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Monday, 15 June 2020 11:12

Proposal for the Kent Test 2020 (Personal)

Written by

Registration for the Kent Test in October closed on 1st July. Sadly, I have already been contacted by a number of families who omitted to complete the procedure, confused or overwhelmed by Coronavirus. Unfortunately, unless KCC chooses to make an exception in this unique year, you cannot be considered for late registration and will need to proceed as explained hereI am so sorry.   

Kent County Education Officers have still not yet released details of the Kent Test arrangements for 2020, but I have a proposal that appears to cover the key issues. Quite simply:

1) The Kent Test goes ahead as normal on September 10th for Kent Primary School Pupils and September 12th for those attending Out of County schools, or alternatively delayed. I am confident that even if there is a second wave of Coronavirus, a high proportion of those registered for the Kent Test will wish and be able to take part under the prevailing safety regulations with schools making every effort to facilitate this. However, instead of the pass scores set to select the normal 20% of pupils in the cohort, my proposal is to reduce this, possibly to as low as 12.5%.  

2) Expand the procedure for Headteacher Assessment to identify a further 12.5% of the cohort, who registered for the test, whether or not they took it, bringing the selective pass rate back to its normal 25%. Place greater responsibility on primary school headteachers. For example, as I have suggested previously, give them an indicative figure for their school, based on the average number of pupils found selective by both routes over the previous three years. The HTA Panel should then rely strongly on these recommendations in the light of the limited evidence that will be available in most cases to support a case. It is possible that they could simply be contained in a ranking order.

This procedure has the strong advantage that it broadly follows the current regulations and so could be introduced without too much difficulty. It also caters for the up to 5,000 out of county children who usually take the Kent Test. They can qualify via the direct route, or else, and less likely, also use the HTA procedure with the support of their headteachers.

Please note that this proposal is specific to the Kent Test with its Head Teacher Assessment (HTA) which is different to the Review process operated by many other Admission and Local Authorities such as Medway (see below).

You will find a comprehensive survey of grammar school selection in Kent in normal times here, and a survey of Pupil Premium numbers in Kent and Medway grammar schools here, which sets the background for these major issues to do with academic selection.  You will find my previous article on the Kent Test and Coronavirus here

To consider the two stages in more detail:

1) Automatic Selection by Test
The legally binding Kent County Council Determined Co-ordinated Scheme for Secondary Admissions Academic Year 2020/21, has no specification for the way children are selected, except by a Test, not even mentioning the HTA process. Whilst the KCC booklet Admission to Secondary school in Kent 2020 states that if your child has not been tested, a Grammar school can’t offer you a place, this requirement would need to be amended to cater for children unable to attend for reasons related to coronavirus, or simply whose family do not consider it safe. There is no specification for the percentage of successful candidates for either the test or HTA, and this already varies year on year to try and meet the target 25% of the cohort being selected.

Children will have wildly differing experiences of preparation for the Test, ranging from those who have been tutored heavily to children who have had no schooling for the previous six months and come from backgrounds unable to give them support. It is a nonsense to suggest that preparation is unimportant, especially since the test was changed in 2014 to give more focus to curriculum English and maths.

The choice of a pass rate which is fixed to allow a percentage of the Kent state school cohort to be automatically selected is in the hands of KCC and my suggestion is to fix it low enough to enable children less well prepared or who simply were unable to take the test to be considered as fairly as possible. In recent years this has varied between 18-20%, apparently to try and anticipate the success rate at HTA.

There is likely to be a major logistical issue if the number of Out of County candidates is anywhere near the 5000 of recent years. Some centres are not offering their sites for testing for various reasons.  

2) Head Teacher Assessment (HTA).
Here a Panel of Headteachers, both primary and secondary, normally considers the schoolwork of pupils undertaken in the second half of Year Five (now non-existent for most), internal school tests (again mainly non-existent), special circumstances (which can include social disadvantage or Pupil Premium), Kent Test Scores (if they exist this year), straightforward recommendation with additional evidence if it exists. This collection of evidence is quite simply not sufficient to make informed decisions for 2021 admissions.

My proposal rests on the professionalism of primary school headteachers who know the pupils best. I am aware that a small minority who do not have the pupils best interests at heart may buck the system in different ways, and that the prejudices of others may be unfair, but the heart of the principle assumes this will be carried out in an objective manner.

I have floated a straightforward ranking idea before (as was applied to me in the Kent 11 plus over sixty years ago), but it still allows the HTA Panel to mediate using their own professional judgement and local knowledge. Whether primary headteachers are asked to supply additional evidence would need further thought, as do other aspects of this proposal.

I have not considered the situation of Out of County candidates with regard to HTAs, but I am sure an appropriate formula can be devised. For 2019, there were 4795 children who sat the test, 269 who had HTAs submitted, mainly from Bexley and Medway, but in the end, just 408 were offered places.

Final Thoughts
The proposal carries the strong additional merit that the HTA section can be used to maintain or improve the chances of Pupil Premium pupils, who can be identified explicitly if thought appropriate.

I cannot see how a similar process would work in Medway, bound in as it is by the useless Medway Review process, which explicitly forbids consideration of any factors extraneous to submitted schoolwork and test scores.

 For families who are unhappy with the outcomes of this process, the Independent Appeal process will still exist. For 2019 this saw an additional 570 children offered grammar school places. 

I finalised this proposal after a positive discussion with Paul Carter, CBE, the previous leader of KCC which was very helpful

Read 1787 times Last modified on Friday, 24 July 2020 20:16


  • Comment Link Thursday, 18 June 2020 07:49 posted by Naomi

    I think more use could be made of CAT scores where available too. The advantage being that it does not matter if they are asynchronous and would rank students for superselectives. A number of students will already have completed them in yr4/5. Children could be brought in small groups if they haven't already sat them. They could be used in combination with yr5 work before lockdown and your school quota system. No solution will be perfect, but the current 11 plus system pre coronavirus is far from perfect. PETER: My system would certainly allow headteachers to take these into account where they had already taken place. The traditional HTA does not work as there is little or no school work to be considered.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 16 June 2020 17:12 posted by Kevin

    Whilst I believe in essence what you are suggesting is well thought out, I fear that it will make it extremely difficult for state educated children (with their notable lack of education in the past few months compared to those privately educated) to stand a chance of getting any of the coveted super selective places this year - and I doubt there is very little that can be done to level the playing field sadly. PETER: I agree super selectives would continue to award places to high scorers in this scheme and become even more socially selective (A great draw for many).

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 16 June 2020 14:31 posted by Richard Masters

    Congratulations. This appears to address all the main issues except, what about the super-selectives. PETER: No problem. They continue with the same criteria, applicants being required to take the Kent Test. If they are unable to then there are other appropriate Kent grammar schools available!

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