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Friday, 08 February 2013 16:08

Headteacher Survey for Kent 11 Plus Review

At the beginning of January, I published here a critique of the appallingly designed headteacher survey on the current Review of the Kent test, carried out over the Christmas holidays. Paul Francis of the Kent Messenger has now obtained the results of the survey, which fully support my criticisms and suggest headteachers would have been better off concentrating on the Christmas turkey rather than wasting their time on this one.


Six of the seven questions were multiple choice with a yes/no response required and no opportunity to explain the respondent’s reasons. Only one of the six questions produced a clear opinion. Only one question, down at number four, allowed an open reply. This outlined the Kent Test make up and then asked "Should KCC change the tests in any other way (other than ‘what’ is not provided, so this becomes meaningless)". Because the question asked for possible changes, these were nearly all that were provided, and support for the status quo is negligible, contrary to the outcomes of the multiple choice answers. Only 56 respondents gave suggestions for change, out of a total of 135.

In other words, with just 10% of Kent’s headteachers putting forward proposals for change to a badly worded question, mostly just one suggestion across a wide spectrum of possibilities, this whole section is clearly invalid as an outcome and no conclusions should be drawn from it,  

My main fear is .......


that the survey will be used to promote the most popular proposal in the Open question although it was supported by just 20 respondents. This proposal is to move the location of the tests from primary to grammar schools and other secondary schools. The responses reveal a multitude of motives ranging from "This would help parents understand that our job is not to get children through the Kent test but to provide a good broad and balanced education for every child in our schools" (clearly a rather complicated means to teach parents a lesson), through to "Have the children take them offsite e.g. in a Secondary School or community hall where numbers of personnel required could be reduced." Most responses see the rationale to move the tests to be a reduction in workload for the primary school, with no mention of the child's experience. However, we do know that exactly half of those with an opinion on this issue in the multiple choice question were not in favour of an outside venue for the test, so there can be no argument that headteachers have supported this move and it would therefore be very wrong to allow such comments to influence decisions. What I am absolutely sure of is that if Kent parents were asked which they preferred, the response would overwhelmingly be for the tests to remain in primary schools.

Remarkably, primary school heads in Medway have approved a change in the reverse direction for most children, seeing them tested in primary schools this year, a scheme which has run very smoothly. This followed a disastrous run of Medway Tests over the past three years taking place on Saturdays in grammar schools and other centres, and seeing considerable parental dissatisfaction! Of course, in Kent, thanks to the efforts of the primary schools (albeit some reluctantly) the procedure has run very smoothly for many years. One major pressure for change is to equalise the chances of the 5% of out of county entrants to Kent grammar schools, although this is not mentioned by anyone in the survey. 

I am in no doubt that the comment section will surely dominate any reporting on the questionnaire, although it should instead focus on why such a pointless exercise was carried out at any time, let alone in the Christmas holidays. Nevertheless, what one does have in the answers is a collection of replies from 135 school leaders in Kent out of some 550, providing a unique and fascinating commentary on their diverse views of one aspect of school life.

With only the one question allowing comments, many of the respondents to this section appear to have let themselves go (although some I spoke to in January still did not know the survey had taken place!). You will find all comments posted here; I presume this was the total, although they come from just 56 respondents.  Although my response to the survey on a public page of the KCC website was accepted, I did not cheat by naming a school, identified myself and so suspect my response was rightly ignored! What is also apparent is that there is a very diverse collection of views often not relevant to the test, but reflecting what is important to them personally. This underlines the key conclusion that there is no chance of consensus and no conclusions should be drawn from this survey.

There is no doubt that the stand out comment is the allegation by one headteacher that "we even have a HT who offers his wife's time to parents, at cost, to coach children through the tests". Not the only story of this nature I have heard, but of course in some private schools with a strong coaching culture this would be seen as acceptable and approved of - it is what parents pay for.  

As my previous article observes, the only information forthcoming to assist in completion of the questionnaire was two selected conclusions from a headteacher’s working party, which had met during the first half of the year to produce a report, which surprisingly was not provided to inform headteachers filling in the survey.

There were also comments wishing to put the responsibility for organising the tests with grammar schools either collectively or individually. As my previous article observes, this shift is already starting to happen with some East Kent grammar schools, and I suspect the momentum will gather pace. Before too long I see the super-selectives either breaking away or else adding additional hurdles to distinguish between high performers. My major concern here is that there will be a multitude of tests (I can already see south coast children taking Kent, Dover and Folkestone tests) accompanied by different standards for selection in different parts of the county

The overwhelming conclusion of the working party was that excessive coaching is perverting the Kent Test and its influence must be minimised in any replacement assessment, likely to be introduced for tests in September 2014, for admission in 2015.  This has also been identified by KCC as the key aim of the review. Astonishingly, the survey did not address this issue at all, and so only a few comments addressed the matter. This may be because this aim is wholly unrealistic. A few other responses were concerned with technical aspects of testing, including the place of maths and writing in the test, some arguing this is less coachable than the reasoning tests, others the reverse. Whilst the multiple choice question shows some support for removing the writing element of the Kent Test, some comments regret how small writing is at present (only having a role for children who have not passed automatically and whose work is submitted to headteacher assessment) and believe it is a strong indicator of academic success. Some years ago I met a representative of the National Foundation of Education Research, which currently sets Kent's 11 plus tests and is the leading research body in assessment techniques, who told me that in their view, English assessments were poor predictors of academic success and reasoning tests were the best. However, Medway supports the argument for greater English content with two fifths of its 11 plus test marks being awarded for a single piece of English work.

Of the six multiple choice questions: there is a small majority in favour of dropping practice tests; a small majority in favour of completing the tests in one day; the 63 people who wanted the tests to take place on one day being evenly divided over whether to drop a test or make the tests shorter; the same group split equally on whether no task should be dropped or the writing be dropped; responses were exactly equal between those who wanted tests outside the primary school and those who wished to retain them in the schools;  a majority wished to retain national standardisation over those who wanted local standardisation (although localisation can mean many things, the definition of this was incomprehensible, and contained a serious flaw in any case); leaving the one question with a ringing response showing strong enthusiasm for retaining Headteacher Panels; and finally, a small majority was in favour of keeping the operation of Headteacher Panels the way they are (those who wished for change were not asked their view on how to do this). 

As my previous article suggests, there was no logic to this particular exercise apart from showing that headteachers have been consulted, and it leaves KCC in the happy position of being able to proceed as it wishes, the only guidance being that Headteacher Panels should be retained. Possibly the desired outcome!

Last modified on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 17:12

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