Outliers and the Eleven Plus

I have just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers. It is focused on how successful people achieve that success. Like his other books, it is very readable, and he presents interesting stories and unusual arguments. While the book didn’t even escape the reviews without criticism of the underlying theories, it is thought provoking and worth reading for that reason alone. The topic of success also of course speaks to the eleven plus and heaven knows we need thoughts provoked on that.The initial arguments could easily be used to undermine the case for selection at 11, but I think the arguments of the book strike much deeper; we’re missing something fundamental in the debate, and without that recognition we will not find the answers we need.

There are two arguments that should trouble those that heavily push the eleven plus. The first is the example of Canadian Hockey teams. A disproportionate number of Hockey players are born in the first quarter of the year. This result seems extraordinary until you realise that the cut off point for age grouping in hockey is January first. So those born on January 1 have a full year head start on those born on December 31,. Being mentally and physically more mature, they are more likely to be picked up as the better players, and moved to the more elite teams with better coaching. Over time, their small advantage is magnified into an insurmountable one.

The second is that very often what matter is not that you are the best, but simply that you are good enough. A scientists with an IQ of 130 is as likely to be a Nobel Prize winner as one with an IQ of 180; minority students given access to elite universities via affirmative access programs may retain slightly lower scores while studying, but out in the real world they have equal success compared with the rest of their classmates.

Taken together, these results are devastating. It means the system is not simply unjust, but inefficient. The eleven plus attempts to correct for differences in maturity, but no system is perfect and we simply do not know what other factors lurk that artificially limit success. Moreover, consider the fate of those in and around the boundaries that mean the difference between going to secondary school and going to grammar school. Are we really suggesting the difference of a couple of marks on two days shows that one person is good enough, and another isn’t? There may well even be children with the same marks that went down different routes due to local differences. I’m unsure if research has been done on the matter, but I’d be willing to wager that there is an achievement gap between those students that went to secondary and those that went to grammar within a few marks of those boundaries. If that is the case then it means that those who went secondary could have closed that gap simply by attending a grammar school. That is not simply unfair to the child, but a loss of graduates and achievers to society as a whole.

But much of the rest of the book could act as reality check to those that believe removing selection is a panacea. The arguments here fall under three main categories

  1. What separates the brilliant from the merely good, and the good from the average, is the level of effort that is put in. The level of musicians at elite schools can be reliably determined by looking at how much accumulated practice they have put in since childhood: the prodigy that can get away with less doesn’t exist. Asian students from countries that do not have long summer holidays reliably appear further up the Maths league tables. Children from lower class backgrounds may not be pushed as hard, or simply not have the opportunity to put as many hours in, even if they want to. There may be no where appropriate for them to do study or practice, or they may from teenage years have to work to get income.
  2. Our success is a product of the opportunities that fall our way. This is a theme repeatedly returned to. Bill Gates attended a well to do school in Seattle that had a Computer Club in 1968, a point at which a such thing did not exist in many US universities. That opportunity gave him a chance to develop computer skills that meant he could get some part time work working for company that allowed him to develop those skills further – meaning by the time he dropped out of university to take advantage of the minicomputer revolution (another piece of fortune) he had thousands of hours experience under his built. Grammar schools are one type of opportunity, and it could be argued that even the low levels of students from poorer backgrounds is higher than what would happen in a comprehensive system. But they aren’t the only kinds of opportunities, and those from wealthier backgrounds will have more opportunities. Removing selection will not equalise that
  3. We are a product of who are parents are, and furthermore, where we come from and what our cultural assumptions are. Middle class parents take a more active interest in developing their children’s abilities, and they will pass on character traits that makes those children more assertive, and more likely to succeed. Countries with a culture of deference are more likely to have plane crashes, because copilots find it difficult to communicate difficulties up the chain. Simply removing selection won’t remove these problems; children from middle class families will still be given more advantages and pushed harder, cultural differences will persist, regardless if the eleven plus exam exists or not.

My overall sense is there is something wrong at the heart of the argument over the eleven plus. We aren’t asking the right questions. We aren’t asking what opportunities are available to children on the Shankill or in the New Lodge, and how we can offer them better. We aren’t asking how we can encourage and allow those willing to put in huge hours in order to become brilliant. We aren’t asking if there are links and relationships we can make to open doors. We aren’t asking if there are specific cultural or class differences that we need to be addressed when educating our young people. We aren’t asking if we need to change the school year to compete better with Asian economies that work all year round. We aren’t asking what factors could be blocking achievement and hampering not just individuals, but society and the economy as a whole. Unless we start asking those types of questions, we’ll not get answers that lead to real change and real improvement. The answers themselves would likely lead in radical directions, but they wouldn’t be universal in the sense of the debate that is currently occuring. They’d be acutely aware of the differences and distinctions in our society, and aware of the need to continually reassess.

I leave with a quote from the book.

  • Do you see the consequences of the way we have chosen to think about success? Because we so profoundly personalise success, we miss opportunities to lift others onto the top rung. We make rules that frustrate achievement. We prematurely write off people as failures. We are too much in awe of those that succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail. And, most of all, we become much too passive. We overlook just how large a role we all play – and by “we“ I mean society – in determining who makes it and who doesn’t


  • Further Reading
    Buy the book
    Official website
    Guardian Extract
    Independent Review
    Statesman Review

    • latcheeco

      Ten thousand hours on Slugger before you achieve mastery eh?

    • Slugger O’Toole Admin

      One minor quibble: most of the pro-selection camp accept the eleven plus is long past its sell by date; but I don’t think that substantially alters the acuity of your/Gladwell’s analysis.

      Let’s hear it for human agency!

    • kensei

      Mick (I presume)

      I don’t think it changes the analysis at all. What change does swapping on test for another run at the same age to go to the same schools really make. Any biases there will remain.

      I’d prefer not to here about human agency, and instead here about changes on policy. Chances are unfortunately slim.

    • Mick Fealty

      Yes, me. Sorry. Firefox keeps crashing and I’m never sure which profile I signed into last.

      As I’ve said, it doesn’t change the analyses in the least. In pointing to ‘human agency’ I was underlining the idea that our people indoors could get it if they had the political will to get off this sixty year old hook.

      If a fresh initiative doesn’t come from our incumbents, it could come from one of the minor players. That it doesn’t may come down to (amongst other things) lack of policy development capacity for all the parties in Northern Ireland.

      In any other functional democratic scale, all of them would be micro parties.

    • kensei

      Mick

      I don’t buy that there is no capacity to produce policy. Even one person working full time could cover a lot of reading a output ideas that could be discussed further up party hierarchies and used as a basis for policy. Technologies now exist that make it easy to discuss ideas. If SF could turn even a small percentage of their enthusiastic support onto policy considerations, they’d have a huge advantage. Small companies are often more innovative than large ones, and often better able at converting innovation to product. Even if parties were presenting unfinished ideas, they can still appeal, and be polished up once in government.

      The problem is absolutely not capacity. Do not be tempted to give any of our parties a pass on it. The problem is priority. With no chance at any real type of government, investing in policy is pretty futile. Investment goes into campaigning for the seemingly never ending election. That has got to change.

      It’s most urgent for SF — they are attempting to play with the big boys in the South.

    • Ann

      Aren’t you just pushing a SF agenda here ken?

      Taken together, these results are devastating. It means the system is not simply unjust, but inefficient.

      I don’t want to do away with selection, simply put I don’t want my kid in a class stuffed full to capacity and over, and being held back because there are students there who do not have English as their first language. If I have to pay I will, and in this world you get what you pay for…sorry but your hockey players analogy doesn’t do it for me.

      I’d prefer not to here about human agency, and instead here about changes on policy.

      Here? Hear…sometimes those minor differences mean a lot ken. Besides a lot of children sat the eleven plus late, ask Gerry Adams he re-sat his.

    • Ann

      A successful second stab at the eleven-plus exam gained him a place at the city’s St Mary’s grammar school.

      http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/gerry-adams-you-ask-the-questions-581807.html

      If it was good enough for Adams it’s good enough for the rest of us. Or is it a case of do as I say not as I do. It’s the same with a lot of labour MP’s …. equality for everybody elses children except their own. No leading by example for them.

    • Driftwood

      Kensei, your links at the end, some quite hostile reviews of Gladwells thesis, not least The Independent. Some commentators would argue that parental influence is much more powerful than the type of school in predicting “success” in life. And some people just get lucky.

    • Mick Fealty

      Ken, to be pedantic, I said ‘lack of’ rather than ‘no’ capacity. What other reasons would you cite for the undoubtedly local rigidity in this issue?

    • Driftwood

      This is what happens if you get rid of academic selection, you get economic selection.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/3508764/Recession-forces-many-to-give-up-private-schools.html

    • kensei

      Ann

      Aren’t you just pushing a SF agenda here ken?

      No.

      I don’t want to do away with selection, simply put I don’t want my kid in a class stuffed full to capacity and over, and being held back because there are students there who do not have English as their first language. If I have to pay I will, and in this world you get what you pay for…sorry but your hockey players analogy doesn’t do it for me.

      Read the whole post. Moreover, if you want to dismiss, rather than engage any of the issues I have attempted to raise, then one line will do.

      Here? Hear…sometimes those minor differences mean a lot ken. Besides a lot of children sat the eleven plus late, ask Gerry Adams he re-sat his.

      Typo. I should be working. Most kids do it at 11 and that is it. Many do not even do it at all.

      Driftwood

      I know. I thought it only fair I put them there. I think complaints that he is only looking at single factor explanation miss the point. He isn’t saying other things don’t matter. He’s saying, look we have probably overlooked this.

      Mick

      The distinction is moot, it is excuse making language :). I read that book in a weekend. You could based on that, come up with a few policy suggestions. Ideally you’d like to do original research and see if you can get information that would support the thesis, which would be tougher but not impossible. And it wouldn’t be the first time a politicians have ran policy based on faith in an idea… If nothing else, we might egt a better standard of debate than we have now. We might send journalists scurrying to do some of that research for us. I am a great believer in the power of good ideas.

      It isn’t done because the parties are wrapped in the NI Bubble with little incentive to come up with effective or creative policy. And the lack of possibility to exercise power means energy gets focused elsewhere. And it is a tough thing to do. It doesn’t guarantee success, though I would argue it is a prerequisite. Isn’t that enough?

    • kensei

      Driftwood

      This is what happens if you get rid of academic selection, you get economic selection.

      No, that is what happened elsewhere in the UK. It is not a universal truth. Many countries have successful comprehensive systems.

      If we just got rid of the test and did nothing else, I’d guess you are probably right. But I’m not saying that. I am saying that there is a whole other list of factors we need to consider when designing our solution, and those are probably more important. Whether or not there is selective tests involved is to miss the point entirely.

    • Essentialist

      Kensei,

      Great work in moving the debate on the 11-plus on to the much more important ground of examining what works in education and what works for the disadvantaged in particular.

      Take a look at Project Follow Through, the largest study of its kind ever conducted.

      http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~adiep/ft/grossen.htm

      It may not surprise regular Sluggerites that this evidence was presented to the Permenant Secretary of the Department of Education, William Haire, weeks before his appearance before the Public Accounts Committee in 2006.

      Turning his head away from this body of evidence Mr Haire endorsed the use of “linguistic phonics” a locally developed inferior scheme for use in Northern Ireland schools. It would appear that educationalists here prefer local approaches even when they are known to be inferior or even harmful.

      Mick’s quibble “most of the pro-selection camp accept the eleven plus is long past its sell by date” reflects the widespread belief that such expressions are based on the same ignoring of the facts and evidence in favour of appeasing an education hierachy which seeks the imposition of comprehensives to achieve estate rationalisation.

      The Pupil Profile introduced as the “informed solution” for parents is simply a social selection instrument.

      You are spot on in suggesting that “I don’t buy that there is no capacity to produce policy. Even one person working full time could cover a lot of reading a output ideas that could be discussed further up party hierarchies and used as a basis for policy. Technologies now exist that make it easy to discuss ideas.”

      Isn’t it telling that all the political parties are found wanting on this issue?

    • Rory

      The author may be heard here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b00fkw8j
      discussing his book with one who clearly was born in the right place at the right time, Andrew Marr, on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week earlier this morning.

      Fortunately it is the first item up so you do not have to listen to the rest. But you may like to.

      I am off to the allotment now, but not to grow rice…. (Listen to the the discussion for the intellectual requirements required to cultivate rice and how such agricultural demands affect one’s ability in mathematics.)

      Don’t be looking at me! It’s not my bloody theory!
      But I do like it.

    • kensei

      Essentialist

      The data looks good, but streaming is not selection. If I picked up right on that link and what I read at Wiki, that is through the US Public School system which does not select on ability and would have a mixed intake. Furthermore it seems to indicate that there was repeated ability assessment and movement between streams. The 11+ acts as a ditch to a lot of that.

      I tend to believe that a strong foundation in the basics is essential for any study and that rote learning is as an efficient way to get it as any. But as you move up secondary education, at some point you are going to need to bring in more inquiry based models. Universities will not teach you by rote. Businesses will not be started by repetition. Inquiry and self learning are valuable skills in themselves to learn.

      The example mentioned in the book was KIPP:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KIPP

      The Wiki article contains criticisms but even if the students selected by that scheme were brighter than average, would they have got the opportunity to achieve outside that scheme?

    • Driftwood

      Many countries have successful comprehensive systems.

      A quick google seems that USA and Germany have their own problems. Can you give us some examples Kensei? If it isn’t too rude to ask.

    • Driftwood

      Kensei, I can see you’re a bit distracted. Those countries where an excellent comprehensive system runs smoothly???

    • kensei

      Drift

      Kensei, I can see you’re a bit distracted. Those countries where an excellent comprehensive system runs smoothly???

      Finland, I believe, is one. Now, no education system runs smoothly but some comprehensive systems manage to work.

      Would it shock you further if I told you that NI does not have the best education system in the world?

    • Driftwood

      I do not think we have the best education system in the world. That’s a highly subjective and complicated debate. But Finland perhaps has a completely different society to ours. Scotland or the Republic might be better to contrast with. Northern Irelands dependance on the Whitehall subsidised public sector means there is a dearth of ideas about changing anything much. political apathy and economic stagnation are bound to filter in to education. Real change has no mission of getting past the layers of bureaucracy here.

    • Essentialist

      Kensei and Driftwood,

      Now that Ann’s issue has been dealt with can we focus on the Project Follow Through evidence?

      KIPP is a limited scheme Project Follow Through lasted THIRTY YEARS and compared different types of teaching approaches. While the US may have many all-ability schools the existence of choice on school types is massive. Parents have much more influence even in the public school system and can change provider if one fails their child.

      Why is it that Finland is constantly cited by comprehensivists?- perhaps the flawed use of PISA figures has infected the minds of the research-adverse and led them to believe that PISA actually measures educational attainment just because it tops a bar chart.

      If you are serious about a solution start digging on the approaches necessary to improve the education life chances of the poor not simply suggesting the importation of some model from abroad.

    • willis

      Driftwood

      Comparison with the RoI and Scotland would seem very sensible as they both have to deal with a religious divide as well as the legacy of the English Class system.

      Thanks for the truely hilarious Telegraph link.

      “Susannah (not her real name) is 41 and married to a man who runs his own business. He was close to securing investment for his latest business venture when the banking crisis hit and the backing evaporated. The couple have four children, including a 15-year-old daughter at a top boarding school.

      The fees there are £10,000 a term and £1,000 a year for stabling her pony. A son is at prep school and due to take up a place at a major public school next September. A third child is also at prep school, again one where you can take your own pony.”

      No comment necessary

    • Nomad

      £1,000 a year for stabling a pony for a year seems very reasonable!

    • Driftwood

      Willis
      Yes, the poor dahlings, but amusing as that was -quotes like this:
      Simon Bevan, partner with the solicitors Veale Wasbrough, who advise some 700 independent schools, is a mite more colourful. “Parents would rather crawl over broken glass than take their children out of independent schooling,” he says.

      How bad are the state comprehensives in England?, that this is how they are viewed. I would maintain that this view would be taken by quite a few parents here, for independent-read grammar.

    • kensei

      Essentialist

      You are starting from an ideological standpoint and working back. Hence my scepticism.

      KIPP is a limited scheme Project Follow Through lasted THIRTY YEARS and compared different types of teaching approaches. While the US may have many all-ability schools the existence of choice on school types is massive. Parents have much more influence even in the public school system and can change provider if one fails their child.

      But what is suggested with the 11+ limits choice. You cannot point out one part of the system you like, and then totally ignore another bit as irrelevant because you don’t. Perhaps fluidity and mroe choice is important. And children do get trapped in sink schools in the US system, regardless of this. Which is where schemes like KIPP may become important — as part of a wider and more well rounded whole.

      Why is it that Finland is constantly cited by comprehensivists?- perhaps the flawed use of PISA figures has infected the minds of the research-adverse and led them to believe that PISA actually measures educational attainment just because it tops a bar chart.

      The measure may be flawed, essentialist – or not, I don’t really know – but the system is clearly successful when compared with ours. It isn’t the only example of a successful comprehensive system – I believe Canada is another – but unlike anyone in this debate I have little ideological bones to pick.

      If you are serious about a solution start digging on the approaches necessary to improve the education life chances of the poor not simply suggesting the importation of some model from abroad.

      Did I suggest importing anything? I suggested asking better questions so we get better results. Some of those answers will lead place you like. Some won’t. You need to face up taht just as the other side of the debate does.

    • Rory

      £1,000 a year for stabling a pony for a year seems very reasonable!

      More especially so when we consider that the pony is practically guaranteed a place at Oxford.

    • Kensei

      Right, deleted the distractions before they totally overwhelmed the thread. I immensely dislike censorship so unhappy it is come to this point.

      If people want to boycott threads, that is up to them. I appreciate the contributions people add. I appreciate them more is there is some thought behind them, even when I may disagree such as Essentialist’s posts. As this is essentially just little discussions I want to have, I will call bullshit and empty content when I see it. For people who dislike robust debate, apologies but that is the way it is.

      Mick is free to edit these threads at will or revoke my rights as he sees fit. Until then I will run my threads as I think best. In retrospect I should have simply knocked this on the head at the start, rather than fuel it.

      My email is attached to most of my posts. I can be contacted there if people wish to discuss further, but discussion in that direction here will be nuked.

    • willis

      Driftwood

      “I would maintain that this view would be taken by quite a few parents here, for independent-read grammar.”

      That would be, I think, to make a large mistake.

      The independent schools educate 7% of pupils in England, the Grammars here educate 41%.

      I’m not going to pretend that State education in England is great, but it is actually much better than the pony owning parents make out.

      You might find this worth a read:

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/24/private-schools-performance

      “But leaf a few pages down and the picture (if not the fee structure) grows a deal more blurred. The names are still famous enough: Repton, Wellington, Malvern, Stonyhurst, Ardingly and Rugby, for starters. But there aren’t any 90%-plus A-level rates here. You are in to the lower 60s, the middling 50s, and even the back end of the 40s. If results matter, then 50% or more separated top from bottom last year.”

    • Dewi

      “£1,000 a year for stabling a pony for a year seems very reasonable”

      I dunno – some people live in a different world from me…..what’s it like being posh?

    • Tito

      Rory: More especially so when we consider that the pony is practically guaranteed a place at Oxford.
      Mostly because A-Level grade As are handed out like sweeties these days. Grade inflation is a separate topic. I suppose the pony may also be more articulate than a lot of comprehensive school graduates.

    • Driftwood

      Tito
      from next year surely you mean the A level A* grade. Available to those who can spell their name, and answer some of the questions. It’s absurd to think a pony could get an A* at A level, GCSE yes, but Chimps and Dolphins would be my best guess for Oxbridge. As for Queens, rodents would fulfill most(if not all) of the criteria. No change there then.

    • willis

      Driftwood

      I was initially shocked by your abuse of our own dear Russell Group University, but then I remembered my last walk down Rugby Avenue. It is quite an education to begin at the New Computer Science and Maths building and walk into a war zone. Dear help the long term residents.

    • Driftwood

      Willis
      The ‘pony owning parents’ is a straw man. They are exceptional. There are excellent grammars in England. Not Eton,Winchester or Cheltenham school for girls.
      Good grammars which, like our own are seen as academically sound. Not filled by lowlife and gang culture. Where decent kids looking a good education don’t have to mix with wannabee Somali warlords, Islamist headers or Albanian thugs. Just people who speak English would be a start.

    • edward

      1000 pounds a year is a bargain its costing me C$400.00 a month a piece

    • Essentialist

      Willis claims to be initially shocked by abuse of “our own dear Russell Group University”. Now talk of grade inflation!! – QUB landed its Russell Group status on the back of political necessity and interference.

      The School of Education at QUB is headed by an individual who wouldn’t know a classroom from a Tardis. None of the other professors in the School of Education have teaching experience but are “experts” in conflict resolution.

      Next time you stroll down University Street Willis stop in at 69/71 and carry out a credential check.

      Then ask yourself a simple question: Why is the education system in the chaotic mess it’s in?

      The answer is to be found inside the building.

    • willis

      PACE

      “The School of Education at QUB is headed by an individual who wouldn’t know a classroom from a Tardis. None of the other professors in the School of Education have teaching experience but are “experts” in conflict resolution.”

      Oh apart from the one who only knows about IT.

      Driftwood

      There are excellent Comprehensives also. I wonder if wannabe Russian Oligarchs go to the local Comp?

    • Essentialist

      Kensei,

      I suggest that you examine the evidence on Project Follow Through in detail. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by other approaches or PISA bar charts. Here is a start.

      What do we do with a teaching technique that works? Surely, educators would welcome such a breakthrough with open arms. Incredibly, they haven’t.
      Project Follow Through, the largest experiment ever undertaken to find effective methods for teaching disadvantaged children, discovered such a teaching method at a cost of nearly a billion dollars. They call it “Direct Instruction,” a highly structured, teacher- led teaching method.

      Between 1968 -1976, achievement data from 51 school districts, using nine different teaching approaches (models), ranging from Direct Instruction to Child-Centered and Open Education, were collected from nearly 10,000 children each year until they completed grade three.

      Stanford Research Institute collected the data, Abt Associates analyzed it, and three reliable, independent sources verified it.

      Students were assessed in three primary categories according to achievement in basic academic skills; general problem solving skills; and the development of self-concept.

      Direct Instruction (DI) outperformed both traditionally taught comparison groups and all other tested models. DI outstripped them not only in Basic Skills (word knowledge, spelling, language, and math computation), and in Cognitive-Conceptual Skills (reading comprehension, math concepts and problem solving), but in Self-Concept as well–the category emphasized by the “progressive” teaching models.

      Follow Through clearly established “what works” yet the education community ignored it. It contradicted their core ideas about teaching. The approach that teachers are taught to disdain worked well, and the ones they are taught to favor were embarrassing disappointments. When the truth hurt, they buried it.

      The journal Effective School Practices devoted an entire issue (Volume 15 Number 1, Winter 1995-6) to the Follow Through findings: http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~adiep/ft/151toc.htm. In one of the articles, “Follow Through: Why Didn’t We?” by Cathy L. Watkins of California State University-Stanislaus, discusses how the education bureaucracy rejected the model that worked and supported the failed models instead.

      Always ready to help. The important consideration is why the “educationalists” (the establishment) are permitted to reject what works in favour of failed methods.

      The entire approach here is dependent upon making Northern Ireland different from the rest of the United Kingdom instead of an integral part of it. This seems to have little to do with education although education is being used as a device to further the all-Ireland agenda.

    • Essentialist

      Willis,

      You should give the former Head of School some respect. How much exactly is not for me to say.

      Are you on the way over to the School of Education to carry out your follow-up yet?

    • kensei

      Essentialist

      I’d prefer not to ignore evidence that you simply do not like, so yes, the various league tables of other countries achievements should be examined.

      I have already accepted form what you have posted that it certainly looks like a method with sound data behind it. But I cannot ignore the fact that your preferred environment – grammars and secondaries — seem to run against the environments in which it was tested. US public schools are not selected on ability, and streaming and fast testing and restreaming is not the 11+, and never will be.

      Moreover, there is no silver bullet to solving the education problem, and other approaches can be successful, and perhaps more successful in different circumstance. My post was almost entire on factors that are possibly overlooked – such as the role good opportunities and good chances play in success and how cultural factors can affect how child learn and how they succeed.

      But you haven’t acknowledged any of it because you have an ideological standpoint that you wish to pursue, and you simply do not care about anything else. Assuming the evidence is sound, I would be quite content to see DI used in schools – North or South. It doesn’t require me to support selection, and it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t also support other measures if an effective case could be put. I liked KIPP, because it rewarded those who put in hard work and even if it self selected to an extent it gives opportunities to those who might not get them.

      Have you anthing to add on the issues raised — investigated any of the links I provided (or indeed read the book), or have you simply a line to push?

    • Essentialist

      Kensei,

      I readily acknowledge the effort you have applied to the education reform issue. At least you have addressed some of the more readily available evidence that counters the ideological persuit of comprehensivisation and radical curricular change.

      You may not believe in selection but it pervades our lives. I would be a critic of individual schools, heads and governors who have used this debate to promote self-interest – this applies to the primary, grammar and secondary sectors. The silence of the teaching profession is astounding given the social status afforded by the public and parents in particular. it is best summarised by the statement:

      “Follow Through clearly established “what works” yet the education community ignored it. It contradicted their core ideas about teaching. The approach that teachers are taught to disdain worked well, and the ones they are taught to favor were embarrassing disappointments. When the truth hurt, they buried it. ”

      The responsibility lies with the schools of education and teacher training colleges.

      On some points of detail; On Direct Instruction you ask “Assuming the evidence is sound”. Your duty is to find peer reviewed evidence of reasons to reject it. Not some simple unproven alternative but a method that delivers superior results for pupils.
      League tables are not performance tables- an important distinction ignored by the Irish News for instance.
      The crucial issue is the nature of the curriculum a topic largely ignored by bloggers but described by the CCEA as a “Trojan horse”

      Finally the 11-plus trnasfer grade is impervious to class/social background. No school can know about the background of the applicant from the information provided on the transfer form. Retrospective analysis of grammar school entries based on FSM data only highlights the low numbers entered for the test. If you’re not in – you can never win. That has changed upon the introduction of the Pupil Profile. Academic selection replaced by overt social selection.

    • kensei

      Essentialist

      You may not believe in selection but it pervades our lives

      This is routinely trotted out but selection elsewhere is independent of educational selection at 11. Whether or not it introduces children to the tough world is irrelevant: on the basis of your own argument it is ubiquitous and would be met quickly elsewhere. The question should be focused on outcome. And on that measure it fails a horrific amount of children, and by extension society and the economy as a whole.

      Second, I’m not arguing against DI — I only have time for a quick look, if I was a policy maker and paid to do it then I would be investigating the extent of the evidence and existing criticisms. I would also be looking at whether it aligns with the goals I want at each educational level. So it may be important in primary and early secondary, but not appropriate in late secondary where pupils need to become more independent to transition to a university education. And I’d also be looking it in the whole, not just picking the bit I like and shoe horning it into my preferred model. Can it be used in conjunction with other approaches? Are there other things that have been successful, but offer advantages on different criteria?

      Your point is fine as far as it goes but you are hampered badly from working back from a conclusion.

      Finally the 11-plus trnasfer grade is impervious to class/social background. No school can know about the background of the applicant from the information provided on the transfer form.

      The second assertion is true. The first isn’t. The test is biased to children whose parents are more likely to get them tuition, more likely to hammer in the value of education, more likely to teach their kids to be assertive. There is also suggestion that cultural factors within the question may matter. That is the essence of the post I made. Our system does not have to be like that. We can design a system whereby we can give those children a better opportunity. It doesn’t necessarily mean “affirmation action” type programs, but it does mean we need to understand what factors cause the problems to find answers.

      Retrospective analysis of grammar school entries based on FSM data only highlights the low numbers entered for the test. If you’re not in – you can never win. That has changed upon the introduction of the Pupil Profile. Academic selection replaced by overt social selection.

      People being “not in” is part of the problem. Why should a potentially child be not in and denied opportunities? Nor to pupil profiles has to necessarily have to “social selection”. It is perfectly possible to devise those that aren’t. And profiles would not necessarily be my favoured way of doing things.

      If nothing else, focus on the inefficiency point. It is really, really important. Consider that there are a whole bunch of students that could achieve much better results but can’t simply because they lack access to the best schools.

    • Is there any difference between grammars and comprehensives, other than the selection of pupils? Do they get the same level of funding, and are they allowed to offer the same range of exams and so on(in theory at least)?

      I’m trying to clarify the underlying issue here by getting beyond titles of schools and selection policies, which are just indirect indicators and means to ends. I think that any kid, even the weakest, will benefit from being in a class with smart and/or well-behaved kids. I think that this is the root of the huge demand for access to grammar schools, even from parents who know their kid ain’t doing too well at school.

      There would appear to be the following reasons for the desire to get into a grammar:
      – 1. Some parents don’t realise that their kid is dumb and that they won’t benefit.
      – 2. A desire for kids to be in class with well behaved kids.
      – 3. A desire for kids to be with smart classmates, presumably because they’ll help each other and the teacher will be able to move faster.
      – 4. Teachers/teachers are better at a grammar school, even when you control for their intake.

      I suspect that no.1 is irrelevant and that any kid will benefit from being in class with smart/well-behaved kids. But I admit I’m just an ignorant fool with no real evidence.

      I don’t think that no.4 is true. If it was, the simple solution would be to make every school a grammar school and fix our teacher training and recruiting to produce lots of suitable teachers.

      That leaves no.2 and no.3 as the important issues.

      There is little doubt that behaviour is a massive problem for many schools (no.2 in that list) and many kids, smart or otherwise, have their life chances ruined by others’ behaviour and their own behaviour. And we don’t need to start talking about reintroducing corporal punishment yet; we simply need to tackle the coalition of apathetic/ignorant parents, teachers, management and politicians that don’t really care what happens in classrooms as long as nobody is killed. In theory fixing the teachers and management should be easy (just train ’em right and sack the failures), which leaves us with the parents. We can waffle about ‘culture’ all we like; but the big question is: is it possible to bang parental/carer heads together to produce well-fed kids and to support the school with discipline? I hope it is possible, but I may be wrong of course.

      If we could sort out behaviour (I think the problem is lack of political will, as opposed to a lack of money) then we’re left with no.3. If the underlying issue is that that all parents want their kid in the same class as smart kids, because that allows teacher to move on through the curriculum and/or allow the teacher time to give some extra help to the weaker students, then how do we decide where to deploy those kids who happen to do well in the 11-plus? The status quo is to keep the 25% best performers together, giving each the best chances, while the other 75% are left to drag each other back. The alternative is to spread everybody out, in the hope that behaviour will be improved (a maximum of 1 or 2 potential nutters in each class, easy for the teacher to keep a lid on) and teachers can speed up a little (a maximum of 2 weak students in each class). So, in my ignorant opinion, the performance of the 75%, from the weakest to the average, would be greatly improved by a well designed and well researched alternative to the status quo. But that takes me to my final point/question: will the strongest pupils, the top 25%, be hindered by having to share the classroom with ‘normal’ kids?

      I suspect not, but to convince you of this I will have to give up any pretence of scientific evidence and just theorize about my own education:

      I’ve always been reasonably good at mathematics. I don’t ever remember, in school nor in college, learning anything in a one-to-one conversation with a teacher. In fact, I barely ever had any misconceptions. I just had gaps in knowledge which could be filled in with clear explanation by the teacher/lecturer and with my own practice. I could judge my own progress accurately and only rarely needed to ask questions. As a result of this, I suspect that I wouldn’t have fared much worse if my teacher had many weaker students in class as long as they behaved properly and the teacher had enough time at the start of the lesson to explain a new technique and point me at a dozen relevant exercises in the book. For the record, I went to a fairly standard all-boys school in Donegal (i.e. little or no selection but there was streaming/setting) and was in the Higher set for maths.

      Universities can lecture to hundreds simultaneously leaving most of the week for individual practice, proving there is no need for the brightest to get one-to-one handholding.

    • Essentialist

      Kensei,

      Your reasoned and considered responses to my postings make a change from the ideological argument for comprehensives which are not matched by evidence.

      “focus on the inefficiency point” you say – well what a breath of fresh air.

      Consider the following inefficiencies:

      – A transfer test capable of rank ordering entrants but adjusted to remove information by the DENI and CCEA. No one has explained the basis for removing information as a benefit to measuring outcomes yet. Perhaps you can?

      – Government sponsored attacks on their own instrument which is entirely voluntary. Are the DENI controlled by the anti-selection advisors Are they devoid of “experts”?

      – Principals and teachers who attack the instrument ,the 11-plus, while encouraging parents and pupils to avoid the opportunity to attend a grammar school. While these so-called professionals blame the instrument, the 11-plus, they craftily avoid inspection of their own outcomes which in many cases are very poor.

      – The levelling down effects of comprehensive schools are well evidenced. This explains the avoidance of comparable performance based outcome measurement in the quest for imposed comprehensivisation. Gallagher identified the “grammar school effect” in his publication of 2000. He sent his own children to grammar schools. So did the vast majority of anti-grammar evangelists. Enough said.

      You claim “Nor to (sic) pupil profiles has to necessarily have to “social selection”. It is perfectly possible to devise those that aren’t.

      Please explain Kensei why CCEA have failed to do so? The Pupil Profile does not provide parents with enough information either quantative or qualitative in order to make decisions about post-primary schools. It was never intended to do so, so why attempt to substitute the Pupil Profile for an objective 11-plus transfer test? Oh yes the 11-plus was legislated out of existence and no replacement instrument was developed by the quango responsible for testing and examinations.

      These are but a few outcomes related issues which should have been taken up by the politicians but haven’t been. It seems the entire ESA Bill is causing disquiet. Better late than never