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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Eleven Plus Consequences

What do eleven plus children need? This is a bit of problem to try to solve. We know that children are remarkably dependent on their parents. They need, at the very least, food, shelter, warmth, emotional stability, and social contact.

If we look at these needs it is remarkably easy for a mother or father to be able to justify the kindly words: “Now go to your room and study.”

In the room the candidate will, no doubt, find a desk and a chair. There will be eleven plus books and papers, access to a computer to work on on-line tasks, a bottle of water and, possibly, even a little packet of nibbles to keep the hunger away.

Eleven plus children also need to have the physical and mental ability to be able to attempt an eleven plus paper. Successful eleven plus children will also thrive on a diet of positive feedback. If the table, however, is too high or too low then the act of working on an eleven plus exercise may be painful and tiring. If the chair has a wobbly wheel then the child may feel distracted.

There are also other factors which may, possibly, be essential to an eleven plus child. This is the desire of others in the class to pass the eleven plus. If the school wants eleven plus passes this too will play a large part in the child’s potential success. The effectiveness of playground chatter can-not be dismissed. Just how many children have passed the eleven plus after their parents have heard good ideas in the playground?

Naturally there will be a call from some parents to add a parenthetical comment. It may prove to be crucial.

“If you are not prepared to do the work NOW, then you must be sure you can face the consequences.”

(Those words may help to encourage the candidate to do that little bit extra!)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Chasing Eleven Plus Shadows

Your child is faced with an eleven plus paper. There is no need for concern. The paper is one in a grand series of offerings to the spirit of the eleven plus. The family is quiet, the cat is asleep, the canary is silent (for once!). There is only the sound of the evening stew bubbling gently on the stove.

All of a sudden there is an upheaval. A question appears to be insurmountable. How can the dilemma be resolved? Should you help or suggest that your child moves on?

“Dear, there are two main laws when approaching a question.”


“There is the law of hedonism and the law of association. The law of association says that X is always followed by Y. X and Y have always been associated with each other.”

“Mum, I am lost. Where is this going?”

“The law of hedonism states that we learn things because they have some effect on our well-being.”

“I am not sure that I understand what you are saying.”

“Hedonism is where you look for pleasure. You are doing this eleven plus paper because you want to please yourself and please me. If you can work out the answer to that question you will please both of us.”

“Well Mum, as Y follows X there is no way I can make either of us happy. I just can’t do this question.”

“Let us do this together. Can you read the question to me please?”

“Fine. What is as big as a hippopotamus, the same shape as a hippopotamus, but weighs a lot less than a hippopotamus?”

“I am not sure. Answering an eleven plus question like that is like chasing your shadow.”

“Mum, you are a genius! It is the hippopotamus’s shadow! Now we are both happy!”

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Adoption and the Eleven Plus

A revered gentleman – William H. R. Rivers - found among Murray Islander in the Torres Straits -indifference to the real parentage of a child. Adoption was common and children did not know who their real parents were. Furthermore the Murray Islanders used to put a child to death if there were too many in the family of the same sex.

Franz Boas, studying the Kwakiutl Indians of the Central Pacific, found that quarrels were not settled by physical combat – but by holding a `potlatch’ or feast at which possessions were given away. The one who gave away the most property won.

Alexander Goldenweiser discovered that disputes among people in certain Eskimo were settled by a singing contest. The victor was chosen by a popular vote.

And now we come to the crux of the eleven plus saga. Ruth Benedict found that the Zuni Indians frowned against people who sought prestige or power. It was found that it was almost impossible to test the Zuni because the tribe could not grasp the meaning of achieving a high score.

Let us look at these attributes. We could have an eleven plus child who may possibly need to give away some of all his or her possessions. We could also have a child who would need to sing his or her way out of conflict. Finally we could have a child who did not seem to mind about passing or failing the eleven plus.

But we must hope that parents do not need to give away their child for failing the eleven plus. Many children go on to enjoy happy and successful lives without the cachet of an eleven plus pass!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Striking an Eleven Plus Chord

Your eleven plus child may want to read this question twice.

Here is an ancient table of measurement.
3 palms = 4 nails
1 nail = 3 digits
Fill in the missing numbers

3 palms = …………. digits
1 palm = …………. digits
60 nails = …………. palms
120 palms = …………. nails
48 digits = …………. palms

All of a sudden your child may exclaim: “That strikes a chord! I understand. This is fun!”

Of course Grandmother, sitting comfortably, will want to add a little to the eleven plus session. “That is interesting. The word `chord’ does not have a precise meaning. It can be three or more notes sounded together. Can you think of any limitations?”

“What do you mean, Grandmother?”

“What is the most notes that can be played together?”

“I don’t know. Please help.”

“Ten of course. You only have ten fingers on your hands!”

“We could build a new eleven plus question around chords!”

“Leave it out Mum. The nails and palms are enough for me.”

Friday, April 26, 2013

An Eleven Plus Secret

Back in 1931 there was an official English publication (Burt) that stated: `the period between seven and eleven displays features sufficiently characteristic to render it desirable on psychological as well as administrative grounds to treat those years as a distinct stage in education.’ The report went onto maintain that there should be separate schools as well as separate classes.

This statement was made on the premise that tests could predict future academic success.  

Cyril Burt was a forceful and believable proponent of testing and it is likely that his thinking influenced the early development of the eleven plus examinations.

We need to roll forward a few years. Children today have also been `educated’ through T.V., computers, ipads and other touch screens, smart phones. Some children have even been able to access a local library! But does all this exposure to technology actually help them to solve eleven plus problems?

Of course there are many different types of eleven plus problems and each will need to be solved in a different way – but some problem solving techniques will probably remain until the end of time!

Step One – Trial and Error
Step Two - Blunder to try to find a solution
Step Three – Explore various solutions
Step Four – Learn from success and failure
(Somewhere in this list are the magic words: “Mum, Dad, please help!”)

Naturally there is an eleven plus secret hidden in this anecdote. If children can miss out some of the early steps - and learn from success and failure then – who knows?  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Eleven Plus and the Tarpeian Rock

There is a bit in Coriolanus (Act3 Scene 1) where Sicinius makes a bold statement.

“Bear him to the rock Tarpeian, and from thence
Into destruction cast him.”

You will recall, no doubt, your English teacher holding forth on the rock of Tarpeian. You will probably also remember who Tarpeia was. She was a vestal virgin who agreed to open the gates to the Sabines if they would give her what they wore on their arms.

The Sabines kept their word – but crushed her to death with their shields. She was buried in that part of the hill called the Tarpeian Rock. From that day on traitors were cast down from this rock and were killed.

The Sabines, as you well know, were the women who tried to stop a war by throwing themselves between the warring men. History tells us they were successful.

Some eleven plus children, when they see `that verbal reasoning book again’ may care to find a large hill. No self-respecting eleven plus child would do anything ill-considered like tearing out pages and casting them to the wind. No, the family would accompany their child to the summit. They would gather around in a strong family circle.

“Now dear, read number five again.”

“Oh! Do I have to?”

“We will do this together.”

“All right then. `Choose a number between one and ten that has the same number of letters when written in full as the value of the figure it represents’.”

“Any ideas?”

“Well you are my parents, and I respect your efforts. I feel as if I am between a rock and a hard place. I wish I did not have to do verbal reasoning. But if you promise to give me some bracelets for my birthday, I promise to try this question.”

“Come on dear, what is the answer?”

“How many bracelets? Can there be four?”

“Four! How can you ask that of us? I am not happy!”

“No, I mean `four’.”

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Eleven Plus Random Errors

When an eleven plus child sits a multiple choice paper, there could be a chance of him or her making a number of random errors. A random error on a paper may, for example, be meaning to select one answer and marking a different one. A constant error would be a child choosing to fill in the second multiple choice answer on every question. This would produce a random error – but would be a random error by design. Some questions, at least, would be correct!

When the examiners design eleven papers they try to eliminate all the possible sources of constant errors. They cannot, however, do anything about a child who finds the paper too hard and thus adopts a comforting strategy of selecting answers at random.

If examiners tried to eliminate random errors on eleven plus papers then they would have to work with a cohort of children of identical ability and having the same educational opportunities. Some comprehension questions, for example, may require a strong reading vocabulary while other questions look for inferences.

On the day of the examination all the children would need to have the same breakfast, arrive at school in the same calm but positive frame of mind and all the children would need to have the same number of sharpened pencils. The list to try to eliminate randomness must go on and on. On an eleven plus mock day, some time ago, there was an accident in the road near to one family’s house. There was a hold up while the cars were moved. The candidate’s car was not affected – but could not turn around because of the build-up of traffic. A rather stressed mother arrived dragging her child by the arm. “Are we too late?”

Eleven plus examiners have much to answer for – but cannot take into account any or all random events beyond their control.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Eleven Plus Fortifications

There is a powerful word in the vocabulary of many eleven plus parents: “Fortification!”

From the earliest times fortification has been used in warfare. It is likely that earthworks and palisades were among the earliest forms. Later on stone was used and citadels were built as fortification.

The Romans, for example, built Hadrian’s Wall to keep the marauding tribes from England and Scotland from fighting each other.

During the Middle Ages walls were built around many towns in England but along came gun powder which had the ability to knock down walls. In the Nineteenth Century fortification was attempted around some towns by building a ring of detached and hidden forts. Naturally there will also be some who will comment on the role of the sea in providing fortification against the enemy.

But how will some parents fortify themselves against the pleas of their eleven plus children?

“But mother, you can tie me up with barbed wire but I am not going to do another paper.”

“No mum, there are too many barriers for me to surmount. I am not doing this exercise on codes again. Please take pity.”

“I would rather jump into the moat than do any more maths today.”

“If we are going to live in France, I won’t need to do any more eleven plus work.”

“But mum, we have won the lottery. I will never need to work. Think on it, mum.”

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Girls and the Eleven Plus

There was a time when the education of girls was modelled on that of their brothers. Furthermore there was no reference to their different functions in society. The pioneers of higher education for women finally secured `equal opportunities’ for women.

There were natural consequences of the Victorian equal opportunities movement where it was felt that women should not continue to be too involved with domestic duties. There were, however, words written along the lines of: a woman should never forget that she is a woman. She must dress like a woman, talk like a woman and walk like a woman.

Women were also exhorted to observe feminine attributes and feminine virtues – and they were expected to build these features into their education. Domestic science, for example, was canned. But people kept seeking for the truth. Questions were raised:

If a woman studies mathematics will she become more accurate in her later life?

If a woman studies history will she have more understanding?

The Grammar School girls were taught academic subjects leaving no time for drawing, music, cookery and house-craft. There were strong feelings that the names of the subject should be changed. Grammar School girls should learn public health, town planning and estate management. This would enable the girls enjoy practical activities in fields that had been previously scorned.

The Hadlow Committee of 1923 maintained that different types of tests – as in intelligence and vocational advice were founded on hypotheses which could not always be trusted.

It was also felt that tests should be developed by recognised experts.

Intelligence tests should be supplements and not substitutes for establishing ability>

It is likely that the roots of eleven plus selection were sown in these observations. Today clever girls and boys sit the same eleven plus examinations. Boys and girls sit the same GCSE and `A’ Level examinations. In theory, both sexes have the same opportunity of entering university life. Life since the Victorian days has moved on!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Eleven Plus and Parent Philosophy

Do you remember the debate about the refrigerator and the hot house when you were reading philosophy for fun in your early twenties? You will no doubt recall discussions about what is right and what is wrong.

“Let us suppose that two people, who have just entered a room, are asked to guess its temperature. The one from the refrigerator could guess 75 degrees F., and the other person, from the hot house, may say 70 degrees.”

It is possible that subjective conditioning may have determined the guess about the temperature of the room. The person leaving the cold room may find the room warmer than the person leaving the hot house.

It is likely that someone said, “We can use a thermometer to establish the facts of the case. It won’t take long to work out who was right.”

What happens if your eleven plus child decides to have a little `eleven plus argument’ with you? An `eleven plus argument’ is the equivalent of a thermometer. You have right on your side. You know that any `eleven plus argument’ must end in your favour. Whatever points your child may make will be wrong.

Time to go to bed? Your child is wrong.

Complete the paper before watching T.V.? Your child is wrong.

Argue about when to work? Your child is wrong.

An eleven plus argument is about what is right and what a parent thinks is right. If a parent thinks that he or she is right then the argument is to all intents and purposes over. It does not matter how hot or cold the eleven plus child blows – or how the temperature in the room rises or falls – the argument is over. There can only be one person in charge.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Eleven Plus Colours

I have always liked the story of Mr Cheskin of the Colour Research Institute who was very involved with colour and how things looked.

He was asked to design two boxes for a sweet manufacturer. One of the boxes was to cost £1.99 and the other £3.50. He came up with the conclusion that the box for the £1.99 sweets should cost 50p while the box for the £3.50 sweets need only cost 9p.

He gave the reason that the person buying the £1.99 sweets may not have bought as many sweets as the person buying the £3.50 sweets. The person with the £1.99 sweets may feel that the sweets were important. It is possible that this box may be kept as a keepsake and valued.

The person with the £3.50 box would simply throw the box away – because it was the sweets that counted.

Is there a parallel in the eleven plus market?

Do children storing their eleven plus work in fancy files value their work more than those who keep their lessons in a plain old files?

Do children work better with a battery of three or four sharp pencils or is the stub of a pencil just a good?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Eleven Plus Hierarchies

As families sit around the table discussing the eleven plus can you spare a thought for the few who are talking about `Habit-family Hierarchies’ . These hierarchies have an important part in problem-solving behaviour. In formal terms , when placed in a problem situation the subject exhibits certain behaviour directed towards a specific goal.

Let us look for example at an eleven plus child who appears to approach analogies questions using a set range of rules. How can you break these routines and encourage your child to think a little more widely? We had a child on a recent eleven plus course who kept trying to find a solution – and followed a prescribed set of rules. We suggested a range of alternative methods but the earnest scholar maintained: “But my tutor says I must do it this way.”

A different child may follow a seemingly more random method of approaching eleven plus problems. This could be called the `scatter approach’. If this tactic does not work immediately then think of another. Keep trying in the hope that something will work.

Naturally these two methodologies have names:

Convergent Hierarchies – here all thoughts are collected to try to solve a problem.

Divergent Hierarchies – a number of different strategies can be attempted.

We now need to throw into the mix that most children will adopt different approaches to solve particular types of problems. So as not to stifle creative thought, parents may, at times, appear to be mediators: “We need to look at a range of options, dear. Remember to diversify your habit-forming hierarchies.”

In the olden days a clip around the ear was thought to solve most problems. Eleven plus children may need a rather more subtle approach!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Words and the Eleven Plus

There is an abundance of eleven plus materials, books, pages, forums and websites. Many of them will focus on the same type of question. It is easy for a publisher or a parent or a teacher to change a few words and then present a supposed brand new question.

Which are the two words, one from each set of brackets, that complete the sentence in the most sensible way:

Silver is to (picture material jewellery) as glass is to (window grass envelope). 
Silver is to (jewellery material postcard) as glass is to (showboat window grass).

Latching onto a theme is not a new phenomenon in our daily life. We just need to look back a few years to a song many of us may have sung at school. Mr Morley of Bincombe, near to Dorchester, offered this 1907 version:

On yonder hill there stands a creature
Who she is I do not know
I’ll go and court her for her beauty
She must answer Yes or No.
O No John, No John, No John No.

Mr Beale of Wareham in Kent (1908) suggested:

On yonder’s hill there lives a maiden
Who she is I do not know
But I’ll go and court her for her beauty
Whether she answers me yes or no
No John No, No John, No John, No John, No.

Some parents may care to consider not being too fussed over individual eleven plus questions. If your child is not sure of a word or an answer there could be an alternative elsewhere. The words may change, the punctuation may alter but the sentiments may stay the same.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Philosophical Eleven Plus Discussion

What goes through the mind of a teacher or a parent when an eleven plus child asks: “Why?”

We know, for example, that 12 + 3 = 15. We can prove this by adding twelve objects to three objects and then counting up to fifteen.  We could also have made four groups of three from the twelve and then added one more group of three to make fifteen. Naturally there could be a problem if there was a miscount – but on numbers up to fifteen we should be on reasonably safe ground!

Suppose you asked your child; “Does your sister have more objects in her room than you have in your room?” This creates a multitude of problems. Your eleven plus child may ask you to define the word `object’.  Are there more in her collection of books than you have?  Suppose she dropped a plate of cakes – and the plate broke. Are the broken pieces of plate worth as much as an object as a mashed piece of cake?

What happens if your eleven plus child asks the family to run outside and count raindrops running down the window? Is a misshapen raindrop an object with the same value as a perfect rain drop?

Parents may then choose to use the well-worn example of Newton. Did Newton just happen to be in the orchard when the apple fell on him? Did Newton just happen to be in the orchard while he was thinking about gravity – and so was able to join up the dots? (By the way – did Newton eat the apple or did he preserve it?)

Some parents may choose to complete a rather philosophical discussion by using an adaptation of the well-known phrase: “The harder you work the luckier you get.”

If your child then asks: “Why?”

You simply offer a mash-up and hope for the best in the examination.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Rocketing Through the Eleven Plus

There must be many of us trying to find ways of exciting the minds of our eleven plus children. One of the exercises over the weekend had the word `propulsion’. The great majority of eleven plus children will have little difficulty in being able to define the word. One boy, Kevin, had problems in finding reasonable synonyms. It is very easy for a teacher or a parent to give answers and move on – after all there are many different exercises and examples to work through. But what happens if you don’t want the child to be spoon-fed?

Harry, who was working with Kevin, went through the process of building a hydrogen powered rocket that would take Kevin from his lesson to the nearest MacDonald. Naturally there was a discussion around how hydrogen is produced. We can then see the hydrogen carried off in a cart to the rocket. Kevin then took his precious hydrogen and climbed into the rocket – ready to be launched.

It is clear to see what Kevin chose! The smile shows that he was very happy. He was then launched back to his lesson, replete and happy. Mission accomplished!

Some purists would argue that this whole exercise was a complete waste of time. Kevin should have been given a Thesaurus and told to look up the word `propulsion’.  (“It was not like that in my day!”)

Perhaps he should have been given the answer and then advised to complete the next few questions.

Kevin, however, was happy with his journey and his Big Mac.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

An Eleven Plus Fire Eater

What do parents do if their child announces that he or she want to be a fire eater? Does this mean that all that hard work towards the eleven plus, all that anxiety about grades in the grammar school and finally all that expense towards the geography degree (that was followed by a Masters) is to be thrown away?

My child, with a grammar school education, and two degrees is to become a street performer? How can that be? What can we do? What can we say? Should we say something?

We know that there must be an element of pre-selection before a job is offered. But pre-selection for fire eaters?

Consider this likely scenario. The fire-eater-teacher is sitting on a box outside the kitchens of a well- known hotel. The interviewer has your child’s CV in his or her hands. Your child, properly dressed for an interview in a smart suit kneels reverently down.  There are three piles of papers on a smaller box. (Possibles, promising and rejects.)

The interviewer, who has seen it all before, but is highly trained and remarkably successful, starts with a brave opening gambit.

“Did you used to play with matches as a child?”

“No, my mum and dad would not let me.”

“Have you ever set anything on fire?”

“No, not really, but I used to blow out my birthday candles.”

“Good, good, that is a positive response. I see you did the eleven plus.  Can you solve this anagram?”

(The interviewer writes three words on a piece of paper. “Tar free Ife”.)

The ex eleven plus candidate, ex grammar school pupil and ex university graduate smiles and writes two words. The interviewer offers thanks, and is thanked, and the candidate is told to wait a few days.

(The parents now wait anxiously for this part of the story.)

“Did you solve the anagram?”

“I hope so. I wrote `fire eater’. “

“Was that correct?”

“It must be after all I was successful at the eleven plus!”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is This the Future of the Eleven Plus?

Is this part of the future of the eleven plus? Children are encouraged to think, solve problems and enjoy themselves. There is no arid working through multiple choice questions. Children have to build their own eleven plus papers. 

Here an eleven plus pupil is using fruit to move the cursor. He programmed the `action' using Scratch and has attached a board to his lap top.

If your child had to spend ten minutes would he or she prefer to answer ten questions or move the cursor ten spaces to the right touching a banana?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Imagination and the Eleven Plus

We have just enjoyed the pleasure of some eleven plus courses. Some of the children were finishing off exercises which they had not managed to complete. Some were relaxed and confident. One rather `bright spark’ asked why a square number was called square – when it was not a square. No-one likes to show complete ignorance so I had to confess that I had no idea at all. There was general pleasure.

Someone from a different table asked why cube numbers were called cube numbers when a cube had a very different shape. The children looked to me for an answer. I raised my eyebrows. There was general pleasure.

By now the children in close proximity were `in the zone’.  The chatter grew very swiftly. One girl, however, was writing on a page. She said: “I know!” She wrote:

1 x 1
2 x 2
3 x 3
4 x 4

The girl, and her friend beside her, drew one dot, then four dots in a two by two array. Of course others took up the challenge with patterns of three by three and then four by four.

Of course one boy did not join in. He had listened to the chatter about square numbers but he was trying to prove cube numbers. Now cube numbers may not be taught to many Year 5 children in the National Curriculum – but could come up when discussing volumes.

In a few moments there was a group around him. Someone wrote:

1 x 1 x 1
This was followed by
2 x 2 x 2
And then
3 x 3 x 3

The interest of the children, however, was gone as quickly as it had arisen. The moment was lost.

As I bent to write: “Good thinking!” beside the work of the children concerned I wondered why they didn't ask me how the purity of solid can be proved by finding its melting point. Again I would have had no definitive answer to this question and would have had to expose my ignorance. How long, however, would it have taken this very bright group of eleven plus children to come up with some sensible theories? Why can’t the eleven plus examination leave room for children to be able to think freely and imaginatively?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Stormy Eleven Plus Weather

Stormy Weather

A child, Loretta, is a member of her school football team. She looks forward to the football games – but is sad that so many games are cancelled because of the bad weather. She started becoming involved in the weather – and was particularly taken with `cold snaps’. When her teacher at school suggested that the class may be interested in doing project work, Loretta wanted to do a project on cold snaps.

She was working through an eleven plus paper and was asked to solve the anagram: `span clod’. Loretta saw at a glance that `span clod’ was an anagram of `cold snap’.

Was this fair?

Do children who are fit and play in teams do well in eleven plus examinations?

Is the eleven plus an unfair examination if some children can cope comfortably with anagrams?

We once had a mother who wrote to us to complain that her child had been given part of a cross word to solve. Some of the questions involved anagrams. Part of our answer was that we sometimes read of very bright men and women who can solve crosswords remarkably quickly. Crossword solvers have to be able to reach the correct answer. A `punt’ at an answer may hold up proceedings for some time.

Can eleven plus children learn to pass an examination by learning to solve anagrams?

(Answer: “It depends”.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Obscure Eleven Plus Questions

One of the really pleasant things about being an eleven plus teacher is the ability to work with very bright children. Sharing the joy of solving obscure eleven plus questions is to be savoured. As more and more eleven plus publishers have jumped on the band wagon there are some rather bizarre verbal reasoning questions.

The excitement comes when a child reads a question aloud. Which teaching method was used to teach reading in the very early days?

One child may have benefited from a phonic approach.

A different child may have learnt to read using a whole word method.

Some children may have `picked up’ reading by `a little of this and a little bit of that’.

Years ago there were carefully presented tests designed to establish the best way for a child to learn. Will there ever be a battery of tests designed to suggest the best method a child should use to be able to cope with reading a verbal reasoning question?

Some questions, for example, seem to rely heavily on the ability to spell well. Have children who are good at spelling been well taught – or are they just good at spelling. Some children may learn good spelling techniques by working through eleven plus papers.  Eleven plus verbal reasoning papers, however, are designed to help a child pass the eleven plus and therefore do not have the responsibility of developing good spelling techniques.

Of course we meet the question faced by many teachers and parents - is good spelling preceded by good reading? Can a child be good at reading if there is a problem with spelling? How much responsibility do publishers have to bear towards their target audience? Do some verbal reasoning questions rely too heavily on spelling?

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

An Eleven Plus Finnan Haddie

Eleven Plus parents often have something to worry about. Life, work, children, relations, the eleven plus and examination dates are but a few. There is also the need to keep food on the table that the candidate will eat. If we are asked which food is good for the brain it is likely that the word `fish’ will spring to mind.

Parents could consider a Finnan Haddie. This is a recipe that will enter the mind of any parents who have already had children through the eleven plus. Brand new parents may need a little help.

A Finnan haddie is the popular name for smoked salted haddock. It is lightly salted and does not usually require soaking. Some children may prefer to have the bones removed from the whole finnan haddie. It is suggested that the haddie can be soaked in warm water for about five minutes.

1.5 pounds of haddock
1.5 cups of milk
3 tablespoons butter
0.25 teaspoons of paprika.

Place the haddie in a greased baking tin. Add the milk and butter. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake in a moderate oven for as long as your child takes to complete a section of a paper.

Call it a day once the family has enjoyed the meal.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Ball Point Pens and The Eleven Plus

Will writing ever came back to mean something in the world of the eleven plus?

The earliest kind of writing was done by carving ideographs or pictures, each representing an idea, on stone, bone or any other hard material. As far as we know this form of writing has been inexistence for thousands of years.

The Assyrians and Egyptians used cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing but when man started using papyrus then writing became easier. Many of the present European alphabets were derived from the Phoenicians. In time capital letters were used and cursive writing spread over Europe. Steel pens supplanted quill pens – and, in time, more and more people learnt to write.

The biro then made a big impact on writing. Our next door neighbour in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, was Baron Hercules Robinson who lived, with his wife Janet, next door to us. `Herkey’, as he was known, `won’ the agency for biros for large parts of Southern Africa. He was also very good at backgammon and bridge. We were told that he made more money playing bridge than he did as a regular worker! He inherited a castle up in Scotland from his Aunt – and then had to work very hard to develop and maintain the castle. Culcreuch Castle is near Fintry in Stirlingshire.

When I watched a child pick up a biro pen today to work on some eleven plus work – I suddenly thought of the Robinsons and how their dog used to fight with our dog. Will any of today’s eleven plus children end up as Barons and Baronesses? Will any eleven plus children make more money playing bridge than working for a living? Can a child be successful even if he or she does not pass the eleven plus?

Sunday, April 07, 2013

An Eleven Plus Definition

If there is a strident voice in the playground espousing unsavoury thoughts on the eleven plus, then it may be politic, at times, to step back.

Do you remember Socrates? He used a teaching method by which progress and understanding were preceded by sustained and directed questioning. He used part of the correct answer to one of his questions – and then worried away at the detail.

If the playground fanatic makes otherwise sane parents want to ridicule or reject any unsubstantiated statements then it may be useful to remember what happen to Socrates in the end. He refused to temper his teachings and was finally executed by the Athenian state. (Some say he drank hemlock to speed his death.)

Socrates raised questions along the lines of: what is justice, what is knowledge, what is beauty? He then showed through the questions and answers that there was seldom a clear understanding of the concepts involved.

Imagine Socrates sitting in your school playground. A group parents are gathered around. He then poses the question: “What is the eleven plus?”

Socrates felt that true knowledge was being able to define something.

 How many true eleven plus answers would he receive?

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Worthy Eleven Plus Parents

Once upon a time, a long time ago, the `Dalton Plan’ was the latest buzz word in education. The plan, in its simplest form, tried to eliminate class teaching. Children were supposed to work on their own to learn to cultivate individual effort and responsibility.

A certain amount of work was prescribed for each subject for a defined period. The pupil was left to get on with the work in his or her own way. The teacher then became the advisor. The teacher was no longer responsible for the class listening in due silence while he or she expounded some vital point. The children were still gathered in small groups for organisational convenience.

Of course some educators did not agree with the Dalton plan. They felt that too much responsibility was placed on the children. They also felt that the children had too much freedom.

Time, however, is usually very precious at the eleven plus approaches. The eleven plus has some form of a syllabus which has to be completed before the examination. There is no open end to eleven plus teaching and learning. The date of the examination draws remorselessly closer.

In Victorian times parents and teachers could read books called “How to be a Worthy Teacher” and “How to Become a Worthy Parent”. Books today often along the lines of: “The Eleven Plus for Parents”.  There is little mention of how parents can become worthy. Parents simply have to do their best they can. They can allow their children to self-regulate the amount and the extent of their eleven plus work – but at most other times they have to lead and direct. Is this the true value of a `worthy’ eleven plus parent?

Friday, April 05, 2013

Ancient Greece and the Eleven Plus

Many years ago I can remember reading about Hippolytus. He was the son of Theseus and the Amazon Queen Hippolyta. Hippolytus was in today’s parlance ` a cool dude’. He was handsome and good looking. Would he have fitted into `One Direction’?

He fell in love with Artemis who was the goddess of the hunt – but she didn’t like him. He married Phaedra who loved him lots and lots.

Phaedra died and Theseus asked Poseidon, the sea god, for help. A sea monster frightened the horses of Hippolytus. The chariot overturned and he died of his wounds.

Eleven Plus Question

Would Amazonian woman have plied their trade around the Amazon River in South America?
Don’t know

The Ancient Greeks loved dance and song, would they have liked One Direction?
Don’t know

If you are an Eleven Plus Mother or Father, can you sing a One Direction song?
Don’t know

How did Poseidon breathe while he was out of the water?
Don’t know

Is there a book on the connection between the Ancient Greeks and today’s Eleven Plus Children?
Don’t know

Do parents need to worry about the extent of their child’s knowledge of the Ancient Greeks?
Don’t know

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Eleven Plus Jokes

Do you remember the story about the Irish Tourist who wanted to visit America in early 2012? Leigh Van Bryan tweeted that he was going to `destroy America’. When he landed in the United States he was detained by the authorities and subsequently deported.

Some Americans, it seems, did not realise that the words `destroy America’ referred to having fun on his holiday.

It looks as if elements of social media, of some individuals, are examined by the American authorities.

If your child tweets you from her Blackberry to say that she is going to `destroy a VR paper’, does it mean that the family will be detained on their way to Disneyland?

Suppose your son lets you know that he is in a killing mood and wants to tackle his eleven plus work, will he be arrested when he arrives in New York to start his Christmas shopping? “Mum I want to kill this paper before I go to bed.”

Will I be arrested outside the American Embassy for including the words `destroy’ and `kill’ in this blog?

Many of us use social media to form opinions about the eleven plus. There are forums, blogs, twitter accounts and pages of comment. Sometimes it may seem difficult to the unwary to be able to separate fact from fiction. Some people worry about committing themselves to social media platforms. They are afraid that they will cross boundaries about using social media safely and lawfully.

Any further `jokes’ will, however, be gratefully received.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Eleven Plus Programs

We have another Scratch workshop coming up. Some eleven plus children are computer literate. This can mean that some children are very good at looking games up on You Tube, other children can play computer games with considerable enthusiasm. There are even children who can use a search engine to help with homework and then write about what they have learned in a word processor.

We also have eleven plus children with us who do not have a computer at home. These children do not have the luxury over being able to spend time applying what they have learnt at school. One of our eleven plus girls wanted to watch CBEEBIES as none of her family had a computer and she REALLY wanted to try it out. She maintained that her teachers at school did not allow her to watch BBC IPLAYER at school.

How will she ever be able to become an engineer? Of course she may not want to go down this route as she may decide to become to work in a department where she administers a MRI Scanner. There may come a time, however, when she needs some knowledge of the programs that help to run her scanner.

Scratch was created by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Scratch takes core concepts of programming and makes them accessible to all. Children (and adults) use a drag and drop environment – but the children have to solve problems and use programming language.

In this case an embryo programmer has made a program to round decimals. I have no idea why the background was chosen. Perhaps the child lived near a remote stream? Why too were so many numbers in the question? How many decimal places should the question be rounded to? Your ten year old should be able to answer these questions easily – and go on to improve and develop the program. Is this REAL eleven plus work?

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

An Eleven Plus Play

Scene Three


It is Tuesday afternoon. The gang are playing football. Everyone is on holiday. The park is full – even though the wind is biting. George decides to leave.

Mary: George is leaving early again. I wonder where he is going.

Evan: Work, I expect.

Eve: What do you mean work? He is only just ten years old!

Evan: Don’t be silly. You know what I mean.

Eve: Of course, silly! He is going to do his eleven plus work.

Mary: I wonder why he is working over the school holidays.

Evan. His dad bribed him.


The children follow George to his house. George goes inside. The children, waiting outside, see a light go on. They see George sit down. No-one inside the house speaks to George.

Eve: Has he started work all ready?

Evan: Well he was on a course today so I expect he has work to finish before tomorrow.

Eve: He is so keen isn’t he?

Mary (Quick as a flash.) Do you mean keen or do you mean keen?

Eve: (Laughs) The second one. You have always fancied him, haven’t you?

Evan: Stop it you two.

Eve: Do you mean two or too?

Evan: I can never win can I?

Mary and Eve (Together) No hope!

Monday, April 01, 2013

Eleven Plus Instructions

Sometimes it is difficult to encourage an eleven plus child to read the instructions at the beginning of a test - after all once the candidate has read the `blurb’ once – why read it again?

There was some research some time ago where `subjects’ were shown a variety of posters. Some of the posters were of single scenes, others multiple scenes – and some were of a serial nature. In one experiment there were two posters of a` before and after’ nature. The first poster showed a worker wearing goggles at work – and same worker off duty looking prosperous and well dressed. The second poster showed a worker at a grindstone with no goggles and the same worker now blind and dressed very poorly.

The results showed that some `subjects’ found the vertical and horizontal associations difficult. The message of the posters was sometimes missed. The careless nature of the worker without goggles was not always associated with the well-dressed worker.

It was also found that captions did not always direct attention to the underlying message.

It helped considerable when the posters were redesigned with the `good’ or careful workers wearing the same clothes. It was also found that the faces on the posters had to be of a similar shape and colour.

Then the same tests were undertaken with simple geometric shapes offering the same message. When strong colours were added the understanding of the message was much stronger.

Is there a message in these findings for authors and publishers of eleven plus material? Could the instructions be presented in a more inviting manner? After all when we tell a bright ten year old something once – do we always need to keep repeating the same message?

What symbols could we use to encourage a candidate to read questions carefully?