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Tuesday, 16 June 2020 20:04

Kent and Medway Tests 2020: Delay to October Likely. Pupil Premium Children Betrayed

17th June: A flurry of media interviews, including KMTV here, focusing on the Medway Test. 
 
Updated with Reference to Medway Test
Kent primary school headteachers are now being consulted by KCC on the nature of assessment for grammar school selection this year. Whilst there are various options, the key element of the consultation is whether to delay the Kent Test until mid-October, with consequent changes to the admission process as outlined in a previous article
 
Medway Council has also announced its decision to delay the Medway Test until October 13th and 14th. See below.  
 
Sadly there is no consideration or mention of the position of disadvantaged and Pupil Premium children, who currently make up 10% of the Kent Year Seven grammar school cohort, and 11% in Medway. It is clear that the nature of any decisions in line with this consultation and the Medway decision to delay will not only strongly disadvantage the chances of these disadvantaged children in the selection process, at the expense of those who have been intensively coached or from private schools. In a previous article I wrote:
There is therefore a huge responsibility on Local Authorities, whatever selection method is finally agreed on, to ensure that these percentages are at least maintained.
Under the Kent proposal and Medway decision the reverse would be true. Grammar schools would inevitably see a considerable increase in numbers of children from private schools and those heavily tutored, at the expense of those who have suffered from a limited education since March 23rd through no fault of their own. In Medway this will certainly be the case. 

Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education has said:  "We’re going to be looking at working with local authorities who have grammar school systems in their area as to how best we can ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged as they look at taking the 11-plus in the future.” There is no sign whatever of any intervention or even awareness of this pledge in the Kent consultation or Medway decision. This is an abject failure by both Authorities to honour this pledge. 

I have written three previous articles over the past few weeks about the Kent Test, looking also at issues of disadvantage in admissions. These are: 

Proposal for the Kent Test 2020 (Personal); Grammar Schools and Pupil Premium Children; and The Kent 11 Plus and Coronavirus: Part Two.   

Other aspects of the Consultation cover the consequences of a delay in testing which would mean results being issued after the national closing date of 31st October, that I have looked at here. My suggestion of increasing the number of choices to six is picked up and consulted on, but would surely be inevitable if parents are to make meaningful choices of secondary school without knowing the outcome of the Test. 

The other major issue consulted on in Kent but ignored in Medway is what should happen if the pandemic situation deteriorates. Another option to be considered in Kent is a system of recommendation supported by evidence of academic achievement by each school, but frankly, I think this would probably be unworkable. Whilst the second half of my proposal below could be made to follow for all Kent pupils it ignores the 5000 or so out of county candidates who have a right to be considered.

 
My proposal for Kent Selection
I believe that my own hybrid proposal or a variant of it, initially set out in the first of the three articles above, meets most objections to the Kent selection process in this unique situation, as well as addressing the matter of the 5000 or so out of county candidates. In particular, it goes some way to addressing the issue of trying to maintain the proportion of Pupil Premium children selected, which is ignored in this consultation. 
 
In summary: leave the Kent Test in place but select a much lower proportion of children automatically, say 12.5%. Then ask primary headteachers to rank relevant pupils who have not been found selective, either because they did not not pass the test, or because having registered, or did not take it perhaps because of a second wave, through being quarantined or through fear. Allocate additional places to bring the total up to the average number found selective from each primary school over the past three years, overseen by the Headteacher Assessment Panel (HTA). Rough justice perhaps but it offers a level of fairness unavailable through the Kent Test alone which has two thirds of marks allocated for curriculum subjects, whilst pupils have missed four months schooling this academic year and possibly more in September. In addition there will be almost no relevant previous school work to act as a guide. Using the Kent Test only will massively tilt the scales in favour of the highly coached and against ordinary and Pupil Premium children.  
 
Sadly the Medway Test is much more constrained with no room for flexibility in the same way, and the decision has now been made.  

I have had several comments about the position of super selective schools under such a scheme.  Quite simply it may be that all candidates for these schools would be required to take the Kent Test. Other Kent grammar schools would be available for those unable to sit the Test, via the re-designed HTA route. As it is, Skinners School which had 10 places available for PP children last year, was only able to recruit four PP children. Tonbridge Grammar has made 10 available for 2021 entry. These would still be accessible for children found selective via the HTA route. There is no change needed for those schools offering an additional Local Test.

However, it could only be accepted by KCC if it met the legal requirements for change. In practice I believe it requires less change than any suggested alternative. Given the stated view of the Secretary of State above to support children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, it is surely a way forward.  

At the end of the day, this has to be a decision made by KCC members and the Cabinet Member for Education, in line with legislation. I don't envy them

Medway Test
The Medway Council announcement that the Test dates have been delayed until 13th and 14th October is 'to ensure children have the opportunity to settle back into school before the test takes place. The council will continue to follow government advice and will put social distancing measures in place, as appropriate'. I consider their confidence to be utterly misplaced, with no contingency for a second wave, nor allowance for children who may be quarantined or families still afraid. More importantly there is no mention of the loss of at least four months of curriculum time, which will inevitably have a major effect on performance. There is no mention of the key issue which is not settling back in to school, but of the effect of that loss for a Test four fifths of whose marks are dependent on the maths and English curricula. All very well for those pupils who have been heavily coached for the previously six months but a disaster for the ordinary Medway child, or those attracting Pupil Premium or who are otherwise disadvantaged. Far too many Medway families don't have the internet to link to educational resources or to the school, or else who are unable to provide necessary support for their children. It is also interesting that Mr Potter, Medway Council Portfolio Holder for Education and Schools 'would also like to assure them that the minimum score required for pupils to be assessed as suitable for admission to a Medway grammar school is adjusted each year according to the overall performance of all the Medway students who take the test'.  Yes, the same number will get through, but this year highly biased towards those who are extensively coached and against the disadvantaged. 11% of all children admitted to Medway grammar schools in recent years have been in receipt of Pupil Premium. Expect this number to fall significantly. One can see Medway's priorities from the announcement that out of county children will now be tested 'over two  weekends of testing  to ensure children are able to socially distance themselves from each other and from invigilation staff'.
 
One surprise is the announcement that  the deadline for Medway residents to submit their secondary school applications has been moved to Monday, 30 November. This takes it well outside the National Closing date of October 31st, although I have seen no other mention of this at the time of writing. One wonders why, if this is now possible it has not been set at this time in previous years. 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 18 June 2020 19:43

4 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 19 June 2020 11:29 posted by Jonathan P

    Peter, your solution works whether the coronavirus retreats, vanishes, or has a second wave, for all concerned, including those confident and those frightened. The question is, will anyone have the sense to adopt it. Answer: probably not!!!!!

  • Comment Link Thursday, 18 June 2020 19:43 posted by Cynical Cedric

    Not a chance of your model being adopted. (1) KCC won't touch anything with Peter Read's name attached; (2) safety first, so stick to the Test, never mind the fairness. I am willing to bet that the proportion of West Kent children passing will soar at the expense of those in the East this year.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 17 June 2020 21:27 posted by Angela Cox

    Do you think there's any value in continuing to oppose this in Medway? I tried making the same points you have to my local councillors and my MP and got a stock "whatever" type response.
    My next action will be to stop my daughter doing the work set by school to concentrate on 11+ practice, to give her a fighting chance against the tutored kids. Not ideal as I continue to work in the NHS, so spare time is limited!
    I really feel for those kids who have no chance of any support to get them through it
    I'm so disappointed in Medway council PETER: I have been quoted on local media as stating that 'ordinary' children and those on Pupil Premium have been betrayed by Medway Council. That is absolutely correct. Next year will see the grammar schools stuffed with children who have been extensively coached , whether or not they have the ability to cope with the academic curriculum. Far too many deserving children will miss out. It has been observed that I looked angry. That is correct. I am very angry on behalf of those families.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 17 June 2020 07:00 posted by Matt Smith

    Spot on yet again Peter. In the leadership absence of Matt Dunkley perhaps you could stand in. PETER Thanks for the compliment Matt, but if being a headteacher at this time appears an impossible job, I can't imagine what an effective CEO is going through.

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