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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Eleven Plus Families

“My teacher does not do it that way!”

Method 1

Multiply 143 by 276.

                   x     276
                  etc etc

Method 2

Multiply 143 by 276.


We know that some children can be placed in a group called `The Highly Creative’. Other children may be thought of as `The High Intelligence Group’. 

If we look back to our school days it is likely that some teachers would have preferred to teach the `High Intelligence Group’.

If we offer the two different methods of multiplication to be considered by our immediate family we may find some embracing the `new’ way of doing the multiplication.

The factors affecting the decisions made by the family would need to include:

The age of the parents and, possibly, the age of the grandparents
The education and occupation of the various members of the family
How much the parents are satisfied with the school in general and the National Curriculum in particular.

Would highly creative parents grasp the nettle and learn a new way of multiplying, or would this be left to the highly intelligent?

Reassuring for every eleven plus child is the confidence that their parents are both highly creative and highly intelligent!

Eleven Plus Instructions

The instructions at the beginning of some eleven plus exercises may need to be different to those at the beginning of the actual examination. We can give an instruction along the lines of: “Give one word with the same meaning as each of the following words: `Tuition, Training, Coaching.”

We can also offer the advice that it is important to follow the instructions very carefully as the eleven plus examiners are trying to find children who can follow instructions as well as children who are clever and able.

Parents and teachers alike could also say: “Do not get struck on one hard question, you can always come back to it at the end, if there is time.”

For the eleven plus examiner the rubric or instructions which candidates have to follow need to be enforceable to try to make sure that all candidates have the same opportunities.

We cannot force a child to leave out hard questions. We can, however, ensure that all eleven plus children have the same amount of time to do the test.

Some parents may consider trying to help their children understand the logistics of the examination. In the examination all children have to start on time and finish on time. Some children may need to consider that behaviour before, during and after doing a paper at home may, possibly, need to be very different to conduct in the actual examination. Is this called prudent housekeeping?

The Concept of the Eleven Plus

Would some parents pray that their child turns into a stereotypical eleven plus candidate? Would it be fair to presume that this wonder child works hard, is always obedient, friendly and is kind to small animals and parents?

Can parents rely on the evidence supplied by trained eleven plus observers to see if their child would fit into a category called: “Deemed successful at the eleven plus, worthy of a place in a grammar school.”? We would hope that a trained judge would be superior in interpersonal accuracy and understanding the influence of standardised scores, but would a trained judge want to include children who did not fit the stereotype?

We know that stereotypes would often follow similar behaviour.

We know too that it sometimes becomes rather difficult to make a judgement on a person who is remarkably different from ourselves.  

I used a picture of a group of Teddy Boys, taken from a website, to try to find an example of young men dressed to portray an image. Would it be impossible to take a picture of a group of eleven plus hopefuls and imagine that they could represent a moment in time? Years ago some people used to fear the Teddy Boys. 

Today there could, possibly, still some who abhor the whole concept of the eleven plus. Parents just have to stick together and hope that their children behave correctly on the day.

An Eleven Plus Shrew

There is a little animal called the Small Shrew who belongs to a group of mammals known as Insectivora. The group includes the shrews, elephant shrews, hedgehogs and golden moles.

Shrews are small animals with long pointed snouts. The snout is surrounded with whiskery bristles. The body is covered with grey hair.

Shrews feed on insects, and because they are often hungry they keep looking for food.

We also, sometimes, call a woman with a violent temper a shrew. Some people also think that a woman who continually nags is a shrew.

On the one hand a shrew is a busy little mammal – that needs to work hard to keep food on the table. On the other hand a shrew could be a woman who, potentially, could nag about eleven plus work.

In the `Taming of the Shrew’, by William Shakespeare, one of the characters attempts to psychologically manage a hostile woman into becoming a willing bride.  This is done by turning everything on its head. If something is done poorly it is praised.

We can now see a pattern emerging, no eleven plus child would want their mother to be a nag, and children should not fall for any reverse psychology offered by parents.

Eleven Plus Solutions

A number of us find codes a rather daunting task.

I have a 6d copy of a book on Behaviourism published in 1930. The preface was by Josiah Morse and he maintained:

“Scientists, like other human beings, are children of the age in which they live, and reflect it in their viewpoints and conclusions.”

Someone, somewhere must have decided that codes investigated and measured certain aspects of intelligence. Someone, somewhere must have decided that codes should be used in some types of eleven plus examinations as a tool to select children for grammar schools.

It must be reasonably easy for an erudite scholar or researcher to find out the` who, why and when’ of codes first appearing on an official eleven plus paper. We all know, for example, that it was the Ancient Greek, Democritus, who reduced the universe to a mechanism of atoms. Who reduced the ability to earn a place in a grammar school to a collection of funny nonverbal reasoning shapes?

If we did know the answer, we could at least pray to the right `Deity’ to help us to find some of the solutions.

An Eleven Plus Debate

Some eleven plus questions seem to have a range of different answers. It must be one of life’s sweet moments to be able to find an answer that is not in the answer book!

The poem, called by some `A Reply’, may have been written by Coleridge or even by Pope. Either or both of them may have been the author. A Mr Matthew Prior apparently also wrote the verse.

`Sir, I admit your general rule
That every poet is a fool;
But you yourself may serve to show it,
That every fool is not a poet.’

He also went on to maintain:

`From ignorance our comfort flows.
The only wretched are the wise.’

In a quiet and reflective moment at the traffic lights you could ask your child to read the two quotes, analyse them, reflect on them and then explain the overt and the covert meanings.

The exercise may prove to be the subject of a lively and informative debate.

Eleven Plus Compromise

There could possibly be a moment in the course of an eleven plus journey when some parents may feel that they need to lay down the law. Naturally most parents have a sixth sense that warns them when it is a good time to have confrontation – and when to back off.

Very occasionally the well-meaning parent may feel driven to despair.  Very few parents would even dream of engaging in physical or verbal intimidation.

Parents will more than likely also avoid like the plague any use of sarcasm or ridicule.

There is also the spectre of losing one’s temper – and thus, possibly, the battle.

And who in their right mind would want to allow a little squabble about working on an eleven plus paper to develop into full scale confrontation? This is where both sides can lose control and the eleven plus child feels that there is no escape.

If parents back off from a fight they are not necessarily losing authority. Key eleven plus words are `compromise’ and `negotiation’. 

Eleven Plus Relevance

How do parents know if the eleven plus questions their children are working from are relevant?

Do you remember the story of the Mona Lisa? It had been hanging in the Louvre for many years. In 1911 she was stolen. Three thieves, dressed as workmen, walked casually into the gallery before it closed. They hid in a basement room. The next day the Louvre was closed for cleaning. The workmen wandered around the hall, took the painting off the wall, and walked out of the gallery carrying it.

They then forged six Mona Lisas and sold them to Americans for $300 000 each. The gang were discovered and the Mona Lisa was returned. The painting was placed behind a thick glass panel and surrounded by electronic alarms.

A question in O. B. Gregory’s Essentials of Verbal Reasoning, published for the first time in 1963, had a question:

If XAFL means GOES, what does XAALF mean?

If a number of eleven plus authors use the question as a basis for their own papers – are the questions still relevant? After all, this aspect of ability was `discovered’ many years before 1963. The 1944 Butler Education Act advocated the use of a test to decide if a child should go to grammar school.

A test had to be developed that attempted to differentiate between the ability of many children. The test also had to be based on the idea of a normal curve of distribution. The curve suggested that there would be able and academic children at the top end of the curve.

Can it be possible that the question:  `If XAFL means GOES, what does XAALF mean?’ is still relevant? What part of the brain is the question testing? Has the relevance of the question been tested recently?

Monday, April 09, 2012

Eleven Plus Chances

If only the eleven plus was an easy examination. We all hope that the questions that are asked are relevant and valid. After all parents buy a pack of papers and then wonder if the questions in the examination are actually going to be similar. But there is one little niggle in the minds of some parents – does the eleven plus examination actually select all the children who deserve a place?

The eleven plus may possibly, at times, select the wrong candidates – and reject the worthy ones.

Suppose that 50% of eleven plus candidates were suitable for a grammar school education. An ideal test would give the following results:

Eleven Plus Success
Eleven Plus Failure



All those scoring high on the test would be deserving of a grammar school place.

None of the children scoring low would enjoy the benefits of a grammar school education.

If the selection ratio is only 1 in 10 then far fewer children would be able to pass the examination – and be successful.

Eleven Plus Success
Eleven Plus Failure



It is easy to see how the cut off level must affect the chances of some worthy children. If the cut off rises to 33% then the chances of the test picking only the `perfect’ candidates can be lowered.

Eleven Plus Success
Eleven Plus Failure



There is, however, one major caveat that needs to be considered. Very few parents are completely unrealistic about the child’s chances of passing the eleven plus. Children contemplating sitting eleven plus examinations are a remarkably select group. The parents of children sitting eleven plus examinations must therefore also be a remarkably select group.

An Expert's View of the Eleven Plus

There will be times when eleven plus parents feel that their child has the ability. There could, possibly, be other moments when parents wonder if their bright and able offspring is actually going to deliver on the day. Eleven plus parents, however, never give up: “It will be all right on the day. I know my child.”

Some parents may consider developing a simple expert system to help during the hours of darkness. To some it could be reasonably easy. There is a function in a spread sheet to do with the word AND( ).

(A1) The Eleven Plus Expert System


(A3) Is my child going to pass the Eleven Plus?
(B3) Yes
(A4) Am I certain that my child will pass the eleven plus?
(B4) No
(A5) Will my child need to do extra work towards the eleven plus?
(B5) Yes

Enter a formula, along the lines of, = IF (AND (B3=“Yes”, B4=”No”, B5=”Yes”), “Buy the champagne”, “Urge more work”)

It then is easy to keep altering the solution.

Some may feel that “Buy the champagne” may be a little premature.

Others may feel that their child is working hard enough. (Change” Urge more work” to “Keep going as we are”.)

Test the expert system by asking other eleven plus parents what they think. Add their ideas and comments to your spread sheet.

Ponder - even modern science cannot guarantee a pass!   

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Obedient Eleven Plus Children

Can parents ever expect, and demand, total obedience from their eleven plus children? There must be absolute obedience if a train is bearing down on the family at a railway crossing. Do children need to be equally obedient about doing extra eleven plus work? To what extent should children be obedient in the majority of eleven plus situations?

There is, of course, the legitimate authority of the mother and father of eleven plus children. Some parents may spoil their track record by constant repetition of a familiar litany: “How can you do this after all I have done for you?”

This is the obedience built up over a number of years – and is often tempered by fire! (Or an angry mother.) When the eleven plus child was two years old he or she probably knew that it would be unwise to carry a plateful of sticky doughnuts over the brand new carpet. A proud mother or father would possibly not even need to demand absolute obedience.

If, however, the child had reached the stage of working through eleven plus papers but had enjoyed a tempestuous relationship over extra eleven plus work, then it may become very difficult to try to pin the candidate down to serious study.

Many parents, at times, may wish that they had developed a fool proof system of agentic leadership. This is where the parents are firmly in command of the eleven plus situation. An agentic leadership style can be rather like a commander in charge of troops.  “It is time to go to your desk and start work. I do not want or expect any argument. Go now!”

Some children may appear to be naturally obedient when asked to do something in front of other people. “What a dear sweet child you have!”

Other children may appear to enjoy making as big a fuss as possible – when it is clearly a highly inappropriate moment. This, for example, is the two year old who throws a tantrum in the middle of a large and very busy supermarket. Will that same child throw a similar tantrum when asked to do some eleven plus work when the much loved grandmother arrives for a visit?

Aeschylus (525 to 456BC) was a wise Greek. He remarked on obedience:

“Obedience, you know, is Good Luck’s mother, wedded to Salvation, they say.”

“Dear eleven plus children,

If you are obedient, you will give yourself the opportunity of gaining eleven plus salvation!

Yours sincerely,

Anxious Tutor

An Elephant of an Eleven Plus Question

Are eleven plus questions always straight forward? Suppose they were confronted by a hypothetical question: “What is as big as an elephant, the same shape as an elephant, but weighs a lot less than an elephant?”

It is hoped that most eleven plus children will be able to choose the right answer from a selection of four. But what happen to those children who say; “Yes but, what about ….?” Some may even say: “No, I don’t agree, what about….?”

We often tell children to try to eliminate multiple choice answers that simply cannot be correct. A problem comes if there is a rather small difference between the answers. If children are given answers which have a wide range, some risky and some safe, then many children will opt for a middle option.

If we want conformist children who always go for the middle ground then it should be reasonably easy to build an eleven plus test that satisfies the majority. If, however, a grammar school wants a percentage of children who are prepared to think for themselves and argue a position – then the test become far more demanding to construct. The middle of the road thinkers could be penalised.

An eleven test cannot try to evaluate attitudes or opinions – as this could be provocative and challenging to some parents. After all, an opinion is sometimes rather subjective in nature. Eleven plus questions have to leave emotion behind.

So would your child opt for a safe answer to the elephant question – or would he or she be prepared to make an educated guess? Would you have nominated a shadow as the answer?

Eleven Plus Catchment Zones

An area of concern for some parents is the so called catchment zone.  We are aware that that house prices and occupational status helps to develop a community. An indirect consequence must be some schools becoming more desirable than others.

There could be an argument that the parents of prospective grammar school children would wish that their loved ones would aim for a professional education.  Way back in 1963 Musgrove wrote about the Migratory Elite. This covered the migration of grammar school children from their home communities to areas where they could find professional employment.

The 1944 Education Act tried, in part, to free children from their geographical boundaries. The Eleven Plus examination attempted to give educational and academic opportunities to a wide range of children. But where some grammar schools wanted children from a narrow and restricted area – other grammar school threw their net a s wide as possible in an attempt to be able to offer places to a much wider population.

Pupil A

“Yes please. I would like to go to a grammar school. It will offer me so much. My parents really want to give me the opportunity to do well.”

Pupil B

“My parents told me to please myself.”

Pupil C

“There has never been any question about it. I am going to be a farmer just like my father, and his father before.”

It would be interesting to see the relationship between home back ground and future career choice.

Computers and the Eleven Plus

Can we learn anything about preparation for the eleven plus by the manner in which computer folk implement new systems? As each section of the computer system is put in it has to be tested. Does the composition of the eleven plus allow enough time for an analytical approach?

When a small system is being put in all the users are usually able to use the system by a certain date. This cannot happen in bigger systems as, if a range of problems emerged, there could be chaos. This could be similar to the impact on an eleven plus child’s peace of mind if mother or father arrives with an armload of eleven plus books and papers. “Look dear, see what we have bought for you!”

We then move to what is called phased implementation. This method introduces each task separately and it is allowed to run smoothly before another task is brought into the system. A similar situation is where the parents arrive home with arms full of books and papers and firmly hides them. The unsuspecting child meets a fresh exercise only when he or she is confident and ready to move on.

Finally we meet parallel running – where a new system is started and runs alongside the old system. This then acts as a backup if problems occur with the new system. Each job is carried out twice – so there is more work for all concerned. Oh dear! The poor eleven plus child would have to do everything twice! Would this be a bad thing? Not necessarily – as constant revision and consolidation often helps eleven plus children.

Parents do have some time during the eleven plus year to experiment and try different methods and activities. Some parents may find it useful to plan the year carefully and leave as little as possible to chance. Some may even adopt the view that their eleven plus chrysalis will become an eleven plus butterfly.

Different strokes for different folks!

Eleven Plus Stress

Parents usually know very quickly when their children are feeling stressed. Of course the signs will change from situation to situation. A number of parents will probably try one or two methods of relieving stress. When a child is stressed, it is sometimes very difficult for any of us to feel anything other than concern.

Of course we need to try to convince the child to talk about his or her problems. Eleven plus children may be worried about passing the examination – or even coping with a single type of question. We sometimes see bright, alive and able children brought to their knees by some types of codes questions. The temptation is to rush in and try to explain how to do the questions. It is sometimes hard to try to give the child time to learn to solve the problem. Children can be taught strategies for relieving stress – and answering codes questions. Many mothers and fathers will swear by relaxation techniques. Even more will hope that their eleven plus child, by working through stressful eleven plus situations, will enjoy increased control and social skills.

Some very able children may be able to understand their coping strategies – and then go onto feeling that they can manage their emotions.

All concerned will, no doubt, hope that the potential of the actual examination will not become the cause of undue stress.

There is a rather revolting looking green drink that some parents may want to offer their children. It may be as well to prepare the drink in a darkened room and offer it to the stressed out eleven plus child under the cover of darkness.

Take 175 g of carrots
90 g of celery
100 g spinach
100 g lettuce
25 g parsley.

Mix the mash-up around. Ask your child to hold his or her nose. Offer a downright and unashamed bribe and provide moral support and emotional support.

“This is a well-known pre eleven plus drink. It will help you feel better about yourself. Come on dear, take a deep breath and drink it down in one go. If you like, we can add a spoonful of sugar.”

“Why do we add the sugar?”

“A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”

Eleven Plus Reports

There were several reports in and around 1963 concerning themselves with ability. There is still considerable relevance to this debate because it does seem that it is possible to help a child to do better on an ability test. The Newsom Report of 1963 stated that: “Intellectual talent is not a fixed quantity with which we have to work but a variable that can be modified by social policy and educational approaches.” The Newsom Report (Page 6) felt that the kind of intelligence measured by intelligence tests was largely an acquired characteristic. 

The Spens Report of 1938 – on which the 1944 Education Act was based – suggested: “Intellectual development during childhood appears to progress as if it were governed by a central factor usually known as general intelligence.” The 1944 Education Act developed the concept of the eleven plus. The Spens Report felt that it was possible to predict with some degree of accuracy the ultimate level of a child’s intellectual powers.

What happens to an eight year old child working at Level 2 on the National Curriculum but identified by an educational psychologist as being in the top one per-cent? Should this child sit the eleven plus? Should the school make a special provision? Should the grammar school take the report from the educational psychologist and admit this very bright child before children who can work at Level 5?

Technical Eleven Plus Questions

Can you imagine a Local Authority sending out a questionnaire to the parents of eleven plus children? Imagine too if the children were also asked a series of questions about the eleven plus?  Suppose the results of the questionnaires given scores and these totals were added to other test based eleven plus results?

A whole new industry would grow up offering advice to children and their parents about how to answer questionnaires. Children would need to be taught how to recognise the essence of a question even if the question was couched in un-sensitive words. Children may also need to be able to cope with unsatisfactory questions along the lines of, “Do you think that the eleven plus is a good idea and do you think that you should be allowed unlimited time in an examination?” Of course many parents would immediately latch onto a question of this nature and argue that it is generally desirable for a question to be confined to a single issue.

Questions for parents may need to avoid technical words and jargon.  Some parents may prefer for a word like `exigencies’ to be used when trying to draw parents whether there was a need for immediate action. Naturally any Times crossword solvers would probably prefer to feel stretched rather than feel that any communication from the Authority was dumbed down.