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Sunday, 09 October 2016 20:06

Kent Education Network and 11+ Truth

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The owner of the Kent Education Network (KEN) website has recently provided sites for two other small campaigns against academic selection at Local Equal Excellent (LEE) for residents of Buckinghamshire  and 11+ Truth, which involves KEN, LEE, Transform Reading and Kendrick, andExcellent Education for Everyone  from Maidenhead”, both registered in September. The last named apparently represents campaign groups as:  “A joint effort by groups in selective areas around the UK”, although I am not sure that four meets the description of 'many', and looking at their output it is clear there is a long way to go.

The focus in 11+ Truth on its trashing of Kent schooling is appalling, with many false allegations, wrong data and misleading conclusions as illustrated below. 

Parts of this article have been rewritten as a result of comments by the three organisations, which have enabled me to focus on the more important features. Whilst I have cut out some other valid illustrations of my theme, this is because of their limited relevance to Kent. 

Below I look at some of the false claims on 11+ Truth, and a closer look at the Kent Education Network and its claims...

11+ Truth (sic)
11+ Truth claims it has no connection with the Kent website apart from its host server (the host also claiming no connection!), and  begins a claim starting: The reason so many campaign groups exist in grammar school areas is…”, although it comprises four small campaigns. However its focus on Kent is such that it carries five articles about the county out of a total of eight (two others were general), all written by an author, ‘elevenplustruth’, who is very familiar with the Kent system, and uses data from FOI requests only asked for by the founder of KEN! Some of these articles are very lengthy (apologies that this one is also), several claiming technical skills where statistics are misused, but each contains false or misleading statements including those below, a trait very similar to articles on the KEN network.   

“Most regular Kent grammar schools do not contain ‘academic high fliers’, only the super-selective grammar schools of Kent which select by the highest scores are hot-houses for academic talent”.This is of course is factually wrong and damaging to regular Kent grammar schools which of course do contain their fair share of the brightest students, apart from a small proportion of the 'academic talent' being siphoned away predominantly from those in the west  of the county. This goes to to the three 'super selectives' based there (although this still leaves plenty of high performers to go round as exemplified by the outstanding academic results of the 'regular' Tunbridge Wells and Weald of Kent Girls' grammars). They self-evidently have no impact whatever on the two thirds of Kent grammar schools, stretching from Maidstone east of Thanet! Sadly, this falsehood might take in someone who does not know the county and damage the reputation of the twenty nine 'regular' grammar schools, except that it is so obviously pure trouble making with no basis in fact.

An article called: “When a test score doesn’t matter – how Kent doesn’t even trust its own eleven-plus test”, is based on a complete misrepresentation of the Kent system. It does this by falsely basing it on comparisons of children’s performance by aggregate score, completely ignoring the fact that the Kent system has a floor level in each subject so of course is another travesty of the reality, but might impress someone who does not know the county. It also considers “The worst thing about Kent grammar school admissions is the Head Teacher Assessment panel. I was told in confidence by one member of this panel that it is flawed”. Wow! “Most parents don’t even know about this appeals system at all.” They don't need to because it is not a parental appeal, hence the name. “I’ve seen many smart parents put in FOI requests to see HTA for the primary schools in their area, and then they send their child to the school with the best results”. Just doesn’t even begin to make sense and I don’t believe it; they may try and get their children into schools with the best 11+performance, but Head Teacher Assessments (HTAs) seven years hence. Never! “Apparently "it also helps to make an effort with annotated notes, leading to those schools who do this getting more children through appeal.” Well they would because this is in the instructions given to headteachers for making HTAs. Loads more false statements in this one, utterly discrediting it and the website.

The truth about school choice” surprise, surprise is all about Kent, giving various flawed and misleading examples of lack of choice for children who do not pass the Kent Test, suggesting the sixth and ninth most popular non-selective schools in the county, Canterbury Academy and Knole Academy in Sevenoaks (with its popular and successful grammar stream) are, to use KEN's description, poor options. St Anselm's and Archbishop's School in Canterbury and Trinity Free School are falsely dismissed out of hand as denying places to anyone without a religious background, although: St Anselm's usually takes in a few; Archbishops, not being oversubscribed in most years takes anyone who applies; and Trinity Free School takes 50% of its intake on non-religious grounds. Why is that no one, including KEN, campaigns for freedom of choice for admission to church schools, which in other parts of Kent and the country severely restricts or eliminates choice of schools? Actually there are issues in some areas, but 11+Truth by ignoring these to focus on the two areas which are most familiar(?) to KEN and the hunting ground for their campaigns, chooses examples again failing to  measure up to the truth.  

“How do 11 plus admissions work in disadvantaged communities?”  is yet another attack on Kent’s system, conveniently ignoring the KCC Select Committee set up to improve what is acknowledged to be a weakness of the Kent Test, and which has produced important recommendations that have now been adopted. Surely one would have thought this was highly relevant. But why spoil an article by including inconvenient truths. One can drown in statistics here, but the conclusions again are seriously flawed. For example, the article decides to focus on East Kent including a table showing the percentage of 'children with disadvantage' winning grammar school places. The most deprived part of Kent is Thanet, and the article fails to comment on the finding in its chart that Chatham and Clarendon Grammar in Thanet has the highest proportion of disadvantaged pupils attending grammar schools at 14%, a higher figure than five non-selective schools. It also conveniently completely omits the second (equal) highest, Dane Court Grammar, the other grammar school in Thanet at 12%.

Although it makes a lot of noise, Kent Education Network appears to comprise a website, two spokespeople, and just another nine members.
This is not a pro or anti grammar school article, but one which argues for honesty in argument. It is an established fact that the driving force behind Kent Education Network, is motivated, not apparently by her daughter failing to pass the Kent Test, nor because she had the misfortune of then sending her to a school with an out of date good reputation which crashed and was then closed, nor then to a local school which then lost its way. But then this school lost its headteacher which was the event that finally sparked activity five years on from the Kent Test and the bitter article which started the crusade in January this year. Two months later, was registered. Since I wrote the first version of this article, she has made clear her pride in this background and enthusiasm for using it, although my article was described by one of the three LEE activists as ‘abhorrent’ because of its use of her child as illustration. 
In order to boost arguments, too many obviously misleading arguments are employed, Kent’s non-selective schools are denigrated, and the children who have not passed are repeatedly told by KEN they are failures. 

KEN makes a common mistake, with its assertion "We do not believe a one-off test to define children’s education pathways is fair or desirable". KCC and I would all agree with this, which is why nearly a third (31%) of children in Kent grammar schools are selected using Headteacher Assessment or appeals, where further evidence is considered. 

Another quote from the KEN website reads: “Of the 67 non-selective schools, only 4 are ‘Outstanding’ and 17 require improvement or are currently in ‘Special Measures.’ It is clear that a Kent Test pass gives a child greater opportunity to attend a good or outstanding school, while a Kent Test fail dooms thirty percent of our children to a place in an inadequate school.“   The quoted Statistic cannot bear to mention schools that are rated Good, as the 50 Good or Outstanding non-selective schools in Kent come to 75% of the total, by itself remarkably above the national average in 2015 of 74%, without taking any notice of the grammar schools performance. It is an appalling misuse of statistics to argue that the 17 schools that require improvement or are currently in Special Measures are all Inadequate. ‘Inadequate’ is the precise term for schools that have failed OFSTED, which does NOT include those that Require Improvement. There are of course just two Kent non-selective schools in Special Measures, at 3% well BELOW the national percentage of 5%. (UPDATE: As a result of this article the sentence in italics above has been corrected by its author. All other factual errors have been retained).  The 2015 OFSTED Annual Report places both Kent and Medway in the top third of Local Authorities. KEN: “We think Kent’s two-tier education system shows poor results.” The above evidence demonstrates that the ‘thinking’ is wrong. "57% of Kent children achieve 5 A-C GCSE passes, just the same as the UK average." Being picky, it is not JUST the same, Kent comes in above this figure at 57.4%. The organisation clearly follows the information and advice provided on KentAdvice closely and is happy to quote from it, as I try to present my findings accurately and fairly, and am happy to correct errors when these are pointed out.  Perhaps KEN has something to learn from this approach. Why would I do this if I thought all was well with the education system in Kent, as the founder of KEN appears to assert is my view?

I have a serious concern that like KEN, parts of the media itself has too negative a picture of Kent’s non-selective schools, focusing relentlessly on the achievements of grammar schools, and so rarely are they given credit. This website regularly points up the achievements of many good non-selective schools through articles such as the one in Kent on Sunday last year and frequently on other occasions. 

Too many other pejorative statements betray the personal bitterness behind KEN, for example: “Our divided school system means many of our non-selective schools cannot offer good A level options.” Of course many do, with 18 non-selective schools having 50 or more students taking A Level this year, amongst a total of 4880 students staying on last September to follow vocational or A Level courses, often in combination. If all Kent secondary schools became 11-18 comprehensive schools, apparently the model that KEN espouses, many would still not have the Sixth Form numbers to support a viable A Level Sixth Form. However, equally importantly most of our grammar schools offer opportunities to admit students who have thrived thanks to a good education in non-selective schools (yes again, they do exist!). My recent article on Transfer from Non-Selective Schools to Grammar School Sixth Forms, highlights that 11% of Kent’s Sixth Form students have transferred from non-selective schools, a considerable demonstration of the selective system at its best (there are of course grammar schools that confound this!). 

What is unforgiveable is the way that young people are used as ammunition for the argument. The relentless emphasis and anonymised 'quotes' about children's failure, about pressure, about their distress, about parental feelings of inadequacy in websites and social media help no-one, and will harm too many. As demonstrated above, the majority of young people in non-selective schools settle down and thrive, as the example of the daughter of the founder of KEN shows. However, once again children are used as political capital. The eldest is used, having now achieved excellent results at GCSE (but that is apparently okay as she is right behind her mother);  firstly to make mischief in the Simon Langton Girls Grammar scandal, and then transferred to a different named grammar school thoughtfully identified on Twitter, under @Tooting Jo. This Twitter account,  where amongst other illustrations of some of the above that appear, nine year old child number two is thoughtfully introduced into battle, but we are not told if he has given his approval. 

Put together, this all sounds like a Marketing technique where, if you create enough waves you may be able to rock boats. Fortunately this one is, and should be, barely creating a ripple.

Sadly, the reputable SchoolsWeek Online magazine has been taken in as well in an article this week, headed: "Independent schools in Kent are openly advertising their success at coaching pupils to pass an 11-plus test, against their council’s ruling banning such tutoring." This of course is untrue and private schools have every right to coach, as even though KCC would love to force it out, they have no power to do so. So how did it come about? Quite simply Kent's 11+ actual past papers are copyright and the Council attempts with considerable success to stop circulation of them, and would take action if they were used in any school, for private schools this would be in breach of copyright. Kent's state schools are not allowed to tutor for the 11+. The story is helped on by misinterpretation of a quoted KCC statement that makes crystal clear the issue is about copyright of past papers, and indirectly refers to the sole case I am aware of, where KCC took action some ten years ago of this precise issue for one small private school. But of course this becomes magnified and distorted. The source of this misinformation is identified as Joanne Bartley. This has now been widely circulated as a SchoolsWeek tweet that falsely proclaims: "Exclusive: Kent private schools are banned from coaching for the 11-plus. But have discovered evidence they are ignoring the rules".  
You will also find this falsehood published on the Kent Education Network as news, here. 
Update on Disgraceful use of Statistics (20/11/16)
KEN applies an appalling misuse (or is it complete lack of understanding)of statistics to 'prove' "Survey shows head teachers are against selection and grammars".  "The survey sought head teachers’ views on the accuracy and fairness of the 11 plus, and on the impact of grammar schools on local non-selective schools. Almost 100 head teachers responded (~10% response rate) with most responses (78) being from primary school heads and least responses (4) from grammar school heads". Apparently no one has explained to KEN that a 10% response from a survey sent to busy people by a partisan organisation is completely valueless, as the main respondents will be those most enthusiastic about the loaded questions set. But no sense of doubt in the answers, key finding number one: "78% of selective area head teachers think 10 or 11 is the wrong age to judge children’s ability". Actually all this can show is that fewer than 78 heads out a total of around a thousand responded positively to the claim. The rest of the survey can similarly be utterly discounted, as KEN only shows leadership in what is being called this post-truth society. One wonders what the Head of Research of KEN, a lecturer in American Literature at the University of Kent would think of such misuse of statistics by one of his students. 
The tragedy is that there is a case that can be put forward for the abolition of grammar schools, and Kent Education Network makes several good points in favour of this, but then totally undermines these by using material exemplified by the above quotations.
I am regularly asked for my own views on whether there should be grammar schools in Kent. My answer invariably begins with: "I would not start here; but we are where we are"….  continuation another day!
Read 4935 times Last modified on Sunday, 20 November 2016 17:51

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