Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Cake

Long ago and far away, when I was eleven years old, I took an exam called the 11+. Most children of that age at that time in the UK took that exam. It was thought to be able to determine academic abilities. If you passed the exam well, you went off to the academically rigorous schools of the day, namely, grammar schools. If you did reasonably well, you went off to slightly less challenging academic environments. And if you failed the exam, as I did, you went to a secondary modern school.

The 11+ exam was created by the 1944 Butler Education Act. It divided children into one of three streams: an academic, a technical and a functional strand. Determining a child's academic abilities at this point in their lives indicated likely career choices. Since I failed the 11+ I would most likely work in the service industry or perhaps education as some of my classmates in the UK now do.

So for the first year of my secondary modern school experience, in addition to main subjects like English and History and Mathematics, boys went off to do metalwork and woodwork whilst girls went off to iron handkerchiefs and bake Christmas Cakes.

The shortcomings of the 11+ exam are well-known and it has been largely abandoned but not before it consigned schoolchildren to particular streams of education far too early.


Differences amongst children were in future not to be measured but eradicated. Those arguments which had been used against the eleven-plus examination were now deployed against streaming or grading. Homogenising efforts were directed not only at differences of ability but also differences of gender. School books which depicted men going to work or women shopping were condemned for promoting sex-stereotyping. Girls were now encouraged to enrol for metalwork and boys for domestic science. Even the differences between teachers and pupils were now minimised; the former’s role was now to facilitate freedom of expression and group activity learning.

Had it not been for the foresight of my parents I would not be where I am today. They paid for me to attend a boarding school at the age of 15 where within one year I took O levels and then three A levels which enabled me to attend University. Pause for a moment to consider as I often do those of my classmates and several generations of UK children hampered and restricted by such an experience from which they would never recover. I met some of them one Easter when I took a job in Woolworth's selling Easter Eggs. 

2 comments:

Deirdre Good said...

I am so glad your parents had the vision and the resources to send you to boarding school!

Jules said...

That was me mysteriously signed in as you. How does this happen?