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My answer to 11-Plus

Matthew Farley

My answer to 11-Plus

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The 11+ is a sacred cow that should have long been taken out to pasture and slaughtered – Professor Emeritus Dr Earle Newton
May 6 saw the usual hustle and bustle around secondary schools in Barbados. It was the day when about 3 700 primary school students took what used to be called the “Screening Test” in the early years of its introduction to Barbados in 1959.
There is no educational topic that has evoked as much discussion or debate as this test. For many parents it is the gateway to success and to the future for their child or ward. For many teachers, it is the only way for them to prove their competency as classroom practitioners. Indeed, teachers of Class 4 in primary schools enjoy higher educational profiles than their colleagues at other levels in the school. 
The Ministry of Education is in possession of numerous reports and research papers that have brought interesting analyses to bear on this method of transferring students from primary to secondary school. The ministry itself had made substantial progress in terms of a shift from this one-shot and one-day examination to a system of continuous assessment. This alternative approach would have seen students obtaining 40 per cent of their mark over a two-year period in areas outside of the traditional subject areas. They would accumulate marks from as early as Class 2 and the other 60 per cent would come from the pen and paper test at the end of Class 4. This combination of continuous assessment and one-shot test was seen as a compromise and as a more realistic means of assessment.
Of course, there are many who oppose any change in the status quo and insist that the exam is the best and only way to determine who goes to which school. While there have been some cosmetic changes to the test, including the age at which it could be taken, not much has changed over the past 50 years. The flexible transfer which factors in the fundamental tenet of individual differences allows students to take the test as early as ten years or as late as 12.
The other adjustment had to do with a slight shift to what is called partial zoning which was intended to give schools a better mix of abilities and there was an expectation that we would eventually move to a system of full zoning.
As an educator with over 40 years’ experience both at the primary and secondary level and sometimes the lone voice advocating for change in a system that labels students from as early a reception and nursery, if I had any authority I would move to a system of full zoning. Put differently, students would simply attend the school closest to where they live.
Any perceived inequalities between and among secondary schools in Barbados is system induced. The public perception of our schools is the creation of the system of allocation based on the dreaded Common Entrance Examination. The perception that Harrison College is a better school has nothing to do with the facilities or the level of teacher competence. The fact that those schools dubbed newer secondary are seen as being lower in status or profile has nothing to do with these kinds of inputs. If all the students at St George Secondary were transferred to the Crumpton Street facility and vice versa, the academic performance would not change. Almost overnight St George Secondary would become our top secondary school and Harrison College would bring up the rear.
The issue here is not about relegating or elevating schools. The point being made is fundamental. A key factor in any school success is the ability level of the students allocated thereto. My colleagues at St George Secondary are no less competent or qualified than those at Harrison College. We have all gone to the same teachers’ college and the same universities.
So to put an end to the social class snobbery, the elitism, the short-circuiting of the curriculum, the neglect of instruction in the basics of literacy and numeracy, the vicious labelling and the psychological scarring of students, let secondary school-age children attend the school nearest to where they live.
I predict that in five years’ time, the profile of every secondary school in Barbados would rise and the annual charade and posturing would be a thing of past like the Common Entrance Examination needs to be. In St Michael, where there is a heavy concentration of schools, educational zones similar to those used for elections could be created, factoring population density among other considerations.
• Matthew Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education and a social commentator. Email [email protected]