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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Our Eleven Plus Community

There was once a famous professor who was concerned with education and the wider community. Professor M.V.C. Jeffreys, who died in in 1984 aged 84, when talking about society and culture, maintained:

Education, properly understood, is an activity of the whole community. At the same time the greatest contribution that the school can make towards the realisation of this ideal of the educative society is the education of its members in the meaning of community.

The Professor wrote this in 1950 well before the advent of the Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and all the other ways that exist, at the moment, for parents to communicate. Once parents start on eleven plus work with their children they have the ability to choose to join and become fully fledged members of the `Eleven Plus Community’.

Somewhere, along the way, some parents may be faced with helping their child understand some different types of eleven plus questions.

Mrs Henry, the mythical elven plus parent, wants to buy some new eleven plus books for her daughter.

There is a special offer from one publisher. `Three eleven plus books at £9.50 each for the price of Two!

She scrolls down the page and sees an advertisement from a different book seller – but the same publisher. `These eleven plus books are only £8.90 each. Special offer – but one and get one half price.’

Mrs Henry turns to her daughter. “Well dear, should we get these books or these?”

Her daughter rapidly considers a number of choices. Does her mother want her to work the answer out on price or on educational value. She offers a rather non-committal answer.

The mother, on her mobile phone, tweets a friend and also poses the question on face-book.

Her daughter, meanwhile, is far more community orientated than her mother and simply phones a friend. Her friend asks her what the options are. The girls agree that while buying more eleven plus books could be desirable it may be more valuable to the community to pass all their eleven plus books on to the wider community.

“But Mum, we want to educate the community.”

An epiphany comes in mysterious ways!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Can Chewing Gum Help Eleven Plus Understanding?

You and your child are discussing, once again, probability. There must be few ten year old children who worry about the chances of something happening – but if they are to write the eleven plus examinations successfully they will need to know something! We enjoyed the company of a very bright child the other day who was faced with working out the outcomes of heads or tails from two coins being thrown at the same time.

Our scholar grasped the concept almost before he had read the question. He then asked what would happen if one coin was tossed twelve times. One of our assistants is studying statistics and relished the chance of working on a rather abstract problem. Over the course of the lesson a table emerged.
Number of
Number of

It did not take long to work out that the most likely outcome of tossing a coin 12 times is to obtain 6 heads and 6 tails.

Obtaining 7 heads and 5 tails is less likely – but still probable.

It is very unlikely to obtain 12 heads in 12 tosses – and to obtain 12 tails in 12 tosses – but there still is a chance!

The eleven plus mathematics question emerged. “If the total number of outcomes of all the tosses is 4096, how do you work out the probability of obtaining 12 heads? Do you add, subtract, multiply or divide?”

A 1 divided by 4096
B 1 added to 4096
C 1 taken from 4096
 D 1 multiplied by 4096

You then hope that your child comes up with the right answer and then remarks: “If the coin did come up heads ten or eleven or twelve times it is likely that someone is cheating! I bet someone stuck chewing gum on one side.” If this is the response you know all your hard work is paying off! Your child has a good understanding of at least one aspect of probability.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An Eleven Plus Mugging

If you could give an eleven plus child the same question as he and she would meet in the GCSE examination – then it would be possible to compare like for like. The chance of this happening is approaching as more and more authorities move towards questions that require thought and application. We could look at a type of question that a bright ten year old could answer – as well as a sixteen year old.

We all know that robbery involves the use of threat or force. Mugging is the robbery of personal property following a sudden attack in the open where the attacker and the victim do not know each other.

Places where Muggings happen:
Streets 81%
Parks 10%
Other Places 9%

The Time of day when Muggings take place
Midday to 6 pm 24%
6 pm to midnight 53%
Midnight to 6 am 18%
6 am to midday 5%

When is the safest time of day to go for a walk in the park?

Should children be allowed out, on their own, between 6 pm and midnight?

Using this broad canvas it should be possible to build a structure of multiple choice alternatives that could challenge the best and the brightest. Parents of children in some authorities in Year 5 and in other authorities in Year 4 beware! It is coming to an eleven plus paper near you!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Reading Eleven Plus Questions

When working with your eleven plus child you may occasionally reflect on the great American Psychologist R. S. Woodworth. He had many interests – among them the attitude of the learner to learning new things.

Woodworth (1869 – 1962) tried to point out that in order to memorise efficiently and retain the memorised material, we need an active interested attitude along with an intent to learn. A lot of the work he did was with his university students – and he conducted many experiments on them.

He described a student who seemed slow at learning nonsense syllables. On being asked to recite the list the student exclaimed: “Oh! I didn’t understand I was to learn them.” The student had noted the syllables – but made no attempt to connect them. Eleven plus parents beware! It does help, sometimes, if you lay out exactly what your child has to do.

You could try a little experiment with your child. Hand over some nonsense syllables. Try to resist explaining what your child is expected to do with the syllables. Sit back and wait for something to happen.

“What am I supposed to do?”
“This is easy I have them in alphabetical order.”
“I can’t make words of these.”
“I can-not see the sequence.”

The response from your child may give you a little more insight into what might happen in the examination if he or she does not read the question carefully.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

An Eleven Plus Bubble

Are there any personality traits that will help an eleven plus child to do better in the actual examination?

Easy-going, warm and generous
Inflexible, cold, timid and shy

Independent, reliable
Frivolous, treats the examination as if it is a joke

Stable, realistic
Evasive emotionally changeable


Placid, sociable


Friendly, trustful
Suspicious, hostile

At times, thank goodness, it is likely that an eleven plus child will be any or all of the above. We certainly don’t want an eleven plus child who is so ambitious and eager to pass the examination that he or she starts living in an eleven plus bubble.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Learning Eleven Plus Work by Experience

Many years ago Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) wrote about education. He believed that one of the purposes of education was to bring liberty and happiness to a child. (Explain that to a tired and upset eleven plus child trying to complete a paper after a long day at school!) He thought that if a child was permitted to suffer the consequences of his or her free activity he or should learn by experience what made happiness and freedom.

This was called the `discipline of natural consequences’. A child could do what he liked at school but he had to pay for it. He was allowed, for example, to kick the Head in the shins – but the Head could kick him back – and the Head was likely to have bigger boots!

Rousseau pleaded for the need for the right sort of environment for learning.

All these years later we can, possibly, continue to learn a little from this original thinker. Eleven plus children, when possible, should be free and happy. They should be able to learn from their mistakes.

Of course over the years parents and educators have argued with Rousseau. Should a child, for example, be allowed to burn himself on a hot stove in order to learn that exposure to fire and heat 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Eleven Plus Roots

As parents look for ways of helping their children towards the eleven plus their minds, at times, may be drawn to the Newcastle Report of 1861. The terms of reference were to enquire into the state of popular education in England. The report was to comment on what was required for cheap but sound elementary education.

The report ended up with some far reaching recommendations. Like so many good ideas few of the recommendations were adopted at the time. There was one, however, that was accepted and acted upon: schools should be financed partly through rates and partly from direct grants. The rates part was to be determined by children’s attainments which were tested by examiners from the county boards of education.

There was a recommendation that `peasant’ boys should not be educated after they reached around ten years old.

It was also felt that trained teachers were better than the untrained. The trained teachers, however, felt that they were not being paid enough!

Did these ideas have much to do with the emergence of the present eleven plus?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pestalozzi and the Eleven Plus

Is there a fundamental hypothesis that children who pass the eleven plus will do well in the academic surroundings of a grammar school? The famous Pestalozzi who was born in Zurich in Switzerland in 1746 was a true visionary. He was a practical man concerned with trying to reform educational practice.

He maintained that it was not what a child did know that was important – but what a child can know.

He felt that the true purpose of a lesson was to activate the self-activity of the learner.

Would it be useful to be able to measure the eleven plus in these terms?  Pestalozzi was criticised for not answering the question: “What groups of facts are best for training the mind of pupils?”

Today’s eleven plus `experts’ have decided on a set of questions which they feel are suitable to test the potential of children. Are we, however, teaching and testing for what a child does know?

Suppose we use the example often quoted in educational circles; how to distinguish margarine from butter. “You can-not tell the difference!” You need to establish if the test of the difference was used when the butter and the margarine were being used in cooking. You would need to know if the butter and the margarine were being used on bread or on toast. Was white bread or whole wheat bread used for the experiment? Was the butter and the bread used along with jam, syrup or a fried egg?

We could sit our eleven plus child down at a table. We then blindfold him or her. We offer different combinations in a `blind’ test. Wethen repeat the experiment a number of times. The results may vary. A `+’ would be a correct answer and a `–‘ the incorrect guess.

Trial One: No Fillings using White Bread: + + - + +
Trial Two:  Simply the butter and the margarine on a tea-spoon: - - + + +
Trial Three: White bread and strawberry jam: + - + + +
Trial Four: No margarine – just butter: + + + + +

If all the results had come out the same then we could immediately say that the eleven plus child could distinguish between butter and margarine. If there were only a few mistakes – can we be as certain?

We would expect, if the child is a true eleven plus candidate, for there to be few mistakes. But if we substitute some `difficult’ eleven plus question for the butter and the margarine can we be as certain that the test is actually selecting the best and the brightest? If a child answers a type of question correctly on selection papers done at home over and over and then meets the same type for question in the examination are we testing for what the child does know or can know?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Eleven Plus Sweets

Some children love the challenge of some eleven plus questions. It can be fascinating to see how different minds approach problems. Sometimes children need help with a solution and it can be all too easy to maintain that there is an `easy’ method.

To illustrate this we could look at a type of example which has the potential to fox some eleven plus children:

Deborah, Ivy and Barbara were involved in sharing out sweets. Deborah and Ivy had 102 sweets between them and Deborah and Barbara had 88 sweets. How many did each child have?

An easy way to solve the problem is to give each child an initial.

D + I = 102
D + B = 88
Total 150 sweets

Take (D + I) from 150
150 – 102 = 48

B now has 48.

D has 88 – 48 = 40

D – I = 102 – 40 = 62
I = 62

Deborah = 40
Ivy = 62
Barbara = 48

Encourage your child to check the answer with 40 + 62 + 48. Hopefully it adds up to 150.

Once you have worked through this together try the question with different numbers. Does your child come up with a different solution?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Eleven Plus Exercise

Some eleven plus children may sometimes need to take a little more exercise. This can be rather difficult during bad weather – but some exercise is better than none. Some children may not want to go sledging or build a snow man. Would it be possible to build a stretching exercise into the beginning and end of eleven plus exercises?

Before stretching go for a brisk walk for a few minutes

Hold a stretch for 15 to 30 seconds

Insist that your child stretches to the point of discomfort and not pain

Help your child to understand the need to breathe freely

Work on the main muscle groups

Lower back exercises can help with sitting for a long time on an eleven plus paper

Neck exercises can help

If you and your child spent a few minutes on a gentle work out – would concentration and effort improve?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Deponent Verbs and the Eleven Plus

We must be indebted to the late Sir William Smith D.C.L. L.L.D. for his First Latin Course. The edition I have dates back to 1901. This edition has changes from earlier editions. The `reviser’ remarked that it was hoped that changes were made with the sole object of bringing the pupil `past the bitterness of his learning’. (The single inverted commas are in the preface as is the word `reviser’.)

When Sir William introduced us to the `First Conjugation of Deponent Verbs’’ and reminded us that all Perfects and Supines were regular – was he thinking of today’s grammar school pupils learning Latin?

In the Second Conjugation he gave the example: fateor, fassus sum and fateri being `to confess’.

In the Third Conjugation we are offered: fruor, fruitus sum and frui as `to enjoy’.

This helps us to understand what could happen to one of today’s eleven plus children learning Latin at grammar school. He or she may feel some understanding of the words `the bitterness of learning’. There may be a desire to confess that learning Latin can be demanding – but that once mastered Latin is a subject to enjoy.

Your grammar school child may also be able to remind you what a Deponent Verb is – along with a quick revision of the main differences between the First, Second and Third Declensions.

Just think of your standing in the playground chatter when you expound on the nature of deponent verbs and declensions! 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Haunted Eleven Plus Party

You have a faint but worried feeling that your very precious eleven plus child needs a little help. You turn to your family and friends. You approach the school for advice. You think fleetingly of the doctor and then you remember a friend of a friend. You don’t want the world. All you want is a little help for your child.

You look in an old address book for the phone number. You know you did not transfer the number onto your phone. You wonder what to do. You worry a little more. You then remember the wise words of your grandmother. “Initial success might lead to lesser goals, initial failure can stir one to greater effort.”

You take a piece of paper and fold it in half. You feel decisive. You head one column `Talking’ and the other `Counselling’

Giving my child a good talking to

Addressing the problem and marshalling my thoughts
Trying to establish a framework for my child to solve the problem for himself or herself.
Choosing a time and place for the formal `talking to’
Suggesting a little expedition to allow an opportunity for an informal chat
Building rapport – but this is not essential
Empathy is the key

The problem with the counselling approach is that sometimes children prefer the more direct approach. Parents want to be able to maintain a relationship and the eleven plus year can be stressful enough without a full blown family fight.

You make a decision. You are not going to cope with this perceived problem on your own. The whole family must be involved. You invite the immediate family and the extended family along for Sunday lunch. You spend the morning cooking and feeling, at times, rather under pressure. The children keep out of your way. No one knows why all have been summoned.

On the floor, in the centre of the lounge, you have a pile of sheets. You separate the males and the females. You send the males out of the room and ask all the women and girls to drape themselves in sheets. The female contingent then kneel, sit or stand around the room. The males, on their return, have to identify the bodies under the sheets.

The party is noisy and successful. Your tasty food adds to the occasion. You feel tired but happy. Someone asks, rather loudly, why you have invited everyone. You reply that you have quite forgotten. The party goes on.

The eleven plus goes on. You and your child survive another eleven plus crisis.

You crumple your piece of paper.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Fitness and the Eleven Plus

The Surrey Human Performance Institute tests people in a rather different manner to that used by eleven plus children. They have a variety of tests – and people can choose their own test and their own level of co-operation.

One of the tests is called the Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test (CPET) – this covers a breath analysis test, a full ECG and regular blood pressure measurements tests.

Think of your eleven plus child – you would have a full health and fitness screen. You would know if your child was really tired after school – and whether you need to encourage your child to join you in walking the dog.

There is a test of Dynamic Strength – which looks at maximal force production at a range of joints.

Parents could use the results of the strength to see if their child really does need to slouch while working on eleven plus papers. After all a series of eleven plus papers on one day must put some form of a strain on the young human body.

There is also a Strength and Condition Consultation. Does your child really need to be fitter? Will your child be fitter than many other eleven plus children?

If your child is applying for a grammar school that specialises in sport – is there any way that the results of the CPET could count favourably towards eleven plus results? Surely a fit and healthy eleven plus child is potentially a sound asset to a school?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Quick Thinking and the Eleven Plus

It is very unlikely to happen – but if it did - what a change there would be to the eleven plus! Imagine, just for a moment, if the authorities decided that in addition to be being good at eleven plus subjects, a child had to be able to speak coherently and well.

Regional accents would not matter. After all the eleven plus is spread over many parts of England. Clarity and confidence would become bywords in the eleven plus community. Parents would be able to rush out to buy `The Official Eleven Plus Talking Tools’. A glance at the contents page would show:

Arrangements children would need to follow in the examination.

Conduct within the examination centre

Difficulty of topics a child could choose to talk about. Would a child talking about the Cause of the Great War earn more points than a child discussing where a mini supermarket could be situated?

A child could choose to makes points in prose, verse or even in a light hearted manner. Would good old fashioned Knock Knock jokes come back into favour?

Picture the scene. Your child is dressed smartly and comfortably. He or she is standing on a low stage. With a delightful smile your child would begin:

“Knock Knock.”
“Who is there?”
“Eleven who?”
“Eleven plus!”

You child would roll around the stage gulping over being able to deliver an original joke.

The presentation would continue with a few words from Keats:

`Full on the casement shone the wintery moon,
And threw warm gules on Madeline’s breast.”

The examiner would ask:

“Can you rephrase the piece?”

Your eleven plus child /candidate would say:

“Full on this window shone the wintery moon,
Making red marks on my sister’s chest.”

An eleven plus pass would surely follow!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Tale of Eleven Plus Onions

Someone in the family, many years ago, may have read about Mr. Blazevics. He grew onions ready cooked. One Sunday morning he uprooted an onion and found that the layers fell away as if they had been cooked in boiling water. He invited reporters to come and observe his ready cooked onions.

He discovered that a particular patch of earth in the allotment was hot to the touch – a thermometer from his fish tank registered 100oF. He thought that he had dug through an electric cable. Of course, in time, scientists came along and tested the soil for radio-activity.

A lecturer from Bradford University solved the problem. A layer of compost had been dug in about a spade’s depth below the surface. The compost had not broken down because of the severe winter. The reaction of bacteria with fertiliser had caused the intense heat.

If you want your eleven plus child to be hot on the day of the examination then start early with plenty of eleven plus fertiliser – offer lots of papers and exercises. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cogs and the Eleven Plus

The Rugby Internationals are approaching. The English supporters, at Twickenham, sing `Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ on a number of occasions. Sometimes they sing to try to encourage the team, on other occasions they sing `Swing Low’ to celebrate a victory.

Should eleven plus parents learn the song to help their children through the heights and troughs of the eleven plus? Imagine the car coming home from an eleven plus lesson. A sweet dulcet voice starts the song. Soon the whole car is singing lustily. At the end, however, there is no mercy. A little voice will say, “Mum, can we have chips for supper?”

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see
Coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.


If I get there before you do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
I'll cut a hole and pull you through.
(Coming for to carry me home)
If you get there before I do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
Tell all my friends I'm coming too.
(Coming for to carry me home)


As the family put the last dishes away, and the floor is swept and all is quiet and peaceful, the challenge of the eleven plus is brought into focus once again.

“Mum, Dad please help me to solve a problem.”

“With great pleasure, we will do our best.”

“Thank you, I will read the question to you:

A gear wheel having 60 cogs dives another which has 64 cogs. Find out how many times each wheel must turn before two cogs, which are together, one on each wheel, will be together again in the same position.”

“That is easy, 16 and 15!”

“How did you do that?”

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!”

Monday, January 14, 2013

How Understanding the Atom can help the Eleven Plus

Some parents may have ambitions beyond the eleven plus. Ernest Rutherford’s mother and father were probably very proud of him. “Ernest, stop talking about splitting the atom. Come and have your evening meal.”

We need to go back to Empedocles in the Fifth Century BC who stated that the universe was composed of four basic elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. This was accepted for around two thousand years. Imagine how proud the mother and father of Empedocles would feel if they were still around! It was, however, Leucippus and Democritus who developed the idea of the atom. To them the atom was a tiny particle of matter that could not be split.

Ernest, however, split the atom. (If one atom is an atomos – then what is half an atom?)

If you want your child to be remembered for a long time, work on the atom.

Eleven plus children, however, have to be able to play with words.

The letters make: a, am, at, atom, mat, moat and to. There may even be a few more!

With `atomos’ (From the Ancient Greek) we get an extra moo, moot and soot.

I wonder how many words we can get from the letters in Ernest Rutherford!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Eleven Plus Probability

Early accounts of Australia told stories of men gambling with `Two Up’.  Two coins were tossed into the air and there were bets on the results. Some of the bets were small – but others were life changing.

If there were two heads the thrower won. With two tails the thrower lost. If there was a head and a tail then the throw was made again.

No self -respecting eleven plus parents would ever want to gamble with their child – but it could be an interesting way of a child learning about the laws of chance and probability. (Is playing for matches gambling?)

Questions on probability could, possibly, come up in the eleven plus. Consider a question along these lines:

You look at the boys and girls in your class of 25. Some are wearing glasses. You are asked to make an analysis.

No Glasses

The person sitting beside you is a girl. She wears glasses.
Nine people wear glasses so the probability of her wearing glasses is 9 out 25.
Only 4 boys wear glasses. This suggests 4 out of 9.

What is the probability of a girl wearing glasses?

What is the probability that the girl sitting beside you will be wearing glasses?

You could also explore probability using a table.

Probability is measured on a scale – where zero represents impossibility and one represents certainty.

Passing the eleven plus while asleep

Being either a boy or a girl





One coin landing either heads or tails

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hercules and the Eleven Plus

Do you remember the story of Hercules cleaning King Augeas'stables? Hercules drove a river though the stables and cleaned them in a day. Every now and then passing the eleven plus could seem to a task of unending proportions.  Perhaps a little game could help.

Gather the family together. If possible add a favourite relation of two. Collect the necessary supplies – paper, pencils and a dice. Sit your family around the table – with a sheet of paper in the middle. Mark a grid onto the paper.

The first player, hopefully the eleven plus candidate, throws the dice and thinks of a word with the same number of letters as shown on the dice. The word is written either horizontally or vertically.

The second player throws the dice and adds another word which connects with the first. By now your astute relation will yell: “This is just like scrabble!”

Each letter is worth a point. If a player cannot add a word to the grid he or she loses a point. You hope that the game has become quite complex by the time the candidate has a second chance.







If player three, for example, had thrown a three then the score would be four – with a point for the `O’ as well as the `P’, the `E’ and the `N’.

The combination of the game can be endless – with words to be taken only from mathematics, or only from the kitchen or the garden or wherever!


Friday, January 11, 2013

Eleven Plus Tomatoes

How many eleven plus parents will be growing tomatoes under glass this year? It just takes a little planning and organisation! Next month, in the middle of February, sow 2 – 3 seeds per square inch in a propagator filled with sieved compost. Cover the propagator with newspaper – and remember to close the greenhouse door.

When the seedlings have developed, provided that you can still get to your greenhouse through the snow, prick out the seedlings into 3 inch peat or plastic pots. Water the seedlings gently. Keep the seedlings at around 18 degrees. Every now and then apply some liquid feed or fertiliser.

The secret to greenhouse grown tomatoes depends on meticulous attention to watering and feeding. The secret to eleven plus success is remarkably the same – meticulous attention to watering and feeding of the child – along with some old fashioned brain fertiliser!

Once the tomatoes are a little more mature, ask your eleven plus child to select five healthy looking ones. Help him or her to weigh each tomato carefully. Record the results. It is possible that the family’s tomatoes could be held in a table looking rather like this:

Our Eleven Plus Reasoning Question

Weight in grams

How much did the Tomato Number 4 weigh?
A             130
B             550
C             600        
D             300

Reasoning is not just answering a question like: “How many wheels does a tricycle have?” Reasoning can involve planning, participation and solving a problem.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Can you do Eleven Plus Questions in Spain?

Little by little different kinds of eleven plus questions are creeping into the tests. Of course there will be the purists who wonder at the value of the new questions but others may welcome the changes.

Could this be a typical question?

The family visited Spain over the holidays. The children enjoyed the trip. They got a bit tired of their mum and dad exclaiming about the tiles on the floors, the walls and sides of the buildings. They started whingeing. One of the parents replied to a rather smart answer by saying: “If you think you can do better, try to solve problem that man is facing.”

He has a floor that he has to cover with 36 tiles. In a typically Spanish fashion he only wants to use back and white tiles because he is trying to prepare the entrance to a shop. He does not want to use straight rows. This means that he does not want horizontal, vertical or diagonal rows of three adjacent white tiles.

He now has to order how many black tiles he needs. How does he solve this problem?

Of course eleven plus parents can do everything – cook, clean, earn a living, take their children on holiday and solve rather odd looking questions.  Try this one with your candidate!

You, of course, know that the answer is fifteen. And you know how to explain how you arrived at the answer!