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Verbal reasoning - disadvantage if not from English speaking home?

(33 Posts)
catcheemonkey Mon 20-Oct-14 21:08:36

My DC recently did 11+ VR/NVR entrance exams at a super-selective state grammar school. Many of the parents waiting at the gate at pick-up time weren't native English speakers. It made me wonder whether their DCs would be at a disadvantage in Verbal Reasoning. Surely the VR test wouldn't be allowed if that was the case? But it's hard to see how they wouldn't be, and I couldn't find any online reassurance through a brief Google. Anyone know if research has been done on this?

Clavinova Tue 21-Oct-14 00:04:06

Many grammar school entrance exams comprise of an English comprehension and essay now - in this case the verbal reasoning test would appear to be the easier option for non-native English speakers. The disadvantage could only be measured on a level playing field of all applicants as scores can obviously be improved by tutoring and practise; how do you compare the tutored non-native speaker with the untutored native speaker? Of course, GCSE and A level exams are written in English too which is how the success at grammar school is measured.

BrendaBlackhead Tue 21-Oct-14 13:29:31

Have you seen who wins Child Genius every year? And who excels at the vocabulary elements? Yep, children who speak English as second language. Top student for English at dd's school is Chinese; she speaks Mandarin at home.

catcheemonkey Tue 21-Oct-14 15:30:45

Well, that may be true BrendaBlackhead, but it's hardly the sort of evidence that would stand up to academic scrutiny is it? I'm interested to know if it's been looked at properly.

catcheemonkey Tue 21-Oct-14 16:59:00

Clavinova: "The disadvantage could only be measured on a level playing field of all applicants as scores can obviously be improved by tutoring and practise"

Yes, and in a way that's what's triggered the question. You see, the school has a reputation for massive over-subscription, and for being extremely difficult to get into because so many children are "tutored for years" before sitting the exam, and that puts a lot of people off even bothering. However, I strongly suspect that a lot of that tutoring time is just being spent overcoming some inherent disadvantages.

voddiekeepsmesane Tue 21-Oct-14 19:33:16

I think that you have to take into consideration cultural differences not just the fact that English is a second language.

Vanillepudding Tue 21-Oct-14 19:50:18

I don't think that children with English as a second language are disadvantaged in these tests, because they are aware of it.

My dc are bilingual and my dd did the 11+ for a super selective after coming to the UK 5 years earlier with no English. She knew she had to do the test papers regularly to familiarise herself with the words and she did learn an awful lot in those months (and I did too tbh, I had never heard a few of those words).

At a guess, at her school roughly half the girls are bilingual, so it cannot be a disadvantage.

Similar scenario at my ds's school, at least half the boys are bilingual, lots of them Asian. They all did the English & maths test to get in.

Those that have been tutored for years to get in are struggling by year 9. Many have tutors from year 9 onwards, because anything less than an A for GCSE is a disappointment (to the parents).

I wonder if I'm too laid back about the whole thing occasionally. Especially after meeting other parents for information evenings etc.

I now wonder if one of my dc are at the school you are talking about. About 900 pupils taking the test for 120 places (roughly).

catcheemonkey Tue 21-Oct-14 20:15:36

No, probably a different one Vanillepudding. This one had 1700 pupils taking the test for 150 places.

Only 30% of the pupils at the school are white british, so on the face of it there isn't an issue. However, from what I saw on test day I would estimate the percentage of those actually doing the test was actually a lot lower than that - more like 5 - 10%.

Bonsoir Sat 01-Nov-14 21:19:43

Bilingual DC have an advantage, not a disadvantage, over monolingual DC when tested on VR and literacy - providing, of course, that they have covered the same curriculum.

ohtobeanonymous Sun 02-Nov-14 13:43:39

Catcheemonkey, the very fact that 70% of places for the school to which you refer go to children of an assumed bilingual background suggests that the tutoring is not about overcoming disadvantage! I'd argue that cultural commitment to high academic achievement and taking advantage of the fact that this very good grammar school offers opportunities to the children to achieve outstanding GCSE and A Level results with no school fees might also be highly influential factors. Years of expensive and ongoing tutoring is considered good value in comparison to independent school fees (especially to those sent to private junior schools and topping up with tutoring).
Of my DDs friends who sat the test, only those from a non-white background have passed to the next stage (and very sadly, one of the non-white girls who was only tutored for a year in preparation missed out). From our selective junior school, once again it has only ever been girls of Asian origin who have been offered places at the school (well this is only true of the last decade, perhaps it wasn't always the case)
Assuming we are of course talking about the same super selective in Kingston!!
I find it extremely strange that there should be such a strong pattern of Caucasian minority at the school given that, presumably, the educational opportunities available to all children who sit the test are relatively similar. I certainly don't believe it is because Caucasian children are less intelligent on average either, so there must be other explanations.

jeanswithatwist Sun 02-Nov-14 17:16:39

the grammar school where i live is over 95% asian girls despite the area being a good all round mix. i know having been through all the secondary entry nonsense last year exactly why that is. The asian community seem to have a higher regard, for many reasons, for education, nothing wrong with that. I do not know of any girls who got into the school who were not heavily tutored for a good few years before sitting the exam. The two cleverest girls in dd's school didn't get in but oddly enough the two girls who did weren't even in the top maths set but were really good at vr & nvr. When dd went to sit the entry exam for the grammar which included for the boys school, i didn't see one white english male kid even attempt the entry. this is all just an observations, personally i don't really think it matters. Everyone has their own view on education, i think alot of it is just cultural differences, different priorities.

dalekanium Sun 02-Nov-14 17:23:52

No idea if it's true, but would being bilingual not actually help with verbal reasoning? Assuming fluency I both languages.

I'm sure I read that true bilinguals do better in many kinds of test.

rabbitstew Sun 02-Nov-14 18:47:21

Why the interest, catcheemonkey? Do you think that 30% white, monolingual students is too high a proportion?!

catcheemonkey Mon 03-Nov-14 13:52:17

rabbit, my interest is as the parent of a prospective pupil, and the owner of a curious mind. I'm fascinated by the social dynamics of different schools, and interested in what drives them.

I can see that the ethnic mix at the school isn't locally representative, and I'm interested in how that's come about. I know suspect a lot of Caucasian families don't apply, or take up offers, simply because of the ethnic mix, but also because they don't like the excessively competitive tutoring culture. I also suspect a lot of immigrant families work so hard to get in because they don't have as many other options as native Brits - for instance most of the local church schools are inaccessible to them, even if they're happy to apply.

However, I wonder to what extent the uber-competitive tutoring culture is actually being driven by the need to overcome language barriers - because the bar is effectively set higher for ESL families.

I've heard lots of opinions here, but I think it's pretty shocking if nobody in the academic world has done any evidence-based research around this.

rabbitstew Mon 03-Nov-14 16:17:45

There is a hell of a lot of research into the advantages and disadvantages or being bilingual. Most of it appears to indicate that it is a big advantage. However, you don't make clear whether the children going to the school in question are mainly first, second, third generation, poor background or relatively well off etc. I'm sure there is a difference between second generation children whose parents can read and speak English quite well themselves, but choose to speak their mother tongue at home (probably advantaging their children), first generation, where the parents can barely speak or read English themselves (probably disadvantaging their children in terms of being verbal-reasoning test ready by age 11), first generation where parents are good speakers of English as a foreign language, and third generation where the parents might actually be speaking English at home a lot or all of the time... Just because someone isn't white British, this doesn't mean they have inferior skills in the language!!! I seriously doubt that the majority of the children at the school in question come from immigrant families where the parents cannot speak English and have thus relied on their children to learn English entirely outside the home environment... if nothing else, such parents would probably be too poor to access the tutoring of which you speak...

rabbitstew Mon 03-Nov-14 16:26:03

ps I think you will find a fair proportion of the parents of children from White, British backgrounds are accessing tutoring to help their children get into the school. Clearly they are not doing this to overcome a perceived language barrier (unless they've read journalists' interpretation of the research into bilingualism and are worried that their children's brains are at a disadvantage grin).

5ChildrenAndIt Mon 03-Nov-14 16:32:42

Lots of schools have removed NVR from their entrance exams. The cynic in me suspects that this is social engineering - precisely because language based assessments must surely favour native speakers - even if it is possible to counteract the effect with hard study.

Bonsoir Mon 03-Nov-14 16:42:57

catcheemonkey - it is a common misconception that DC who speak EAL and are bilingual are, academically, at a disadvantage to EMT speakers. This is not true, once you have controlled for other factors. Speakers of EAL are at an advantage.

PiqueABoo Mon 03-Nov-14 17:27:40

"Lots of schools have removed NVR from their entrance exams."

I'm not suggesting this is why, but there is research agreeing with my opinion that NVR is the easiest to tutor/learn.

HelloItsMeFell Mon 03-Nov-14 17:31:14

How did you know they did not have English as a first language? did you speak to them all?

Just because someone is brown doesn't mean they haven't been speaking English their whole lives and are quite likely to be every bit as fluent as you or me.

Bonsoir Mon 03-Nov-14 18:11:39

NVR is easy to tutor for but provides no educational benefit. A situation arose in the UK where parents were spending a lot of money and DC a lot of time and mental resources in a pastime with no educational advantage in order to secure a school place. Madness, hence NVR slowly falling out of favour.

catcheemonkey Mon 03-Nov-14 18:31:22

HellItsMeFell - no sh&t sherlock! Just because someone starts a conversation related to EAL doesn't make them a racist.

I did stand in a crowd of expectant parents for 30 minutes waiting for DS to come out of the test. And I did stand in a queue for 45 minutes to get into the open evening. There were a relatively high proportion of first generation immigrant families. What I don't know is how successful their DCs were in the test.

However, the social make-up of the successful candidates (which is probably inline with the published social make-up of the school) is less relevant to my question than the social make-up of the families sitting the test.

As rabbit rightly pointed out above, there are lots of different categories of EAL families. I was specifically thinking of those children whose parents don't speak English at home. VR requires a comprehensive English vocabulary, and the understanding of often quite subtle differences in meaning.

rabbitstew Mon 03-Nov-14 19:05:25

There's a huge difference between homes where English isn't spoken too, though, catcheemonkey. Parents with a high level of education who use a wide ranging vocabulary in their native language, discuss ideas and share knowledge with their children, and encourage said children to develop similar fluency in the language they hear all around them, on TV, radio, in the shops, at school and with friends, will probably be giving their children an advantage over children not exposed to more than one language. They will certainly have a huge advantage over monosyllabic white parents with little interest in discussing ideas or knowledge, and virtually no interest in education...

HelloItsMeFell Tue 04-Nov-14 02:43:43

I didn't suggest you were racist in the least. I just asked how you knew that the children did not came from 'English speaking homes', as you put it. And I'm not even sure what a 'first generation immigrant' looks like, confused although I agree that you can have a good stab at guessing.

But by the same token there will be families of 2nd and third generation immigrants who still speak in their mother tongue to one another (especially the adults) but whose children are no less fluent in English than mine. I guess if they are sitting the 11 plus for a super selective then their parents must think they are in with a decent chance.

woddayaknow Tue 04-Nov-14 09:34:38

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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