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Friday, 15 January 2016 06:06

The Medway Test 2015: Definitely not fit for Purpose

The issues arising from an analysis of the results of the recent seriously flawed Medway Test for grammar school admission are even greater than last year, with:
A mistake in calculating the pass mark by Medway Council, according to their own rules - depriving 40 Medway children of grammar school places;
The Review process selecting fewer than half the number of children it is targeted to choose, because of insufficient quality of school work presented - another 30 children denied places;
Continued powerful bias towards girls and older children with 21% more girls than boys found suitable for grammar school. The highly unsatisfactory Review process selected fourteen Medway children born in the first quarter of the school year, compared to just one in the fourth quarter.
The Council excuse is that the process works as it all comes right in the end (it doesn’t)!
With the test and Review both being so biased towards girls and older children, and the inability of the Council to apply their own formula for calculating the pass mark, it is surely time for it to be replaced by a process that is fit for purpose.
The school with the highest percentage of pupils being found selective is St William of Perth Catholic Primary with 47%, followed remarkably by Temple Mill Primary with 42%.

For further information on all these headlines, read on…

Test Pass Mark Miscalculation
From the cohort of 3066 children in Medway state schools, used by Medway Council to calculate the pass mark of 521 in this year’s Medway Test, just 21.7% against the target of 25% were selected after the Test and Review process were completed. This is partly due to a mistake by the Council in its calculation of the pass mark.
                                             To quote Medway Council:
"The number of Medway resident children achieving the minimum score or above this year is 712, and this represents 23 per cent of the total Medway cohort for this year group which is 3,066”.

The explanation of Medway’ Council’s blunder is that they have taken 23% of the cohort of 3066 Medway state school children to determine the number of state school children who are to be put through, which works out at around 705. In practice, by choosing the pass mark to be 521 they went slightly over this at 726 (FOI Request), but this figure also included 61 children from Medway’s four private schools. These children should not have been included in the calculation to find the pass mark unless the total number of Medway children in the private schools was also included in the cohort for the calculation. The outcome of this mistake results in a shortfall of 40 Medway state school children awarded automatic passes.I have provided a fuller explanation of this miscalculation at the foot of this article along with a table of the relevant data.

Medway Review 
The second part of the discrepancy came from the Medway Review process, targeted to choose 2% more children on top of the automatic Test pass. This year, Medway Council forecasted the figure should be 61 pupils. In the event, the school work of just 1.0% of the cohort, or 30 children, was found to be up to standard, out of 146 candidates. In addition, just one of the six candidates from private schools was found successful, along with two of the 19 from outside Medway (18 from Kent).

I have written elsewhere of some of the serious flaws in the Medway Review process, and several of these are on show this year also. Especially worrying is that this is the second successive fall in successful Medway Reviews from 2.0% in 2013 to 1.2% in 2014 and now 1.0%.

Assuming the process and practice are similar to previous years, this can only mean that the standard of work being presented has sadly fallen over this period.

Gender and Birth Month Differences
For reasons I don’t understand, in Medway over a hundred more girls than boys took the Medway Test from state schools, although the total number of boys and girls in the cohort is almost identical. This follows a similar pattern to last year. For the 2015 Test, 343 girls and just 293 boys passed automatically, a further 21 girls and 8 boys being found selective on Review.

As I wrote last year:I believe the Medway Test discriminates heavily against boys, who perform poorly on the extended writing exercise, a single piece of writing. This year I have collected the marks scored by children on the individual tests, which place the problem into stark focus. A child would achieve a pass standard scoring 105 on each of the five tests. On the extended writing, 30% of girls reached this standard and only 20% of boys. The maths and verbal reasoning scores balance out, with more boys than girls reaching the standard in the maths. So either girls are inherently more capable of writing than boys, or else there is a problem in the teaching in primary schools. Whatever, if this test pattern continues, it is clear that primary schools need to improve the standards of writing of boys.

With regard to the Review, last year actually saw the gender gap close with 19 girls and 17 boys being judged selective, but for 2016 entry, the Review reverted to pattern, the sharp fall to just 8 boys out of 72 (nearly half the applicants) considered for Review being found of selective ability is very alarming.

Last year I wrote: “For 2015 entry, the bias towards older children is similar to 2012, the previous time I analysed the figures, with 55% of passes going to children born in the first half of the year, and 45% in the second half of the year on both occasions”. The balance has improved this year with 53% of children passing born in the first six months of the year, but this bias should not happen so consistently if the Test is properly age standardised as I am sure the maths and verbal reasoning elements are. However, although Medway Council claims the Writing element of the test, which comprises two fifths of the total marks is also age standardised, this does not square up to the outcomes and I look again for their explanation of the discrepancy.

I have however obtained age and gender related data for the Review this year, below, which of course is not age standardised, and this illustrates starkly the importance of age, with 14 children being assessed selective born in the first three months of the school years, as against just 1 in the last three months. This is along with a system that saw 21 girls assessed selective against just 8 boys, both typical of outcomes in recent years.

By contrast, in Kent the overall number of children found selective born June - August, at 956, is second only to those born in the first three months at 1006. 

 

Surely this level of unfairness cannot be allowed to continue – but I guess it will as it has done for years as the Council appears unwilling to right this miscarriage.  

REVIEW PERFORMANCE BY BIRTH MONTH AND GENDER 2015      
Birth month, by
Quarters of year
Sep-Nov Dec-Feb  Mar-May Jun-Aug
boys girls boys girls boys girls boys girls
Candidates 24 25 25 20 10 25 17 13
Successes 5 9 2 4 1 7 0 1
Performance of individual schools
With the prevalence of private tutoring for so many children in both state and private schools, it is sometimes difficult to see who deserves most credit for school performance in terms of grammar school performance.
In 2014 children from four Catholic schools propelled those schools to having over 50% of their pupils found selective. None achieved this feat in 2015 although, for the second year running, St William of Perth Catholic Primary tops the list with 48% of children found selective, St Benedict’s and St Thomas of Canterbury also being high scorers at 37%, with all four Catholic schools also delivering on KS2 results (three in the top six in Medway).
However, I have had to double check the second best performer, Temple Mill Primary with 42%, recently in Special Measures but climbing up the Key Stage 2 League tables fast following its takeover by the Howard School Trust. Next come three Junior Schools. Balfour Junior school and St Margaret’s Junior School both achieved 38% with Hempstead Junior School on 37%, along with Woodlands Academy.  
 
What the mismanagement of the Medway Test and Review means for Medway schools and Families
Although last year I thought the number of children in the cohort had bottomed out, a further fall back of 26 pupils in the current Year 6 brings no relief to those secondary schools short of pupils.
Currently Chatham Grammar School for Boys is proposing to go co-educational as its response to the shortage of boys being found selective, which will produce the ridiculous balance of three girls’ selective schools with just the one, The Math, for boys. I have explored the implications of this proposal here.
 
At present, the two Chatham Grammar Schools are picking up a proportion of the children denied rightful places by the failures of the Medway system, through the Appeal process, although many of these families will tell of the enormous stress the uncertainty places on them over a seven month wait for an outcome. Some will of course be put off appealing at all, and others will be unsuccessful depending on the support and the performance of their primary school, and of their own ability to prepare for what can be quite a daunting appeal process. The latter is in spite of an appeals administration that in my opinion works exceptionally hard to minimise the trauma many families are going through.
 
As to what would happen if the Council changed its process to correct the three main failures of the current procedure it is difficult to forecast. Certainly an increase in boys’ numbers coming through would create enormous pressure on boys places if the Chatham proposal goes ahead, although what would then be two co-educational schools would no doubt see their gender balance shift. The big question would arise if there was any reduction in girls’ grammar places, with three schools available, both Chatham and Fort Pitt both with spaces for 2015 entry, with The Rochester Grammar which selects on high scores seeing its cut off level fall in several recent years to just above a bare pass. I can’t see the latter, which also runs Chatham Boys, wanting to see anything to alter the gender balance!
 
Meanwhile the non-selective schools suffer enormous uncertainty as too many children they are expecting vanish from their rolls after appeals, and a more stable situation would surely suit them as well!
 
Children from Outside Medway
Medway Council has expressed concern about the large number of out of Medway (ooc) children sitting the Medway Test, 682 this year, with 414 passing. The reality is that last year, just 113 oocs took up places in Medway grammar schools on allocation, of these 64 or well over half to the two schools that select on high scores, with 98 being from Kent, mainly along the towns and villages around the borders of Medway and along the Thames from Dartford through to Sittingbourne. 9 came from the SE London Boroughs offering easy access by rail. 
 
The 2015 Tests are likely to produce a similar pattern, with 334 of the ooc passes coming from Kent primary schools. Again these are mainly along the North side of Kent, concentrated in Gravesham and Dartford, although quite a few in Maidstone. All but six of the rest are from London Boroughs, mainly Greenwich, Bexley and Bromley, so no surprises here.
 
Apart from Tunbury Primary in Walderslade, but technically in Kent with its 36 Medway passes, just four Kent primaries have more than 10 Medway passes: Cobham; Meopham; St Joseph's Catholic (Northfleet); and Roseacre (Maidstone).  No school outside Kent has more than 4, suggesting these are individuals, rather than schools looking this way, as distinct from the Kent Test oocs.
 
However, both Kent and Medway Councils are concerned about what some have called 11 plus tourism, with a large number of children taking the tests, probably with no intention of chasing Kent or Medway practice for 11 plus practice free of charge to them, but at considerable and unavoidable cost to the Local Authorities, who also have to arrange facilities for the test to take place.  
 
 
Further Explanation of Error and its consequences
You will find all the relevant statistics at the foot of this article.
When I raised this issue with Medway Council their response was astonishing. After ignoring the mistake I had raised, they considered: “School census data for the number of pupils attending Medway secondary schools show that over 25% of children attending a secondary school in Medway attend a grammar school, and so our arrangements ensure that sufficient pupils are selected for a grammar school education”. In practice this answer is a nonsense and untrue, as it ignores the 67 children who had failed the Medway selection process in 2015 but won places at grammar schools on appeal, which had nothing to do with the Medway arrangements, or the 97 Kent children offered places at Medway grammar schools for 2015, or the 107 Medway children offered places at non-selective schools across the border into Kent, all of whom boost the proportion of grammar school places taken up in Medway. The numbers going the other way are much smaller.
Of course, by setting the pass mark too high, an undetermined number of children from the private schools were also cut out, so the pain is equally spread.
The small discrepancy of 14 children between the 712 of Medway Council and the 726 of the subsequent FOI appears to be mainly from out of County Medway children attending Medway schools but could arise from late tests.  
For a legitimate answer calculation, the Council should either use the cohort figure of 3066 and the results of state school children only, or use the total cohort including the number attending private schools if it wishes to use their results as well to establish the pass mark.  It is likely there will be almost no difference in result between these two legitimate processes, but the method actually chosen is wrong, the pass mark is set too high and 40 children have lost out. To calculate this difference, I have increased the cohort size by the number of private school children who took the Medway Test, the only figure easily available. However, there are of course other children in private schools who have not taken the test who should also be added in, which would lower the pass mark even further. 
 

MEDWAY TEST RESULTS 2015

 

Children in Cohort

Candidates

Successes

% successes

% of cohort

 

MEDWAY STATE SCHOOL CHILDREN AUTOMATIC PASSES AUTUMN 2015

boys

1528 766 293 38.3% 19.2%
girls 1538 887 343 38.7% 22.3%
TOTAL

 3066

 1653

 636  38.5%  20.7%
  MEDWAY PRIVATE SCHOOL CHILDREN AUTOMATIC PASSES AUTUMN 2015
boys 0 38 31 81.5%  
girls 0 41 29 64.4%  
TOTAL   79 60 75.9%  
  MEDWAY SCHOOL CHILDREN AUTOMATIC PASSES AUTUMN 2015
boys 1528 804 324 40.3% 21.2%
girls 1538 928 372 40.1% 24.2%
TOTAL 3066 1732 696 40.2% 22.7%
  ADJUSTED MEDWAY SCHOOL CHILDREN AUTOMATIC PASSES AUTUMN 2015
boys 1566 804 324   20.7%
girls 1579 928 372   23.6%
TOTAL 3145 1732 696   22.1%

REVIEWS FOR MEDWAY STATE SCHOOL CHILDREN AUTUMN 2015

boys

 1528  71  8  11.3%  0.5%

girls

 1538  75  21  28.0%  1.4%

TOTAL

 3066  146  30  20.5%  1.0%
  MEDWAY STATE SCHOOL CHILDREN TOTAL PASSES AUTUMN 2015
boys 1528 766 301   19.7%
girls 1538 887 365   23.7%
TOTAL 3066 1653 666   21.7%

TOTAL MEDWAY PASSES AUTUMN 2015

boys

 1528

 804 332  41.3%  21.7%

girls

 1538

 928

 394  42.5%  25.6%

TOTAL

 3066

 1732  726  41.9%  23.7%
      ADJUSTED TOTAL MEDWAY PASSES AUTUMN 2015     
boys 1566 804 332   21.2%
girls 1579 928 394   25.0%
TOTAL 3145 1732 726   23.1%

 

MEDWAY TEST RESULTS 2014

 

Children in Cohort

Candidates

Successes

% successes

% of cohort

 

MEDWAY CHILDREN AUTOMATIC PASSES AUTUMN 2014

boys

1524

856

321

38

21.1%

girls

1568

987

397

40

25.3%

TOTAL

3092

1843

718

39

23.2%

REVIEWS FOR MEDWAY CHILDREN AUTUMN 2014

boys

 

101

17

17%

1.1%

girls

 

138

19

14%

1.2%

TOTAL

 

239

36

15%

1.2%

TOTAL MEDWAY PASSES AUTUMN 2014

boys

1524

856

338

39

22.2%

girls

1568

987

416

42

26.5%

TOTAL

3092

1843

754

41

24.4%

           
 

TOTAL FROM OUTSIDE MEDWAYAUTUMN 2014

boys

 

287

156

54

 

girls

 

286

165

58

 

 TOTAL

 

573

321

56

 
 

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 11 October 2017 19:36

4 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 14 October 2016 18:34 posted by jane jack

    can my child take the Medway 11plus test in January next year?
    PETER: No, but if you contact Medway Council and explain your circumstances they can advise you when it can be taken - probably in April.

  • Comment Link Monday, 01 February 2016 23:17 posted by Medway Parent

    Five days on and I am still waiting for media coverage of your excellent and factual article. Is it simply that local papers and radio have tired of the repeated justifiable trashing of Medway Council's reputation and despair of change. This website contains a massive indictment of the Council and its Education Department. Where is the Labor Party, where are the Unions, why do parents not rise up on mass to protest about the shoddy service offered up as education in Medway.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 28 January 2016 19:05 posted by Barbara (not Peacock)

    So who takes responsibility for Council incompetence? Clearly not Mike O'Brien or Barbara Peacock - who writes under the header "Make a Difference". When is she going to by resigning.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 28 January 2016 19:00 posted by Delia

    No surprise there then!

    Have you got a quote from Mr O'Brien who said in the Council Release: “Well done to all children who took the Medway Test this year. Moving up to secondary school from primary is a huge step and I wish them all the very best for the future and encourage them to work hard to achieve their dreams.” Perhaps he could apologize to those like my son whose dreams have been smashed after yet more council incompetance.

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