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Passnotes on how 11-Plus proved to be the making of us

As we give away three more transfer test practice booklets this week, local personalities tell Stephanie Bell why they're glad they sat the 11-Plus

Published 20/04/2015

No regrets: Carla Lockhart says sitting the 11-Plus was a key factor in becoming a success in life
No regrets: Carla Lockhart says sitting the 11-Plus was a key factor in becoming a success in life
Paul Clark is now a journalist and newsreader at UTV
Top grade: Cathy Martin
Different path: Leesa Harker is pleased with how life turned out
Exam pressures: Gemma Garrett

For those who sat the 11-Plus test, it became a milestone in their lives. And as thousands of P6 pupils prepare for this year's transfer tests, the Belfast Telegraph is lending a helping hand by providing free practice booklets in-paper this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

The transfer tests are a landmark moment for children, but the right preparation can prove vital in building confidence and ability.

Here, well-known personalities share their memories of sitting the 11-Plus - and provide some interesting insights into how they believe the test - pass or fail - helped shape their futures.

'The 11-Plus gave me push I needed to work harder'

DUP councillor and former mayor of Craigavon Carla Lockhart (30) puts her success today down to the fact that she didn't excel in the 11-Plus. Carla is married to Rodney Condell, a quantity surveyor. She says:

When I look back, I believe, for me, that the 11-Plus was a big turning-point in my life. I got a C2 and I remember one teacher telling me I was a failure.

Doing the exam really did me a big favour, as it made me want to prove myself and I got the bit between my teeth to do well and went on to get a 2.1 in my business studies degree.

I really support academic selection. I went to high school, which was the best place for me and I wouldn't change a thing.

I think if I had gone to a grammar school it would been too much pressure for me at the time.

The 11-Plus was good for me as it gave me the push I needed to work harder and prove myself.

I went to Lisferty Primary School in Aughnacloy and the teachers and my parents helped me coming up to the exam and were a great encouragement.

It was very much the done thing at that time that everyone sat the 11-Plus.

In saying that, it was daunting doing the actual exam and, when I got my results, there were people who did say I could have done better.

I had put in reasonable effort, but on the day things didn't go as well as they could have.

It was a huge turning point in my life and, although I was young, it did make me decide to work harder and I believe looking back it was all part of a plan.

I went to Augnacloy High School and then Armagh Tech and then university and I'm very happy.

There is no doubt that for me the 11-Plus was a driver in making me want to better myself, but I believe that whatever situation you find yourself in, if you work hard you will succeed."

'I've always enjoyed and relished a challenge in life'

UTV journalist and newsreader Paul Clark says he learnt a huge life lesson from his experience of sitting the 11-Plus. Paul (61) is married to Carol (63) and they have two sons, Peter (27) and David (24), and live in Belfast. He says:

I did the 11-Plus in 1964 at St Anne's Primary School in Dunmurry and I passed the exam. I went to St Mary's Christian Brothers Grammar School in west Belfast. At that time, we weren't schooled for the 11-Plus, it was just part of the routine and we all did it.

It was some years later that I learnt a huge life-lesson from it - I never worked as hard at school as I should have.

Between O- and A-Levels, we had an intake of boys from St Mary's Secondary School, who had failed their 11-Plus, but had worked hard to get their O-Levels.

They had been told by their teachers that they were not failures and were encouraged to work hard to get their exams. They really did leave us grammar school boys in their wake. We were just sailing towards our A-Levels and we really thought we were the bees knees and were on a bit of a roll, because we had passed our 11-Plus and were in grammar school.

It was a bit like the Hare and the Tortoise; those boys had spent the past five years working hard, while we thought we were the cream of the crop and were just sailing along, resting on our laurels.

I got dreadful A-Level results and so did some of my friends and that was my life-lesson - that there is no shortcut to hard work. I didn't get into university, because I hadn't worked as hard as I ought to have.

I know it is a very unfair question to ask myself, but at times I wonder would I have been better failing the 11-Plus, as then I might have been more motivated at school.

I remember the exam being a combination of speed and accuracy, but I don't remember feeling bad doing it, as I've always enjoyed and relished a challenge in my life.

I loved DJing and had been doing discos in my teens. When I left school, I had no real plan about what I was going to do - although I wanted to be a Radio 1 DJ.

I thought the best way to do that was to go down the journalism route and I did a one-year course in journalism and got my first job in the Irish News.

I learnt from that experience at school to work hard.

I think all of our life experiences make us the people we are."

'Our parents always encouraged us to do well at school'

Belfast Fashionweek organiser and PR agency owner Cathy Martin (42) believes that practice papers similar to those being given away by the Belfast Telegraph this week helped her to get a top A grade in her 11-Plus. Cathy is married to businessman Julian Jordan and has one daughter, Valentina (3).  She says:

I went to St Bride's Primary in Belfast. I was one of seven children and we were all encouraged to work really hard at school. In our house, failure was not an option. My dad was a builder and even though he was very successful, he wanted us to go down a more vocational route.

I remember from when I was very young that was all the talk in our house and we were encouraged to do well at school.

I didn't really feel pressure on the day of the exam. I didn't find it easy, but it was straight-forward enough.

St Bride's was a very academic school, and still is, and in P6 we did a lot of old test papers to prepare us and that really helped.

I remember feeling relieved when the exam was over. When the results came my mum opened the envelope and, again, I just felt relief that I had passed and got an A. I think I felt the pressure to do well because of my siblings having passed the exam before me. Everyone but my eldest brother passed it, but he went on to do really well and is now retired at 51.

I went to Rathmore Grammar and did my GCSEs and A-levels, and then to the University of Ulster to study European Business with French and Italian. I did a post-graduate diploma in international law and economics in France and then came home and set up my company, Cathy Martin Public Relations."

'Failing it has moulded me as a person'

Belfast playwright and author Leesa Harker (37), this year's winner of the Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year in the Arts award, believes failing her 11-Plus shaped the person she is today. Leesa has two children Lola (7) and Lexi (4). She says:

I went to Seaview Primary School in Belfast and was one of the smartest kids in P7 and everyone expected me to pass the 11-Plus.

When I failed, it was a terrible shock. I did my best and my parents weren't upset; they were just very surprised. I was devastated, because I wanted to go to Belfast High School and instead I went to the Girls' Model, in Belfast.

I remember being nervous on the day of the exam and the teacher had organised arts and crafts for after the test to give us all a wee boost.

After I got my results, my P7 teacher said to me 'careless mistakes cost dearly' and that has really stuck with me throughout my life and to this day I believe that was good advice. When I make a mistake - and I've made quite a few - I think of that.

I believe that the test is irrelevant to what you can go on to achieve in life. I think you can go on as an individual and do what you want, regardless of whether you pass or fail.

Sometimes, I do think that maybe if I had gone to grammar school, I would have taken a different path and not left school after my GCSEs, but I have no regrets.

I did well in my GCSEs, but left school at 16 with no life experience. That said, I was earning £20,000 and had a company car at 19.

I really believe everything happens for a reason and failing my 11-Plus has moulded me as a person.

I also made great friends at the Girls' Model, who became friends for life, and I would never have met them if I had passed the 11-Plus. It was a tough school and to a degree that probably helped shape me, too.

I don't think you know at 11 what you want to do with your life. I didn't know what I wanted to do until I was 30. I'm pretty pleased with how everything has turned out for me. My two girls now go to the same primary and some of the same teachers are still there. One of them even came to see one of my plays, which was great.

I really believe it doesn't matter if you pass or fail.

If you want to be doctor, or a vet, or whatever career you choose, if you don't pass the 11-Plus it doesn't mean you can't be what you want to be."

'I remember waiting for the postman ...'

Belfast model, actress and former Miss Great Britain, Gemma Garrett (33) was relieved to pass her 11-Plus, as it meant she could go to the same school as her older sister. She says:

Brooklands Primary was my school and I remember my sister Lisa had done the 11-Plus four years before me. At that time it was just a pass or fail and she passed. My cousin Michael, who was also very intelligent, then did it and passed as well.

When it was my turn to do it, I did feel pressure to pass because they had. And when I sat the exam there were scores of 1, 2, 3 or 4 and I felt I had to get a 1. My parents were great and told me that it didn't matter if I didn't pass, but subconsciously I felt they really wanted me to get it. My teacher was confident that I would do well, too, but I was still worried and nervous.

I remember finishing it really quickly and my dad had told me if I finished before the time just to go over it again. I had loads and loads of time and found that it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be and that worried me - maybe I had done something wrong?

On the day the results were due I sat waiting for the postman, thinking that whatever was in the envelope was already printed and there was nothing I could do about it. And when it came I went upstairs and wouldn't open it in front of anyone. I got a 1 and was really happy.

It meant that I got to the same school as my sister, Bloomfield Collegiate. I got 10 GCSEs, but couldn't wait to leave. I went straight into a good job in the Halifax and shortly after that I won Miss Ulster, and everything snowballed from there."

Get your free transfer test practice papers this week

Schools are already hard at work preparing children for this year's transfer tests and parents will also want to do everything they can to ensure their children perform to the best of their ability.

The Belfast Telegraph has been giving away free Transfer Test practice booklets to help parents build up their child's confidence and skill ahead of the exams in November and December. The first three were given away free last week and the next three will be given away free with the paper this week, from Wednesday, April 22 to Friday, April 24. As well as invaluable advice for parents, each booklet contains practice questions on literacy and numeracy for both the AQE/CEA and multiple choice GL exams. The six booklets will allow children to become familiar with the type of questions they are likely to face during assessment and will enable them to complete tests without pressure and in the comfort of the home environment.

Belfast Telegraph

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