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Friday, November 11, 2011

A Useful Eleven Plus

Few of us will be able to disagree that we get the eleven plus examinations we deserve. The papers and eleven plus exercises we buy for our children – as parents and tutors – are geared towards the eleven plus. Year after year there must be some able children who miss out on a grammar school place because the examination does not suit.

We are used to hearing stories about young men and women leaving university without strong basics in mathematics and English. We read of employers who take on new graduates only to find that their ability to communicate is limited. In among these graduates there may even be some ex grammar school pupils alumni! Oh! Woe is me!

It is possible for some children to earn a place in a grammar school without equivalent strength in English. Does this really matter? The strident call can be made: “Leave it to the grammar school. The English department will sort them out!” If, however, children had to have elements of strength in aspects of formal English the role of the grammar school could be different.

Some eleven papers seem to be rather contrived and `twee’. This is where a formula developed by one established publisher is followed slavishly by a myriad of copy cats. It is fascinating to see new entrants to the market setting out papers in similar styles. Does this not erode the ability of our eleven plus children to think and reason?

When our eleven plus children are two years old, and are stringing sentences together, we do not teach them by saying: “The words you used in your sentence `I can play’ is in the present tense. Do you remember how you put the words into the past tense?” The eleven plus examination does not deserve a similar formulaic approach. In the same way we do not want the eleven plus to become a ground where children have to be able to distinguish between pronouns and prepositions. The examination needs to be far more creative and `useful’.

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