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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.”)

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