Supporting Families
  • banner3
  • banner13
  • banner6
  • banner9
  • banner4
  • banner12
  • banner7
  • banner10
  • banner2
  • banner11
Monday, 06 April 2015 22:36

Talk at National Tutoring Conference: The Kent 11 Plus test was changed to make it less susceptible to coaching. What happened next?

I was invited to speak at the National Tutoring Conference on 1st April 2015, to the title: "The Kent 11 Plus test was changed to make it less susceptible to coaching. What happened next?" The following is the script I planned to follow, but as those who have heard me speaking before will know. Do not assume I kept to it!

Kent is the largest Local Authority in the country, with 20% of the nation’s grammar schools, 32 in number, all admitting students through success in the Kent 11 plus. Around three years ago, the Cabinet Member for Education in Kent uttered those immortal words: “not fit for purpose” about the Kent Test. There were two main issues, firstly that tutoring was introducing an unfair skew into the outcomes, and secondly that the absence of any element of literacy in the assessments was allowing too many children who were unable to write properly through to grammar school.

I hope you will find that many of the conclusions in this talk apply to grammar schools in other parts of the country.......

Let me be clear; if there is to be an ability test for selection to grammar school, aspiring parents will want their children to do as well as possible, and so create a demand for a tutoring industry. I see nothing wrong with that. However, a Local Authority has a responsibility to be fair to all its children, and state primary schools are not permitted to coach for the test, whilst for many private schools it is their bread and butter, parents often topping this up with further coaching.

In order to answer the question of “what happened next”, I am afraid I need to look at some statistics, which is why I am reading this rather than my usual approach of talking without a script! Most of the data is reproduced on my website which explores a variety of 11 plus issues amongst other themes, in an article entitled “The Conundrum of the Kent Test”.

Kent County Council sets a pass mark in the nationally standardised 11 plus that selects 21% of Kent children as suitable for grammar school. Another 5% are chosen by looking at their work and ability profile, with still more added through the appeals, so that in the end nearly 30% of Kent children are admitted to grammar school in the county. The same rules for deciding if a child is selective apply for out of county children. One complication comes because three of the grammar schools are super-selective - primarily a Kent term to distinguish them from the majority of Kent grammars who, if oversubscribed, select from those who have passed by some sort of distance criterion. The super-selectives choose students on high scores, another five choosing a proportion on high scores, with coaching becoming increasingly important for admission to all these in what can become a fiercely competitive situation.

On a national scale, 21% of children found of grammar school ability equates to selecting on scores of 113 or higher on age standardised tests where children have not been prepared in any way, as in the samples used for comparison. For 2014 entry, the last year of the old test, children passed if they scored 118 or higher in each of three tests: verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning and maths, with an aggregate score of 360 or more, the discrepancy being largely due to the preparation and tutoring effect.

For 2015 entry, KCC adopted a different pattern of tests responding to the criticisms, but both still multiple choice: the first test was equally divided between English and maths, the second equally divided between verbal and non-verbal reasoning.

There were three scores produced of equal weighting in English, maths and Reasoning. The pass standard was 106 in each of the three assessments, with an aggregate of 320 or more, in order to produce a total of 21%. In order to understand this dramatic fall from the previous year, I have analysed the data that makes up individual scores and found results as follows:

  21%   Boys 21%   Girls 21%   Total
English 114 116 115
Maths 118 116 117
Reasoning 121 121 121

Several conclusions can be drawn.

Firstly, all these scores are above those of the unprepared national sample in which 21% of children achieved 113 or more. Not surprising, as all nearly all children will have been prepared somehow. Never forget the importance of parents and after school booster classes! Kent boys are only just above the national sample for English! Maths marks are higher than English.

Secondly, the reasoning mark is considerably higher than the other two. In my view, this differential is caused by one or more of the following: a focus of coaching on reasoning tests: more effective coaching on reasoning tests; or simply and most probably that reasoning tests are more susceptible to coaching than the other two.

Thirdly, there is an important difference between the performance of girls and boys. Under the old Kent Test, more boys than girls passed the test after achieving better maths results, with more girls being selected in the second tranche, focusing on school work, the two equalising out. In the new test, more girls than boys pass directly thanks to the introduction of English, and more are also selected in tranche two, so in total 25% of Kent boys and 28% of Kent girls are found selective before appeals. Whilst not relevant to this talk, this has the effect of there being increased pressure on girls’ grammar school places in Kent this year.

Fourthly, there is the surprising issue of why the pass mark for each subject is fixed so low, at 106, in order to get 21% of children selected/ This mark actually sees 34% of children reach this standard in each separate subject, whereas the 21% mark in each subject is much higher. The answer to this is highly relevant to tutors and to schoolteachers. Very few children will have failed the whole test by scoring less than 106 in the reasoning test alone; nearly all that have failed have done so through the maths or the English or both. The reason the pass mark is so low is because far too many children performed poorly in either English or maths, and the pass mark is fixed to allow children needing to reach the standard in all three to get through.

I would anticipate that for the 2015 test the pass mark will rise as the tutoring industry adjusts to the increased priority on the curriculum subjects of maths and English, which cannot be bad for children’s education! I have talked to many parents of children appealing for places in grammar schools this year and am frankly appalled to discover how many tutors have neglected English and maths teaching, as they have focused on going through the hoops of reasoning tests, which have no discernible value after the test is taken. For some tutors, this poses a problem, as teaching curriculum English and maths require additional skills, and I would certainly advise parents to ask more questions about such matters when engaging tutors.

Super selective schools choose those students achieving the highest scores: It is here that tutoring mostly comes into its own, as every mark counts, and with three super-selective schools in West Kent, there is a strong culture of coaching, and finding the best coaches. As those of you who work in that area know, many of the best are booked up a year and more ahead, some children are tutored from the age of five and some go to private schools focused on success at the 11 plus and are then tutored outside school as well. The latter examples are no childhood and in my view can almost add up to child abuse.

The most telling statistic is that for 2014 entry, there was a mushrooming of 161 Kent children scoring the maximum of 423, more than three times as many as most other scores down to 400. For the new test, this figure has fallen to just 8 (7 boys and one girl). As a result, these schools have also seen their individual pass mark tumble as the scores have become more spread out. My understanding is that they are pleased with this as there is greater discrimination.

So what is the answer to my question? I believe that for the 2015 Kent Test, the effect of coaching has been reduced, although for many children it will still make the difference between pass and fail, or decide if a child is to gain admission to a super-selective school. It is ridiculous to claim as some do, that a tutor-proof exam exists, and good tutors will always make a difference although for many bright children they are really an irrelevance with regard to the test. Any child who is tutored from now on ought to see an improvement in their maths and English curriculum performance, critical if they attend a poor school, and that is worthwhile in its own right.

Last modified on Monday, 06 April 2015 23:24

Leave a comment

Make sure you enter the (*) required information where indicated.
Basic HTML code is allowed.

Latest News & Comments

Just click on a news item below to read it in full. Feel free to subscribe to the news via the email link to the right or the RSS Feed. If you have a view on any item posted, please leave a comment. Also feel free to suggest items of news, or areas where comment is needed to: peter@kentadvice.co.uk. News items appear as and when I have time in a very busy schedule, for I run this non profit making site single-handed.

  • Kent Test Results by Birth Month 2018-20: Sharp Decline through the Year

    Children born in the first quarter of the school year 1 September 2009 and 31 August 2010, have performed much better in the 2020 Kent selection procedure than those born in the fourth quarter between June and August.

    It is some years since I previously analysed Kent Test results by the month of birth of children sitting the Test and found little difference at that time between performance across different ages. Given the built-in disadvantages for some children brought about by the Coronavirus crisis this year, the decline in the pass rate was no great surprise, except that the difference was almost the same in 2018. The reason for the fall in performance is therefore not to do with Coronavirus as I initially suspected, but appears to be caused by inherent problems with the Kent Test age standardisation, which is surely neither fair nor acceptable.

    Written on Friday, 15 January 2021 18:32 1 comment Read more...
  • Sevenoaks School: Unlawful Selection Testing in School on Tuesday and Wednesday.

    The lockdown has forced schools to make radical changes in their procedures and activities, but some are subject to looser rules than others. For example, the private Sevenoaks School has received approval from the government to continue setting its admission examinations for eleven-year-olds over this week and the next, inviting candidates into school. However, I believe this is not just bending the rules it is unlawful!

    Sevenoaks School  

    A letter to parents indicates that even the school was astonished to be allowed to go ahead. It begins: ‘Unbelievably, we have just received notification from the Department for Education that we can continue to administer admissions tests for entry this September!’. What on earth are state schools supposed to make of this special treatment?

    The law is clear. The relevant part states: You must not leave, or be outside of your home except where necessary. You may leave the home to:………attend education or childcare - for those eligible.

    In my opinion, testing for selection is not education in any sense, nor do children and families in most cases even fit the criteria for eligibility to attend education if it were. The responsibility for this flagrant breach of the law lies with the government who have chosen to make this an exception and override their own legislation, not Sevenoaks School who were originally prepared to cancel the exams in line with lockdown.  

    Written on Wednesday, 13 January 2021 13:03 4 comments Read more...
  • Website Review of 2020

    Unsurprisingly the story of education locally in this extraordinary and memorable year has been dominated by Coronavirus, although I have focused in my coverage on events unfolding in Kent and Medway, leaving the national picture to others.

    Whilst this article reviews some of the many news items I  have published in the past year, I have not considered last week’s lockdown nor the litany of failed and crumbling promises in education matters, even as recently as last week,  offered by Boris Johnson and national government including the quagmire of U-Turns and storm of decisive impossibilities laid down by Gavin Williamson and the Department for Education, all of which have been ruthlessly demolished elsewhere. 

    The most read news story on this site over the past year is, surprisingly to me, the events leading up to the dismissal of the Headteacher of St Thomas’ Catholic Primary and the departure of the CEO of the Kent Catholic Schools Trust (See update below). Otherwise, and unsurprisingly, news items about the Kent Test and grammar schools dominate both my list of most-read articles and also the further set of information articles. Each of these is updated annually and headed up by the 2020 version of Kent Grammar School Applications. That article has now been read by 374,859 browsers over the past ten years, not including my 2250 subscribers. All information articles are listed in the right-hand column of this page.

    Just before the end of the year, I received census figures for Kent schools, some of which I have incorporated in the items below, a fuller article to come as it reveals some interesting facts about Kent and Medway schools as usual.

    Written on Wednesday, 30 December 2020 06:15 1 comment Read more...
  • Coronavirus Jottings

    23rd December: I tried to write an article speculating what would happen to schools in January, but have given it up as an impossible task. Happy Christmas and my sincere best wishes for 2021 to all who are responsible for delivering an education to Kent and Medway children.  

    The BBC has an excellent description of the chaos that is following the latest government knee jerk reactions to the beginning of a surge in Coronavirus cases. This particular U-Turn totally wipes out any rationale for the threats this week of legal action against schools and Local Authorities for closing schools early, and the issuing of fines to parents for keeping their children at home either through fear or to do their best to keep coronavirus free for Christmas. I cannot imagine what school leaders are going through as they grapple with the consequences over the 'holiday' (18/12).   

     Mass testing updates below (17/12, 18/12).

    By the time you read this, it will be out of date, as headteachers and Local Authorities grapple with a rapidly changing situation in wider society and their own schools. Large numbers of staff and pupils are often absent for periods sometimes repeatedly, either with covid itself or self-isolating. Decisions are made in the spotlight with parts of society, including government, very ready to blame schools for decisions at variance with their own ideas, and now controlling media.

    The Secretary of State for Education, in spite of his failures during the year, seeks ever tighter control of schools and has introduced new coronavirus related legislation, including the Temporary Continuity Direction. This enables him to force schools to remain open, yet another potential breakdown in relationships and trust and has enabled him to require Greenwich Council to backtrack on its decision to advise all local schools to close for the last four days of term. Islington and Waltham Forest councils have also told schools to move to remote learning and have been sent warning letters from the Department for Education, with the TCD to follow if they do not comply.

    Quite understandably the government is concerned about the effect of a fractured attendance pattern on children’s education and mental health, over the past nine months and into the indeterminate future. Unfortunately, it has forgotten three important lessons which should have been learned. Firstly that local situations are usually best delegated to local people, secondly that in a rapidly changing scene, rigid policies can be heavily wrongfooted, and thirdly that the Education Department has a track record of getting it wrong.

    The latest attendance figures released by the Department of Education show a frightening decline in attendance figures for last week, with just 55% of secondary aged pupils in Kent and 53% in Medway attending school according to the BBC, with primary attendance around 75%. An increasing number of schools have been forced to close through lack of staff able to attend. Whilst a major part of the absence is likely to be a direct consequence of coronavirus, many families are frightened whilst others are sensibly withdrawing their children from school early to give them a chance of a Covid free Christmas, some of whom have then been threatened with fines for non-attendance. There is nothing like goodwill at Christmas!

    Written on Wednesday, 16 December 2020 17:15 1 comment Read more...
  • Medway Review 2020 and Out of County Data for the Medway Test

    To no one’s surprise, the Medway Review process has once again failed the children of Medway for 2021 grammar school admissions. Instead of selecting the target figure of 70 Medway state school children, or 2% of the total cohort, who should have been successful at Review, there were just 12 children picked, which is 0.34% of the cohort. The rules for the procedure make absolutely no concessions for children whose education has suffered because of the coronavirus pandemic raging over the previous eight months, underlined by this being by the second-lowest percentage for many years. The additional penalty for many of the 127 Medway children who were unsuccessful at review is that, apart from at Chatham Grammar, the rules do not allow grammar school Appeal Panels to uphold their cases unless there is a fault in process, which there almost never is. Very few (less than five) of the 33 Review requests for children from outside Medway were successful.

    I have little new to say about this situation as I have been writing about the reasons why the Medway Test and Review process are unfit for the purpose for many years. Sadly, I have not generated any response whatsoever from Medway politicians about why they are content to let this travesty continue unreformed. However, I do explore further details of outcomes below and examine the sharp rise in Out of County passes.

    This article follows on from my initial analysis of Medway Test results here, which also highlights the scandal of the gross imbalance between opportunities for girls and boys at Medway grammar schools once again.  

    Written on Tuesday, 15 December 2020 17:26 Be the first to comment! Read more...
  • Sixth Form Courses in Kent and Medway Schools

    Three years ago I surveyed the movement of students between some schools to take up 6th Form courses and was surprised how often it happened. There appears limited advice to Year 11 students on what the options are so I have carried out a more extensive analysis this year, looking at all 38 grammar schools across Kent and Medway and those 37 non-selective (N/S) schools running 6th Forms with an intake of over eighty students in 2019. Somewhat to my surprise, I have discovered that over a quarter of 6th form students in both grammar and N/S schools were in different schools for Year 11, with a healthy 15% of the total 6th Form numbers in grammars having transferred from N/S schools.  There is no co-ordinated admission system for 6th Form admission, so students can apply for as many schools as they wish. Whilst the number of external students to be admitted is theoretically capped, individual schools interpret this limitation in different ways, with many never reaching the limit. 

    I believe this study is unique but is intended to encourage more young people to reflect and make a decision about what is best for them, rather than just carry on in the same school without making a positive decsion, although this will still be right for most.

    The school with by some way the largest 6th Form intake from outside is the non-selective (N/S) Canterbury Academy admitting 294 students from other schools, including 46 from grammar and private schools and 63 from abroad. It is followed in percentage terms by Simon Langton Boys Grammar, also in Canterbury with 160 external students including 86 from other grammar schools.

    I look at some of the issues below, including a look across the county by District, what I have long maintained are unlawful conditional offers for entry to school 6th Forms, and the sadly most newsworthy school of all, the debacle at The Rochester Grammar School. 

    Written on Tuesday, 08 December 2020 06:23 2 comments Read more...