Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Why our 11-plus puzzle would baffle Einstein

Lindy McDowell, Belfast Telegraph

In the news this week — a two year old girl who, we’re told, has a more impressive IQ than even the great Carol Vorderman. (The child’s IQ is actually said to be just short of Einstein’s but this has had less impact in the headlines, presumably because Albert didn’t do a television quiz show or successful detox diet.)

Anyway, one thing that will surely be beyond the little prodigy — the 11-plus alternative test paper in Northern Ireland.

And that’s just the exam we’re talking about.

For, never mind the test questions, even Einstein himself would be stumped trying to make head or tail of our current convoluted new post primary school selection system.

Some schools, we’re told, will be doing entrance tests. Some schools won’t.

Some schools will be offering the same test as neighbouring schools. Some schools won’t.

The details of who’s using what entrance criteria — and how pupils and their families are being stretched to deal with this — could make a raft of examination questions in themselves

In order to get into schools of their choice how many exams must Johnny and Mary sit in total?

How much in payment will their parents have to fork out for this? (There’s talk of some children having to sit as many as three separate exams.)

When the cost of tutoring (if this is deemed necessary) is added on, what will it bring the total to?

How many working class families will be able to afford any of this?

How do working class families feel about being therefore excluded by a system which the Education Minister insisted was all about equality?

How many bright working class kids will be lost entirely in this system?

There must surely be some remarkable personal stories about what families are going through right now. And to add to the current farce we are now told that there will be stringent identity checks on children taking the test.

Photographic ID will be required. By the sound of it, they’re going to be insisting on everything short of DNA samples. This apparently, is to stop parents substituting an older, brighter sibling to do the test. (“Yes miss, I know I have a beard but I really was born in 1999 ...”)

Doesn’t it occur to anyone in authority that the very suggestion that this might be an option, in itself smacks of parental desperation?

In the old days (ie over the last few years) the 11-plus was held up as a monstrous example of a stress-inducing horror for young children.

There were endless stories about this or that young child and their parents being shattered by the pressure of it all.

What in God’s name must it be like this year? What sort of pressure must parents, teachers and above all children now be under as confusion abounds and new, uncoordinated systems are tried out?

If some parents end up feeling massively disillusioned, short-changed and bitter, who could blame them? If some decide to sue, should we be surprised?

In the long run, we’re all going to be paying for this. But nobody more than the children caught in the middle of a farcical and chaotic system.

The real losers in the post 11-plus fiasco?

You don‘t have to be a genius to work that one out.

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