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We can fix 11-Plus


MICHAEL RAY

We can fix 11-Plus

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As promised, I have returned to the 11-Plus examination, but prior to delving into deeper depths on this highly debatable subject, there are things of which some critics may not be aware.

The 11-Plus examination adopted by Barbadian authorities was created by the British Education Act of 1944 under the then Minister of Education of the Conservative government, Richard Butler.

The act created three different types of secondary schools in Britain, namely the grammar school, the modern secondary school and the technical secondary school.

The grammar school was intended to teach an academic curriculum to the most intellectually able of the secondary schools’ population in subjects such as Latin, ancient Greek and history, mathematics and sciences such as chemistry and physics, subjects taught to Ordinary and Advanced levels of the General Certificate of Education. 

The British grammar schools catered to approximately 25 per cent of the total secondary schools’ population. However, the majority of students between the ages of 11 and 15 were allocated to modern secondary schools later called comprehensive secondary schools.

The comprehensive secondary schools employed a broader curriculum inclusive of practical hands-on subjects of metal and woodwork, cookery, design and embroidery, agricultural husbandry and similar subjects.

The technical secondary school was intended to teach mechanical, scientific and engineering skills to serve the requirements of industry and science.

It is of special interest to note that the attempt to establish technical secondary schools in Britain was not as successful when compared with the development and success of the other two types of schools as envisaged in the 1944 act.

Three major causes were identified for the failure of technical schools in Britain, namely: opposition from the trade union movement of the day, believing that technical education was its responsibility, mainly through the apprentice system; difficulty in sourcing teachers with skills in the relevant areas; and the technical school being viewed as a place for students incapable of high academic achievement, with the development of a reputation as being inferior to the grammar school, and used as a mechanism for borderline pass/fail results.

I have said earlier and still maintain that Barbadian authorities implemented the 11-Plus examination without the requisite resources and infrastructure in place, just as in Britain where few technical schools were created, while various adjustments and changes were made to schools in the other two tiers of the educational system.

The two latter causes of the failure of technical schools in Britain are literal carbon copies of what befell the attempt made in Barbados.

It must be remembered that the major objective of the 11-Plus examination as envisaged by the British authorities was to provide an education for all students given their various intellectual abilities and skills.

The responsibility of our local authorities was to adjust and modify the British system to suit our conditions and requirements, according to available resources.

Subsequent to the 1944 act, the British have been continually making changes to their educational system in order to maximise the benefits therefrom and today Britain is still among the better off European countries.

Education is inherently evolutionary; therefore our educational technocrats have to keep their hands on the steering wheel, pointing it in the right direction.

With adequate resources and the necessary adjustments to the 11-Plus examination, Barbados can produce the right mix of well-educated citizens for its future development.

Space must be created for those who possess high intellectual and academic skills as well as those with manual and other creative skills.

If the 11-Plus examination is broken, then it can be fixed rather than thrown on the dump heap like a piece of garbage.

Finally, it is significant to note that prior to its 1997 election victory, the British Labour Party (opponents of the 11-Plus examination) campaigned for the closing down of secondary grammar schools admission via the 11-Plus examination. However, after being elected, the Labour government allowed parents to make a determination by way of ballots and referenda.

Support for grammar schools was overwhelming and they were retained.

Until 2013 there were 164 secondary grammar schools in England still using the 11-Plus examination for admission.

– MICHAEL RAY

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