempt to describe the logic or the thinking behind the response.

Those of us who own cats may understand that true trial and error lies in the domain of cats. If anyone can prove that their cat has performed a logical and complexly understandable task I am sure we would all like to hear. Your child may not adopt the same methods that you see so clearly when solving a problem – but it is highly likely that he or she will have used far less trial and error than you may want to comprehend. A cat, for example, may try a trial and error approach again and again on a problem where the solution is elusive. Your child is far more likely to recode the question in his or her terms.

The language your child uses when trying to solve a problem can sometimes give a clue to how your child is coping with the situation. If we look at a simple exercise – which word does not belong?

Mouse cat dog tree lion

We can see that tree does not belong. You child may, however, see immediately that the words `cat’ and `lion’ are members of the same family. This then leave a dilemma and having to choose between mouse and tree. Of course the leap is then made that a tree is not an animal so the word `tree’ must be the odd one out.

Top Tip

Suggest, very gently, that your child looks at the relative associative strength of words when tackling some types of verbal reasoning questions.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The National Curriculum and the Eleven Plus

It is sometimes rather difficult for some of us to try to equate National Curriculum Levels with the demands of the eleven plus. “If my child in Year 4 is now Level 4C in mathematics – is he or she on line for the eleven plus?”


Each Level is divided into three sub levels, e.g. 4A, 4B and 4C. C The child has started to work at the level, B Working well within the Level and A the child has reached the top of the level and is working towards the next level.

Levels 2A, 2B and 2C
Below expectations - Approximately 25% achieve these levels

Levels 3A, 3B and 3c At the level expected - Approximately 75% of children achieve this level.

Levels 4A, 4b and 4C Beyond expectations

Levels 5A, 5B and 5C Exceptional - The top 1% achieve this level.

By the time your Year 4 child writes the mathematics tests in the eleven plus examination, you would hope that your child can think and reason at Level 5. This is not to say that all the questions on the paper will be couched in Level 5 terms – but the more advanced questions on the paper will rightly require mathematical reasoning `Beyond Expectations’.

We know that children are expected to work their way through one level every two years. Children, starting on some aspects of eleven plus work, sometimes appear to have to climb to achieve a full level in much less than a year.

Will a child on Level 4C, at the start of the Year 4, reach the next level up in a year?

Hard work, a clear focus and real dedication by all concerned will help!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eleven Plus and the 1944 Education Act

According to the 1944 Education Act:

‘The schools available for an area shall not deemed to be sufficient, unless they are sufficient in number, character and equipment to afford for all pupils such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their differing ages, abilities and aptitudes’.

Many children, teachers, tutors and of course parents will be gearing up today for a cycle of eleven plus examinations tomorrow. All concerned will be willing their children to do their best in the examinations. We need to look back to the 1944 Education Act – and thank the foresight of those pioneers who did so much to determine the future of Education in England. We need to wish the children sitting this year every good fortune for the future.

“Good luck – all you can do is your best.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

Eleven Plus Questions and Answers

For some eleven plus children the wait is over. Other children still have it all before them. Some children and their parents may feel, at times, a powerful need to question the eleven plus and all that it stands for. Other children will relish the approach of the examination and say: “I can’t wait!”

It would be interesting to compare the answers of the `Still to Write’ versus the `Have written.”

When you look at your parents, could they have done more to help you with your eleven plus preparation?

Would you say that you could have done more work?

Did your mind wander sometimes or was it reasonably easy to concentrate?

Were your parents able to help with eleven plus papers or did they call in outside help?

Was there a marked difference in the approach of your mother and that of your father?

Did your parents expect you to be obedient or were you allowed lots of freedom?

Did your school do much to help with your eleven plus preparation?

Do you really want to go to grammar school?

Will grammar school be the right place for you?

Would you have liked to hear more last minute advice or have you had enough?

What will you do after the eleven plus examinations?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Eleven Plus and Learning

Some of our eleven plus children need to be taught lots and lots of skills and techniques. Other may need to learn and retain facts. There may even be some that need some help with learning to think. A few eleven plus children may need to learn to stand on their own two feet. How much, however, of the work covered by working endlessly through the eleven plus papers, will be remembered?

At eleven, when I was at school, we were taught Latin. Lots of this `dead language’ has been retained. Was this because we had wonderful teachers? Were we drilled or simply `expected’ to learn the different declensions?

Indicative Mood

1. Present Tense

Amo I love or am loving

Amas Thou loved or art loving

Amat he loves or is loving

Amamus we love or are loving

Amatis ye love or are loving

Amant they love or are loving

2. Imperfect Tense

Amabam I was loving

Amabas thou wast loving

Amabat we were loving

Amabamus ye were loving

Amabatis ye were loving

Amabant they were loving

3. Future Perfect Tense

Amavero I shall have loved

Amaveris thou will have loved

Amaverit he will have loved

Amaverimus we shall have loved

Amaveritis ye will have loved

Amaverint they will have loved

Would selection for the eleven plus have been easier if Latin was part of the modern eleven plus curriculum? Think of our children having to learn to distinguish between indicative moods?

He will have learnt

We were learning

They are learning

(Some children may possibly remember that the word `learn’ in Latin is `disco’ and also the word `learned’ is `doctus’.)

Would an eleven plus child be better off learning something reasonably useful such as the roots of many of our words, or studying the highly abstract technique of dealing with analogies or codes? Latin and codes may possibly be equally esoteric and `dead’, but uttering a sentence containing the words `I shall have loved’ may be a very useful attribute to bring to an interview for Oxford or Cambridge.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Jelly and the Eleven Plus

As you look fondly at your eleven plus child, hugging the T.V. switcher and resisting all of your bright and energetic suggestions, you may care to recite a little poem by William Cole.

How Sad

There’s a pitiful story - ah, me!

Of a young English girl called Nellie.

Who stared dumbly all day at TV

(Which in England is known as `the telly’) –

She died ….. and the reason you see,

Was that her brains had all turned to jelly.

There may be some children who have arrived at the door of eleven plus examinations without really being ready. Most children need to have obtained a consistent stage of development before they can comfortably cope with eleven plus work. There will be many individual differences but some children will be readier than others.

The eleven plus year is full of secondary factors such as emotional stability, intellectual ability, stresses of parents, unsuitable materials and possibly inadequate teaching methods. Some time ago a little girl joined us who was on the special needs register at school. She passed her eleven plus because her parents wanted this to happen. They moved heaven and earth to make sure she had the right learning environment at home and remained a happy and well motivated little girl.

The eleven plus is not a universal examination as it takes place in only a few Local Authorities. Some parents move home to try to help their child towards the eleven plus.

Where ever the child is being educated, eleven plus parents will generally try to offer a life free of stress and worry. Children with jelly between their ears may not, however, do all that well in the eleven plus.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Relaxing before the Eleven Plus Examination

Some children are writing eleven plus examinations tomorrow. Other children will be writing next week. It does seem possible that some parents may need a little help with feeling relaxed. The root word of `ataraxles’ means calmness – where one is untroubled by mental or emotional excitation. Some eleven plus parents, just before the examinations, may want to feel peaceful and content and free from all mental anxiety. It may be a bit too late for most children to do much last minute work. Relax, chill and enjoy your child’s company.

Some parents may know a whole lot more about the Indian snake-root remedy called `Rauwolfi Serpentina’ than I do. The very name of the drug seems to open up immense possibilities. Your eleven plus child, for example, will be able to tell you that the word `wolf’ is hidden as is the word `serpent’. We cordially invite parents with experience, however wishful, to share any information with us.

If your child does appear to be a little concerned about the actual examination and the consequences – then you may care to try to reassure your child, endlessly, that the examination is but one of many to come in life – and that all he or she can do is his or her best.

We do know that Siamese fighting fish under the influence of reserpine and meprobamate, will not only refuse to fight but will retreat usually backwards. Even if the fighting fish meet an untreated fighting fish they will retreat and swim away.

As you relax with your child – take out your notebook and start making all the words you can from `reserpine’









More words may spring to mind. If you, and your eleven plus child, can find more words, you may feel yourself relaxing. A little voice may say to you: “You have done the best you can. Enjoy the weekend with your child. You do not need medication because your child will return every good emotion you can offer.”

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Eleven Plus Girls - 50 Years Ago

The Norwood Report of 1943 prepared the ground for later reports and investigations.

The authors of the report had a feeling that some girls may wish to change their attitude to work and life in general - if they attended grammar schools.

That girls would become aware of standards of excellence.

That girls would learn to ceaselessly quest after truth for its own sake

Inherent in the discussion on what girls would be able to make of grammar school was the concern that everything that was taught was becoming increasingly compartmentalised. Some girls, for example, were taught Latin. The Latin examination became Latin Grammar, Latin Translation and Latin Composition. Each of these subjects was taught as a separate subject in the time-table.

In 1946 girls were tested for grammar school through:

Written attainment tests in English and arithmetic

One of the standardised intelligence tests

An interview

An interpretation of parental wishes.

In the early days of the eleven plus girls were often offered another shot at selection as some were allowed to take the 13+. (This was offered on the grounds that some girls developed later than other girls!)

We must all be grateful that the content of the material and the direction of today’s eleven plus girls must be vastly different to that of fifty years ago. Some of us, however, would welcome the opportunity of girls to be able to take an examination at 13+ as a right not a favour.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Eleven Plus Thinking

Some years ago, before the eleven plus became such a large part in the lives of many parents and children, an educator called Kirkpatrick was highly critical of traditional education. He did not like the idea of children being taught individual subjects like mathematics and English – but he wanted to combine the subjects to take away the need for fixed attention to the subjects.

He used the example of a boy and corn.

He said that if you wish to have corn you give the boy a plan to grow the corn.

If you wish `boy’ rather than `corn’, in other words you want to educate the boy and not focus on the corn, then you let the boy make his own plan.

Does the eleven plus offer us a dichotomy between helping our children to pass the examination and helping our eleven plus child to grow and develop?

Kirkpatrick wanted education to have a real purpose. His formula was:


The next time you approach an eleven plus exercise with your child you could consider asking yourself – is this an exercise for my child as a learner to help him or her grow and develop intellectually and academically? Or, are we working together on an exercise to pass the examination?

More simply is the eleven plus more about what to think rather than how to think? If so, shame on those who set the examination. Shame on the publishers for allowing this to happen. Shame on the grammar schools who allow an examination where the children who pass are good at what can be taught and learnt. Shame on us, as parents and teachers, for allowing this to happen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Eleven Plus and Changing Schools

Have you ever heard stories about parents moving their child to a new school where they think that it is likely that their child will be properly prepared for the eleven plus examinations? We actually know of one set of parents who moved their child from a small class of about 24 children to a school that claimed a 100% eleven plus pass rate. The new school, however, had only entered two out of 23 children for the eleven plus. We just hope that the new school allows the new boy to enter the examination!

Suppose that the numbers to crunch are a little bigger. Parents do not always leave everything to chance. They could collect the data over a few years until they had a reasonable number of eleven plus candidates to analyse and dig into.

Boys: Pass 75 Fail 125 = Total 200

Girls: Pass 24 Fail 76 = 100

Totals: Pass 99 Fail 201 = 300

These are called obtained frequencies. If there was to be no difference in the proportion of passes between boys and girls we would expect two thirds of boys to pass and one third of girls. This is called `expected frequencies’.

Boys: Pass 66 Fail 134 = Total 200

Girls: Pass 33 Fail 67 = 100

Total 99 Pass and 201 Fail = 300 children.

We now have Boys: Pass + 9 Fail -9

Girls: Pass – 9 and Fail + 9

The totals all add up to 0.

Some parents may wonder why there were more boys than girls sitting the eleven plus examinations in the school. There are some who may firmly believe in the water. It could be argued, for example, that lots of limestone may cause more boys to be born in a particular neighbourhood.

If of course you believe the limestone fallacy you will probably not believe that changing your child to a school with 100% eleven plus passes will be advantageous.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Eleven Plus Pressure

There are many types of training for arduous examinations. Soldiers, for example, go on training courses - with naturally variations to allow for the intellect of the individual.

One factor that appears to be constant in many types of military training is how the soldiers are kept apart from the rest of the world. Isolation is considered to be an important element of early stages in moulding the individual.

Secondly we know that trainee soldiers are sometimes given schedules where fatigue is an important element. The soldiers have to keep their kit clean – and there is no opportunity for any form or relaxation in the early days of the course.

Tension is also an integral part – can the trainee rise to the levels that are demanded? It is almost as if some instructors try to build uncertainly into the course. Will I pass? Will I be good enough?

Finally the instructors seem to try to keep humour out of speech and events. There would be few jokes as the trainees learn to listen and obey.

Where does this fit in with eleven plus children?

“Go to your room and study. I will see you in an hour and expect a paper to be completed.”

“I know that you are tired after school. Just work through this exercise – you said yesterday that you would do it. Pull your socks up and do your best.”

“Of course we want you to pass the examination. The eleven plus is important. You could be offered a place in a grammar school. You simply have to do well.”

“This is not a funny matter. There is no time for jokes. You need to settle down and do your work.”

Thankfully very few of us would consider such a brutal course of action with our eleven plus children. Very few parents would allow their child to become too tired and feel isolated. Humour and a complete lack of tension are essential.

Many eleven plus children will face their examination this week – or in the next few weeks – and many eleven plus children will be happy to enjoy the examination feeling sure that once the examination is under way the pressure if off.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Eleven Plus and Lonely Locations

This is a photograph of Shornemead Fort.

The fort is on the River Thames - long walk but a short bike ride from Gravesend.

The fort was built as one of a number of measures aimed at looking after a route to London.

As the men worked on guard duty - waiting for something to happen, some of us may wonder how the soldiers passed their time? What percentage could read and write? Did any of them go on to enjoy the benefits of further education?

If the eleven plus had been around, would any of the waiting have had time to think about examinations - or would this have been the preserve of the `stay at homes'?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Eleven Plus Winners

Would game playing be able to solve some eleven plus problems? Matrices can come up in some types of reasoning questions. Matrices are to do with grids. There are columns and rows. Eleven plus children are usually asked to complete a pattern. One great eleven and highly useful element of the matrices is that is often possible to solve a matrices problem without using any words. This offers the chance of progressive tests of matrices being used in cross cultural studies.

Suppose that you make a grid out of string on your carpet. You could then gather up shapes with squares, circles, oblongs and triangles. In this exercise the shape would need to be more important than materials, sizes and thicknesses. You, and your child, could arrange the shapes in columns.

Row 1. Square Triangle Circle Oblong

Row 2. Square Triangle Circle Oblong

Row 3 Square Triangle Gap Oblong (Row 3 has a gap – waiting for a shape.)

Row 4. Square Triangle Circle Oblong

Do you need to say anything to suggest that your child needs a circle to complete the matrix?

Now ask your children to turn their backs. Remove one shape. Does your eleven plus child dart forward with the correct shape? You are nearly there.

Now you complicate the game. Ask your eleven plus child to set up the shapes in a new pattern – but to keep the rule secret. You then turn your back – while your child sets up the matrix. (You may need to ask your younger children not to divulge the sequence while you try to understand your child’s reasoning.)

This exercise may help you to understand your child’s thinking – and your reaction to his or her endeavours. After all you may not need any words to solve the problem. Equally you may be forced to say to your child: “How on earth did you do that?”

Who then becomes an eleven plus winner?

Friday, September 09, 2011

Hints on an Eleven Plus Interview

A few eleven plus children may be setting off to interviews in the next few days. Some parents may care to prepare their children for what could, possibly, lie ahead. Naturally some parents will feel that their child can cope with anything. Other parents may not approve of their child being offered a few points. For the rest of us, however, some gentle suggestions.

The interviewer may ask your child about the school that he or she is in – and about the facilities that your child’s present school offers. Remind your child that not all interviewers know everything in the world! Your child could be asked about favourite subjects, or about least favourites preferred teachers – and why.

Your child may also be asked about the amount of preparation that has been done before the interview. Has the school been visited before? Has your child been shown the prospectus or the web site? Are their any relatives who may have attended the school?

The interview may then go onto why your child wants to go to that school. What is the motivation? What homework will the school require?

Then come the most subjective part of the interview – your child’s ability to project his or her personality. “Sit up straight. Do not slouch. Hands on knees. Feet neatly crossed. Smile. Then smile again. Do not mumble. Speak up!”

Some does and don’ts:

Please try not to over prepare. You do not want your child to try to regurgitate answers learnt by heart. These answers have the potential for your child to stutter and try to remember exactly what he or she was told.

Remind your child that he or she should not pretend to know the answer.

And finally, suggest kindly but firmly, that he or she should not remain dumb. Children who talk too much can be accommodated – as too much chatter could be nerves. Single word answers are un-necessary. A `Yes’ or `No’ is not good enough. “Answer in threes. Three sentence answers, please, dear.”

“I want to go to your school because my grandfather went here. I like the look of your science lab. I want to be a scientist one day.”

By the way – prospective parents should not wander through the school grounds kicking aimlessly at stray plants. If you do happen to see any rubbish pick it up – someone may be watching you too!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Eleven Plus and `Why?'

Sometimes parents of eleven plus children have to help their children to face up to the realities of the eleven plus year. Reality does not necessarily mean stern faces, being locked up in the bedroom and being encouraged to do paper after eleven plus paper. Reality can mean the family coming together to make decisions. As soon as `the family’ face a problem in its early stages, there could be much less chance of the problem becoming an obstacle.

Suppose, for example, that you are a mother and you think that your ten year old son has a problem with communicating. You see your son with his friends, laughing, joking and making a noise. As soon as your son looks wearily at the immense pile of eleven plus books and papers you have bought for him he grows quiet and pensive.

(“What is she on about? Has she forgotten that I am only ten? I know I should never ever call my mother `she’ but even kids have limits.”)

Some mothers will see a solution in simple black and white terms. Others will feel that the word `communication’ has shades of grey. A mother might think: “I wish my son would talk to be about his concerns and worries. I know that he cares. I am sure he is bright enough. Well, we will just have to muddle through.”

Only a mother knows just why she wants her son to work seriously towards the eleven plus. She can discuss her `problem’ with her family, friends, husband and partner. A mother also has to worry about her son’s apparent withdrawal from wanting to tell her everything. The halcyon days of the six year old are gone for ever. He is growing up – but hopefully not away.

Defining the problem in explicit terms may help. Consider:

How to stop my child playing football in the house.

How to stop my child playing football while he or she should be doing eleven plus work.

Asking `”WHY?” after each problem may help.

How to stop my child playing football in the house.

Why? Because the ball may break our `things’.

New Problem: How to stop things being broken.

Possible solutions: 1. Take the ball away. 2. Distract the child with a threat or a promise. 3. Take the things away.

How to stop my child playing football while he or she should be doing eleven plus work.

Why: Because my child should be working.

New problem: My child and I are not communicating.

Possible solutions? 1. Listen lots and speak little. 2. Massive bribes. 3. “Wait till I tell your father.”

As you have may have noticed, asking `Why?” produces many more solutions.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Eleven Plus Fun

It is likely that most of us will have heard of Karen Hardy of Strictly Come Dancing fame. Some of us, however, may be interested, in a different way, with the work done by Karen Horney.

Karen Horney worked in 1937 on Personality. She may have been talking about the eleven plus – but we know that she was not because in 1937 the Eleven Plus had not been invented! She gave an account of our troubles.

She felt that modern culture (as it existed in the 1930s) was based on the principle of individual competition. She felt that competitiveness led to potential hostility that pervaded human relationships in our culture. (Would that be true of the eleven plus world? Is the eleven plus too competitive? Do some parents become a little driven and competitive? More papers. More exercises. More work!)

Karen Horney also felt the potential tension between individuals resulted in a constant generation of fear. (Yes dear, we do want you to do well in your eleven plus so that you can go to grammar school, then university and not land up like Uncle Jim who became a millionaire at 23 because of his inventions. Our family knows that money is not everything.)

Her third premise is one that may possibly resonate with some in the eleven plus world. She postulated that people felt they amounted to something when successful and felt worthless when defeated. (If your poor child does not reach 72% on an eleven plus test does it mean that he or she feels a failure? If so, how do you rebuild confidence before the next set back?)

So where does Karen Hardy come into the eleven plus equation? Very likely there is simply no connection. She does, however, seem to have the ability to help her protégés to rise to heights – and maintain a sense of fun at the same time. A whole lot of eleven plus children would enjoy a mum and dad who could help them to heights – whilst the family was having fun.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

We Need an Eleven Plus Champion

Is there not a need for a new quango? What about an Eleven Plus Ombudsman?

We do not have a national eleven plus body that can look after the needs and worries of eleven plus parents. Different authorities have a range of guidelines, ambitions and preferences. There is no co-ordinating body that brings it all together. Nothing seems fixed at all. There are `experts’ scattered all over England. The experts will range from classroom teachers, to dedicated heads, eleven plus tutors, publishers, grammar schools and especially knowledgeable parents. This range of expertise gives a gravitas to the entire eleven plus scene.

There will always be vigorous debate about the eleven plus from parents in the playground, at meetings, through twitter, face book, blogs and on the internet. This debate has the ability to keep key issues before all these groups. No curriculum changes can come from all this confusion – parents are faced with an overload of information, rules, regulations, dates and content. The authorities are able to feel that they are in control of their own little eleven plus world – because there is no mechanism for parents to be able to question and debate.

Eleven plus children are prepared for examinations with a wide variety of objectives. The quality of eleven plus work and the comprehensiveness of approaches must vary from teacher to teacher and tutor to tutor. Some parents will feel that they can rely on books, papers, on-line tests and sheer hard work. Other parents will want to call in professionals to try to help to prepare their children. Some parents will even be producing their own materials – to augment the wide range of material that exists at present. Fortunately new materials are at the heart of the eleven plus.

Some parents will want their eleven plus children to be taught from materials that consist primarily on facts, questions and answers. Other parents may want their children to be taught by inquiry methods or develop attitudes to papers, questions and answers.

On-line lessons with a live tutor have been able to bring technology, tutors, candidates and parents together in new and innovative ways.

Children do need to base elements of their learning processes on concrete specifics – rather then relying fully on abstract and conceptual thinking. Of course eleven plus children must discover key elements for themselves. The children can not be spoon fed – and they should not have to rely on expository methods of learning.

Who then can bring this hegemony of myths, theories, dictates and regulations together? We can’t rely on public opinion – because since the 1960’s there has been little appetite to attack the concept of grammar schools. We need a sword bearer – a Joan of Arc – who can stand up and be counted. We need someone, or some formal or official body, who will be listened to and respected. Our present eleven plus scene needs an Eleven Plus Champion.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Brothers, Sisters and the Eleven Plus

The eleven plus can be reduced to a series of riddles. Would we expect an eleven plus child to be able to work out?

“Brothers and sisters have I none, but this man’s father is my father’s son.”

While the rest of the family argue over the answer we could look at a Sioux family in action. At a certain stage, after the fifth year, brothers and sisters have to learn not to look at each other and not to talk to each other. A Sioux girl would be encouraged to confine herself to female play – and to stay by the tepee near to her mother. The boy was encouraged to join older boys – first of all in games and then hunting.

Sioux girls are expected to play with dolls – but the boys are often introduced to `bone horses’. These are small bones three or four inches long which the boys gather where animals have been killed. The bones are called horses, cows or bulls – and play a similar role to that of the toy cars used by boys in our society. Every effort is made to build a boy’s self confidence. A Sioux boy has to treat his mother with unswerving reticence and extreme respect. A Sioux girl, however, was taught to become a future hunter’s mother! She was taught to cook, sew and conserve food.

Brothers and sisters are not permitted to sit with one another – or have face to face conversations.

Just think how much easier a trip to France by car would be if warring siblings in the back seat did not fight with each other!

Just think how much easier it would be if boys always treated their mothers with extreme respect!

Just think of how it would be if the whole family worked together on some eleven plus questions. Who among the family can solve this little conundrum?

Ben can complete a job in fifteen hours. Mary takes only twelve hours to do the job.

How long would they take if they worked together?

The answer? It may be a little simpler to follow if all the family work together! Someone will come up with the right answer!

In one hour Ben does one fifteenth of the job.

In one hour May does one twelfth of the job.

There fore in one hour they do one fifteenth and one twelfth of the job – which makes three twentieths.

Therefore they could do the job in 20 divided by 3 hours – which is 6 hours and 40 minutes!

Just a thought – who in the family knew the answer?

“Brothers and sisters have I none, but this man’s father is my father’s son.”

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Eleven Plus Watches

There is something that we all know a little about – something to do with the only thing that is certain in life - death and taxes. In the eleven plus examination the only thing that is certain is that time passes. The examination starts and ends – and in between there are questions requiring answers. You heard it here first!

Start simply with your child. Make sure that your child knows how to recognise the numbers on the watch. (There could be Roman numerals.) Make sure too that he or she can work out when the `fifteen’ arrives. Do lots of work too on when half way should arrive and what to do when there are just ten minutes to go.

If you child is take his or her watch off and place it on the table before the examination starts then spend time suggesting that the 12 is always at the top. Remind your child why the hour hand is often smaller than the minute hand. Discuss why the examination may need, at times, to be broken up into five minute segments.

By the way – keep mentioning that times passes in a clockwise manner. It shoots off to the number immediately preceding the hand. We can have eleven plus time after the hour and eleven plus time before.

It is likely, however, that a most effective reward for telling the time accurately is a present of a new watch just before the eleven plus. The mothers and fathers who `lend’ their child a watch for the duration of the examination could possibly consider that their child is growing up. Just as it was considered politic to offer a colleague a watch on retirement – so an eleven plus child seems to need a watch to mark the passage from working towards an examination to duly completing a competitive examination.

Ideally the watch should have large face so that it can be seen easily. It may also help to have easily discernable numbers. The eleven plus is not the time for Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. Parents could consider a clear face and clear numbers. The eleven plus is also not really the place for a watch that can tell the time all over the world, or shows how deep your child can dive or has an alarm that has the potential to startle the most diligent eleven plus candidates.

One or two parents may even want to talk about the passage of time.

"Take your watch off when you sit down.

Face your watch towards you.

Look at the clock on the wall. See how the time tallies with your watch.

Look closely at the instructions that tell you how long the test will take.

Work out for yourself when half way is.

Work out for yourself when there will be ten minutes left to go.

If there are fifty minutes and fifty questions you have a minute for each question.

If you have fifty minutes and eighty questions then you need to be around question 40 when you are half way.

By the way, put your watch on when you stand up after the examination."

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Eleven Plus in a Can

Can ever parents expect the eleven plus to be delivered “Straight from the Can”? This could, to some, imply that the eleven plus can be sourced, ordered, cooked (when necessary) and delivered straight to the child. Of course the plethora of internet sites make the route to success appear, to some, to be relatively straight forward.

Some of us tend to think that canned food is an American invention. But `canned’ is essentially a British term named after the canister that an Englishman, Durand, chose back in 1810 as a pattern for the first metal food container.

At one time canned good were seen to be the preserve of the lazy and the unenlightened but canned food can bring us out of season food. Canned food can also deliver delicacies and foreign foods. We know that the large supermarket chains can bring us food from all over the world that is not in a can – but a glance along the shelves shows that, to some, the ubiquitous can still has a place.

To make the canned food appear pure, uncontaminated and nourishing we know that it had to be canned in a sterile environment. This helps to preserve the food. Some beef was recently consumed that was drawn from a tin taken on Sir Edward Parry’s Arctic Expedition of 1823. It was said to be just as good as any of today’s food. Few meals, however, can rely simply on canned food. Most of us today would regard the contents of the can as simply ingredients rather than as a meal in itself.

We do know, however, that simple precautions have to be taken with cans.

An unopened can must have a smooth appearance. No dents and bulges please!

Take care when opening a can – the edges of a tin can be vicious.

Do not leave food in the opened can before storing – always empty the can into a different container.

Further to these suggestions some may care to read the instructions on the side of a can. I am reading the instructions on a Green Giant Original – made in France for Great Mills with a best before of July 2014. (And it has to be eaten before 19:07 on that day!)

Prospective eleven plus parents can take heart. The best before date is the date of the eleven plus examination. Children can not take the eleven plus examinations if they are not in the eleven plus band. Some children, in some schools, can take the eleven plus while they are in Year 5 – but this opportunity is few and far between.

An old eleven plus ode, sung by some wise heads, starts with the stirring words “Little and Often”.

A “Rush at the End” can do more harm than good.

“Slow and Steady” springs to mind.

Finally a canned eleven plus result can be obtained with the present wealth of eleven plus resources – but this can only be an ingredient. Children need attention, focus, compassion, interest and discipline. Can this be canned?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Eleven Plus Freedom

Do you remember back to your art classes? Did these lessons offer the opportunity to throw aside the well ordered convention of the classroom? Were you offered materials and equipment and encouraged to be creative and think beyond your normal bounds? Did you feel at home as you walked into the classroom?

Was the classroom neatly ordered in rows – or was it a glorious setting for piles of paper, pots, brushes, collage material and drying paintings and creations? Were there heads made of newspaper drying on a ledge? Was the classroom a maze where navigation was hit and miss and it was difficult to walk in a straight line?

What about your art teacher? Was your teacher larger than life or rather introverted and lacking in charisma? Would you love, just for a few moments, to be ten again and be asked to create and let your ideas sing?

The eleven plus year makes some children into slaves to papers, tutors, scores and the aspirations of their parents. To some children it may possibly feel like a ritual dance.

It is Monday. 4.15 “Take your position, please, for ten minutes on verbal reasoning.”

It is still Monday. 4.25. Mark the exercise. Go over errors. Accept praise where it is due. Utter: “May I be excused now please?”

Other very lucky and highly fortunate children will simply be able to avoid the regime. “We never do any papers. If my child can’t do then my child can’t do it. The examination will sort out the deserving and the brave.”

Some children may like a little of everything.

Freedom to choose what and when to work.

Freedom to alter the timetable.

Freedom to be able to ask for extra work.

Freedom from a formal eleven plus ritual and regime.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Mock Eleven Plus Tests

We have been working with children on Mock Eleven Plus tests. A Mock Test is just that – it is not the actual test. Mock tests do not always have to concern themselves with what has been learnt. That is the place of a diagnostic test. Mock tests do, however, have to look at what could be in the actual test.

We could look, for example, at a number of scenarios where rehearsals take place.

When people take their driving test they are advised to precede their test with lessons. Some have lessons with driving examiners and some with members of the family or friends. On the day of the test the driving instructor can take the candidate for a final lesson before leaving the car in the hands of his student and the examiner.

When the `big’ marriage of this year took place we saw the `Royal Participants’ arrive for a rehearsal along with close attendants. We were not shown the details of what happened in the wedding rehearsal. Did either fluff their lines? Did the priest remember the lines of the ceremony? Was the organist on time? Were at least some of the flowers in place? Did the T.V. cameras work?

Parents are naturally concerned about the performance of their children in a mock test. Did my child find it daunting? Was her or she aware of the passage of time? Should I have done more? How should I react to the test results?

For some reason or another the acting profession appears to have a wide range of views on the outcome of the dress rehearsal. There are some thespians who feel that a poor dress rehearsal augers a good opening night.

In a mock test the test has to try to be a valid measure of the task. If the mock test is based on an inaccurate analysis of the task faced by the eleven plus children then the result may not be reliable.

There is one more factor to be taken into account – does a mock test really present sound predictive validity? Will the results of a mock test predict future success in the actual examination?

The mock test will have helped children to understand:

How instructions before the test were administered.

The need for careful timing.

(One boy brought a large clock that he set before him and he was very aware of the passage of time. Well done to all concerned at home and at school.)

How to cope with toilet needs in the examination.

(One girl had to ask to leave the room in the middle of a timed Non Verbal Reasoning section – and so lost valuable time that could not be made up.)

How to cope with last minute instructions from parents.

How to cope with comments from other children in the break between examinations.

(“It was so easy. I finished every thing with time to spare.”)

Waiting for results.

What parents will do with the results – are the results a time for celebration?

In a mock eleven plus test there must be some form of assumption that the test does not have to cater for the needs of the entire population of children. A mock eleven plus must be able to look at the needs of bright and able children who are about to be faced by a real life public examination. A mock eleven plus test does not need to fit into a normal curve of distribution.

The actual results will have some children who do very well and others who do not fare so well. All your child can have done is his or her best. What more can you want?