The 11+ Stranglehold

Submitted by Charles Knighton
Always the perennial cry, 11 Plus vs Continuous Assessment

Always the perennial cry, 11 Plus vs Continuous Assessment

With the end of the school term, the rancorous yearly debate vis-a-vis the relative merit of a one-off exam versus a system of continuous assessment again reaches a hiatus, which will be interrupted by precisely the same debate as the time for the next eleven-plus approaches. This being Barbados, where unacted-upon green papers, white papers and MOU’s fill government storage rooms, the ad infinitum nature of this debate is guaranteed. As a former educator, I offer the following observation.

No exam, no single day’s performance, should be  given so much power to effect the lives and evaluations of students, teachers and the schools they represent.  Current policy in Barbados reflects the belief that we need such tests, the belief that we cannot trust the judgement of teachers to tell us whether or not students are making progress nor of administrators to tell us whether teachers are succeeding or not.

This being the case, why then should they be trusted with our children?

41 thoughts on “The 11+ Stranglehold

  1. This is one discussion that has be beaten to death and it will stay that way since of course there are too many people with a vested interest to have things remain exactly as they are.

    An elite academic few will serve in favour of the traditional, historical elite and use what ever power there is that has been vested in them to dictate terms to the rest of us. I results in a community that is bent solely on rewarding service, with absolutely no regard to, and as a result at the expense of, product.

  2. I keep hearing this refrain every year around this time about eliminating the 11+. But I am confused why it should go.
    I am in my 40s and have been through more exams than I can remember. I wish I could have gotten CXCs, a university degree or a professional qualification based on a teachers favorable recommendation. But, I had to take exams, the same exam my peers did, get graded by an independent body before I could be considered eligible to move from one level to another. I’ve even had to take tests to pass a job interview. So why are we so hung up about the 11+? Do children not have to take tests and exams all through their school years? How else do you know whether or not they are learning?
    Actually how do you assess a child without making it take a standard test? If they want to assess the performance of all children at a specific age how can you do so without making them all take the same test at the same time?
    And if you don’t, how can a teacher communicate to the ministry that a child is successful if the same child can’t pass a standard test?

  3. Long live the 11+

    Before the 11+ did black, rural, working class children get into Harrison College?

    Before the 11+ did black, rural working class children get into Queen’s College?


    They want to be able to call somebody to get their duncy little Johnnys and Susies into HC or QC.

    Or they feel that since they can afford to buy a house near to HC or QC why not have total zoning so that their duncy children get get into an elite school based simply on where the parents live (or pretend to live)

    These people hate the same meritocratic system which catapulted them into the middle class.

  4. As Simple Simon pointed out and Confused elucidated, exams are going to be administered all during one’s life and, as usual, it is the parents of the duncy children that will have problems with the system and seek, through their backdoor methodologies to subvert the process.

    Where i diverge from the common thread about the 11+ and continuous evaluation is in the relevance of the schools curriculum.

    Since 1933 the content of what we have been teaching in schools has not changed and there has been no subsequent MoE who has tried to address this during their tenure.

    Here is the thing, Mia spent $230M in Edutech and, these almost 20 years since her party was in power, we now being saddled with a man who if you took a slice of his brain (sorry brain box) and carried it to the inept Forensic Department on Culloden Road, would not be suprised when the results show that We Jonesing is first cousin to the Paint Donkey that the Merrymen sing bout prancing down Bay Street round 1/2 past 8!!

    We build superb structures, at great expense, spend $500M every year in education and wonder why we are producing a nation of idiots and people who are incapable of any serious thought.

    For the more simplistic who will soon awaken from their physical sleep, not to be confused with their intellectual slumbers that persist like a waking coma, let me give this parable?

    “and it came to pass that the prophets, We Jonesing, and Mummy Why you Bite Me, did ardently train their disciples in netball all during the period of appointment”

    “and behold, when the 2013 world Cricket match did come to pass, both WJ and MWYBM marvelled in absolute amazement why the island;s premiere, national netball team, was beaten so resoundingly by every single visiting cricket team!!

    “Indeed We Jonesing, the blithering buffoon that he is, did immediately appoint a Committee, to have an inquiry on this subject matter, and did solemnly charge them to get to the “bottom of the matter” (no sexual preferences alluded to) or that he would crack some heads and kill some people forthwith.”

    The various teams that we have appointed to lead our educational charge are not in the league to make any meaningful changes to this melee that we call education.

    Children of privileged parents will continue to use this system for their dunces and thereafter send their offspring abroad to get brighter by osmosis.

    We of the Marl Holes and Chapman/Lightfoot Lane are doomed to remain here as drawers of water.

    Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you WHILE you try to F* up your country.

    These my Bajan comrades, are the Days of Our Lives being enacted by the true seditionists, we dont need to fear the Sidney Burnett Alleyne’s coming from Martinique with his guns, here are the new age enemies of the people who, without pulling the trigger of AK47 are killing the current and future citizenry of Barbados.

    At least if Mia, Atherley or Crack some Heads were to have run some pilot to test the efficacy of one idea or the other you would have some metrics to evaluate the merits of one system over the other BUT sadly to say that is for men and women of vision, and we lack those, dont we?

    • Always this is a topic which will provoke emotional responses. And always those responses are not informed by empirical data. It would be interesting if we were to do comparative analysis of results private vs public. Surely the assumption cannot be that the private schools get the brightest students? What if the results show that the mean average is considerable higher than public? Who do we blame then? That the private schools have the best teachers? What is the implication of allowing the economically and socially better off to educate their children in a private school system which appear to be performing a lot better than the public system.

  5. “the belief that we cannot trust the judgement of teachers to tell us whether or not students are making progress”
    Having experienced the personal prejudices of teachers in determining my level of achievement only to be vindicated by my results in external exams during my secondary school days, I am understandably wary of any system which relies solely on an internal assessment system. The lessons from the boom years of the Community College scholarships based on internal exams should provide empirical proof of the failings of such systems. If 100% school based assessments are used you can be assured that the teachers’ “favoured” ones will always be at the top of the class.

    On another note, I keep hearing this theory being bandied around that with complete zoning, students of all abilities will be equally distributed throughout school system and the strong will “pull” the weaker ones along.

    I don’t know where this misconception that stronger students have this innate desire to help others comes from. All students need to be exposed to teaching methods which engage their attention to bring out their best academically. The academically stronger student will become just as distracted and disruptive if placed in an environment where he/she is always sitting around waiting for others to catch up. No matter what system is used to transfer students from primary to secondary school, if we are truly interested in bringing out the best in students, we cannot get away from the fact that with our limited teaching resources, it is best to have students of similar ability in the same class so that the teaching techniques can be tailored to effectively train that group if students. The problem occurs when we adhere to this rigid time-based system which expects students of different academic ability at 11 years old to take the same CXC exam at 15.

  6. Learn to live with the 11+ plus for it will not be changing anytime soon. There is no political party brazen enough to make such a daring move….reason…it is all about election votes and who will be offended…
    Like it or lump it!

  7. I have tried to look at both sides of this yearly argument. I have always wondered why we who came through the system are so adverse to testing our students. How else are they going to make it from there on?

    Why are we trying to teach children that life is a bed of roses… easy road on which to travel. When they get to secondary schools, are they not to be tested either? We want to mamby pamby children too much, no wonder we have so many problems in the world today. America has gone to the extremes where teachers cannot even mark a student’s paper with a red pen…….a bunch of idiots and we are taking our cue from them!

    Keep the 11+. Parents need to take responsibility for their children and stop leaving everything for the schools to do. I am appalled that children could reach 11+ and cannot read or comprehend but know every tune and can wuck up stink. My spouse and I read to our children from babies and as soon as they could read, they had to read to us each night and also explain to us what they read. As parents, we took turns nightly to assist our children with homework. In the vacation, we set assignments for them, corrected the work, show them where they went wrong if they did. They still have so many books in their rooms although they are grown children and have successfully completed university.

    I notice that the crack heads and shoot some people minister has said that over 60% of children got under 60% in the CEE this year and they are supposed to be meeting to discuss this. Wow, we are going the way of America.

  8. The Education system is the third rail of Bajan politics politicians will not touch it for fear they will be zapped to political obscurity, are there any votes to be gained by any meaningful changes? The argument about “poor black people/children” is being made here even before the politicians of whatever stripe get their mitts on it. Onward and onward and onward……

    “ A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds .”- Ralph Waldo Emerson.

  9. Another suggestion is for the schools who get the students with marks below 50%, to return to the days of a lower 5th thus giving these students an extra year to prepare for the CXC exams. The cost of this extra year will be nothing in comparison to just passing students through the school system like on a production line where the end product has been a real cause for concern!

  10. Should we not worry too about the 16+ Exam ? Yesterday tens of thousands of our school children have completed their secondary education,and will now be put through a real -life survival test. Very few of these school leavers, will be able to find employment, and even fewer,if any , will be in a position to become self employed.
    Perhaps there is now some real need to convert some of the secondary schools into Technical Institutes.

    And many of these otherwise “duncy ” children become business owners in Bridgetown and employ the 11 + highflyers. Check the Close Brethren.

  12. The issue, if we strip away the emotion, is how do we help the children who score way below the mean. Why is a significant % of our children scoring 20 marks in the CEE.

  13. @ David
    It is a simple statistical issue.
    If you conducted a test in ANY random area, you will find that the results are the same as the 11+ tests.
    ….about 20% high flyers
    ….about 20% really weak
    ….and the remaining 60% distributed in a bell shaped distribution ranging from fair to good.

    The OBVIOUS solution is to institute MORE 11+ type exams in different areas which will help us to IDENTIFY the DIFFERENT talents that we have in these different areas….

    THEN we can focus our so-called education system accordingly.

    Far from discarding the 11+ exam, we therefore need MORE of them in different ADDITIONAL areas and at different ages..

  14. @Bushie

    Not sure, we need to have access to some kind of time series analysis of primary level performance more so. BU’s concern remains centred on the slow learners whose problem is compounded by the fact they come from challenged households. We need to see the damn stats!

  15. @David
    Not sure, we need to have access to some kind of time series analysis
    Right on time for a Saturday morning chuckle, seems like you, the respective Gov’ts and the BU cognoscenti suffering from that age old malady i.e. “Paralysis by analysis”. What more stats do you need to fix a moribund system? Is that some kind of Gov’t “mek work” project to create some employment for some disgorged from Cave Hill? Hmmmnnn that is not a bad idea looks like you are on to something – dig a hole and fill it back up.

    Yuh evah go to Cuba? There are many examples of 40’s & 50’s jalopies on the road and they seem to get the job done but I wouldn’t want one in my garage unless I was in the antique business.

    • @Sargeant

      One may conclude then that a budget segment which sucks 500 million plus that decisions should be made from the seat of the pants by your reasoning? Doing research based on historical analysis is no reason to think that it must lead to paralysis. It is important to ensure we make informed decisions. Currently there is too much hysteria about education and Old Onions is correct just that his party is guilty as well. No political party has the resolve to touch education.

  16. @ David
    That the stats are not made available is a pox on Bajan brass bowls. How we could allow ongoing governments to spend 25% of budget on one area ….and CONSISTENTLY REFUSE to provide results for analysis by the public is YET ANOTHER item that supports Bushie’s brass bowl theory.
    For example…
    If parents KNEW which primary schools (teachers) were excelling then that is where they would send their children and the slackers would be exposed….

    HOWEVER…be that as it may…
    Why are you surprised that some children do VERY BADLY in an academic exercise at age 11?

    Don’t you think that if you did a test in 50 meter sprinting at age 11 some children would be DISMAL?

    ….as some would be in brushing their teeth, riding a bicycle or kicking a football.
    THAT IS TO BE EXPECTED…. There is nothing wrong with such children…..just that their natural talents or inclinations are NOT in that particular area

    The trick is to find where each child’s talents lie and to build on that…

    Right now we ONLY do that for academics……
    …another pillar of support for Bushie’s brass bowl theory…. 🙂

    • @Bushie

      What the stats would allow is to inform debate how to more effectively reach those children/parents which education is failing to deliver. We may need a 13+ to do more remedial work with the slow learners.

      Do you know that some rural schools in Barbados the class complement is 10 or at most most 15 students?

  17. @ plumber and prodigal son

    I agree totally with the two of you. Standard tests which we are prepared for since age 5? in the case of the common entrance. Then from 11 years to 15 and sixteen cxc and CAPE. How could these not be fair ways to asses a students capabilities. If the parent or guardian feels the teacher is inept then there is the option of private lessons by a more competent teacher. If it weren’t for standardized tests my goose would be cook. I was never a favorite at primary school, not because of bad behavior or poor academics. The headmistress and my grandmother were bitter enemies. Couldn’t get a transfer. This being Buhbadus you know how da’s go. Child gine get spite too! Thank GOD I was no dunce.

    Also sending a student to a school where teachers are more accustomed to teaching children of a slower pace, can they adjust to the child or will these jaded teachers assimilate the child into a quagmire? Picture sending a Harrisonian or Queens student to one of Barbados’s lower schools with rougher, nastier mouthed, academically “don’t care” children and the teachers who’ve grown accustomed to this and have given up. And we expect them to shine against this mismatch? Jones wih yuh doing!!

    Don’t be surprised when alot more parents opt the private route. The DLP (Disappointment,Lamentation and Pain) is doing a whole lotta crap and this current administration will, no doubts about it, go down in history as the worst party and government Barbados ever had.Errol Barrow is spinning not just turning.

  18. We all know that not all children are whipper snappers. Some pick up early, some pick up late and some don’t pick up at all for whatever reason. It doesn’t mean that we should frown on those who didn’t make the passing grade or blame others for the setbacks.

    I think there should be a way to sieve out in advance those students who haven’t demonstrated that they could meet the CEE challenge. I often wonder why does the MoE allow students who have scored 40% or less continuously in their tests throughout the term and/or year to take the CEE? Why not create a remedial class or classes for these students possibly a year in advance where their progress can be monitored closely to see if they have improved their scores and are up to par for the exam before they take it or allow those in remedial classes to take the CEE a year later than the norm. The remedial students who have repeatedly improved their scores to at least 70% would be prepared to take the CEE exam then.

    I think it is a waste of time for students who have done extremely poorly year after year and especially leading up to the CEE to take the exam. They may have some form of educational deficiency and most likely they are not going to do well. Unfortunately, some parents are in denial instead of seeking help for the child.

  19. @David
    we have this issue of packaging in Spanish/Portuguese which we have never shown the will to conquer.

    All roads lead to Rome see how a revamp of the Educational system can help? All these people at our doorstep in SA and we still don’t communicate very well if at all with them. Perhaps Freundel could take over the Education portfolio and promote himself as a “Spanish god” he was better at that subject than Latin (don’t ask me how I know). If I wanted to be known as a “god” it would hardly be a “Latin god” a “Greek god” would be better, you can call me ADONIS.

  20. Is it not amazing how myopic Bajans are about this education thing…?
    Here it is that we have reached this point of having spent more on education than almost any other country, having large numbers of certified citizens, nuff nuff schools, colleges, and university…..and YET foreigners own, control and run EVERYTHING of importance in the country…
    Shite then, we now even got a TRICKIDADIAN as captain of the Barbados cricket team…. O LOL HA HA oh shirt!!!

    …..and we are talking bout “REMEDIAL” lessons for students who are not doing well in an 11+ exam so that they can ” CATCH UP”…

    …….catch up to what….. Being the same BRASS BOWL as the rest of us?
    …ever thought that maybe THESE are the geniuses who, if given the RIGHT GUIDANCE, would have become the leaders and business people that we LACK?
    Who the HELL ever decided that an academic is any better than any one else…..or even as good…?
    ….brass bowls…

  21. Barbados needs more Community Colleges similar to the ones I went to in Toronto.

    They offer evening courses so that people who choose a profession can get qualified or learn a new skill at any age.

    What has happened in Toronto is that a lot of really intelligent students have opted for the Trades instead of University.

    as for the 11+ I think it should stay but the real problem is helping those students who do not learn at the same pace as the top 20%.

  22. @ David
    “….but the system must be designed to effectively deliver a basic foundation”
    You are wrong……that was back in the 1940’s
    An education system for this century must be designed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of all of its students, and then to design,offer and execute a variety of options that can allow as many as possible to reach THEIR OWN personal maximum potentialities.

    Such a system would be EQUALY successful in producing a top doctor, engineer or manager – who had the potential and desire to reach that goal… in producing a successful small farmer, a top athlete, musician, or ZR driver….who had the desire and potential to reach their respective goals.

    Such a system would be EASILY worth twice the budget that we now spend on our outdated waste of money.

    @ Hants
    “….but the real problem is helping those students who do not learn at the same pace as the top 20%.”
    You may be wrong too…. 🙂
    Based on the achievements of those who have “learned well”…you sure you don’t mean “…at the same pace as the BOTTOM 20%”?….

    • @Bush Tea

      we are splitting hairs. All students at the primary and mid-secondary level must have a basic command of English and Maths concepts.

  23. True David
    …but that is NOT the same as saying that “the system must be designed to effectively deliver a basic foundation.”
    That is what we are pursuing now…..serious UNDER-DESIGN.

    …and nothing wrong with splitting hairs….there are people out there splitting atoms…. 🙂

  24. “Picture sending a Harrisonian or Queens student to one of Barbados’s lower schools with rougher, nastier mouthed, academically “don’t care” children”

    Riots I can see the vitriol oozing from every crevice in your anatomy. You are nothing but an egoistic BRASSBOWL. It is people like you who perpetuate this ignorance about academics are better than those who pursue non academic fields. Pray tell me where did the biggest liars and thieves occupying our highest office in Barbados go to school?

    • @islandgal

      It is people like you who perpetuate this ignorance about academics are better than those who pursue non academic fields. Pray tell me where did the biggest liars and thieves occupying our highest office in Barbados go to school?

      You are aware it is these people you have fingered who have to lead the change you want? It is because of this situation that people have to go to the streets to force change.

  25. @Islandgal

    Ya got me wrong. I would never put academics on a pedestal alone. Learning a trade is a necessity I would recommend to all. As black people we need academics to uplift our people. people expect blacks to do well in sports and the arts, not so with academics. And you and me both went to school and we know how nerdy children were treated.

    Is it any wonder ya have a marked rise in the reports of bullying. And if a child determines from young that they are going to study hard instead of running wild bout de neighborhood, get the marks to pass for a top school
    only to be sabotaged by the byzantine ways of zoning and “Dah school too full, we gine send ya here.” Here being a school being below the marks the child got sometimes.

    Now reverse this and replace “top school” with “trade school” or “sports academy”. It’s all the same thing, a system failing our children.

  26. Perhaps there is a need to stream those children who are are leaning towards the language arts, Science, Athletics, Music and Arts to special schools that will allow those students to major in those subjects along with other subjects giving them a well rounded education. There should be changes to the eleven plus to include other subjects besides Maths and English. The slow learners will go to special schools allowing flexibility to transfer students who have gained ground and have the ability to pursue higher studies. I know it is radical in approach and that to change a system it will take time. It will have to first start with the educators who will have to be retrained. Education is an on going process and should have some degree of flexibility.

  27. @Riots in de land at 12:05 p.m. “Picture sending a Harrisonian or Queens student to one of Barbados’s lower schools with rougher, nastier mouthed, academically “don’t care” children”

    Oh brass bowl

    My little Johnny left his rural primary school a nice, nice little boy, and while at Harrison College learned to cuss like a pirate.

    LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and came out of university with a Phd in brass bowling

    Where we get dis ting that HC students are not a bunch of ruffians.

    You know that HC anthem?

    I feel so good, I feel so good, I feel so brass booooowwwwwll good.


  28. Didn’t sweet girl Rihanna go to a big school, to wit, Combermere aka the University of Waterford, and surely we can see that she can handle herself when it comes to <untery.

  29. This is an interesting discussion. After abolishing the 11+ what next will we abolish in the quest for fairness and equality and a better method of assessment?

  30. The 11+ needs not to be abolish, but if you are going to set such an exam then stick to teaching to the test. Primary schools are trying to teach too many subjects which are repeated in secondary school. Then students are only tested on two areas. The test should be expanded to cover some of the other subjects taught in schools (as these areas may be a strong area for some) or reduced the subjects taught in schools and focus more on the Math and English.

  31. @Plumber

    On July 5, 2013 at 7:22am, a blogger by the sobriquet of ‘plumber’ in response to a post regarding the 11+ spuriously asserted, “The lessons from the boom years of the Community College scholarships based on internal exams should provide empirical proof of the failings of such systems.” Argumentum ad ignorantiam. A reconnaissance of the facts will show that the supposed boom years of the scholarships were through no fault of the college’s ‘internal exams’. During the epoch of the boom years, recipients were award scholarships on a less than puritanical criteria as published annually by the TERTIARY EDUCATION DEPARTMENT OF THE MINISTRY OF EDUCATION. So loose was that criteria, persons inter alia, were allowed to repeat courses and to satisfy a minimum GPA requirement which was below the threshold at which the college declares a degree with distinction. Many a student made their exodus from the older secondary schools to the college to take advantage of lacunas within this criteria. Some of whom cannot profess of an Associate Degree with distinction, but can boost of obtaining a Barbados Exhibition. In 2006, the four principals of the then six form schools conspired against the college in a meeting held at the Ministry of Education and as a corollary, a new, rigid criteria was published for the academic year 2007, which saw no scholarships being award and only three exhibitioners. Pursuant to the new criteria, students CANNOT repeat courses and must attain a GPA of 3.80-3.99 for a Barbados Exhibition or 4.00 for a Scholarship as well as attain more than 2/3 A’s in their majors . The college’s internal exams or methods of assessment have not changed, yet the highest amount of recipients subsequent to 2007 was 8 exhibitioners in the year 2010.

    Further investigation evinced that only three (3) persons since the establishment of the GPA system at college would have qualified for a Barbados Scholarship under and ALL persons awarded exhibitions prior to 2007 would not have been so awarded under this new criteria.

    The Barbados Community College has long had to suffer the denigration from the public, who has been allowed to go a frolic of its own without due regard as to full facts which give rise to spurious and uninformed conclusions about the college. It is in fact the Ministry of Education who ought to assume sole responsibility for the apparent boom years.


  32. INTERESTING article. I love this discourse and conclusion but some questions remain. Are they colleges and or universities elsewhere that employ an internal examination system? Does Cambridge or London or Yale or Harvard employ an external examination system? But what is even more perplexing to me is the fate of those students who complete studies at the BCC. How do they ever cope with continued education given the supposed lapsed and inferior qualification? Is there evidence of mass failures thereafter? I’m scared for the future of those apparently undeserving scholarship and exhibition winners who were awarded during the period when the traditional scholarship winning schools were upstaged by the apparent lower standard BCC. But what is even more perplexing is the sound of silence that has topped the charts since the “standard” has been raised and no student at the institution that schools a student population that is ten times larger than the six form schools has had no scholarship winners. Was it really about internal exams or maintaining status quo? I want to know!

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