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Sunday, 21 June 2020 13:05

Kent's Plan for Grammar School Selection 2020

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 Council ‘has been contingency planning ever since schools were forced to close on March 20th, to see what adjustments might be needed to the Kent Test process in different situations as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded’. As a result of all this planning, it has decided simply to postpone the test by five weeks, subject to approval by the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills after 20th July. If matters develop then KCC will think of something else. You will find full details here

Unfortunately, the current plan will heavily penalise all those children whose families cannot afford or otherwise arrange for extensive private tuition to make up for the absence of school curriculum time over the second half of this school year, and bar those who miss the Test in the case of a second wave of the pandemic, or for other connected reasons, such as being placed in quarantine or simply through fear. Private schools with a focus on securing places at grammar school for their pupils will now be able to concentrate on preparing their pupils for the Kent Test over the five or six weeks of the autumn term preceding it. Kent state schools are forbidden to do this. 

This all makes a mockery of the statement by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, that: "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.”

The KELSI website providing news for schools used to publish a regular article by Matt Dunkley, Corporate Director, Children, Young People and Education. He has now stopped this and replaced it by a letter to schools. The last one on the website (20th May!) which is here, includes an 'update' on the Kent Test. 

I have written several previous articles on the 2020 Kent Test most recently here (with links to others) and some of the information in this one covers the same ground but is now specific to the KCC decision.  There are two published documents providing the relevant information. These are: The formal proposal that goes to Mr Long for approval; and the press release which is mainly a summary of this. All of the quotes in italics below come from one of these two documents, or from the Headteacher survey (below). The Kent Test identifies approximately three quarters of those children found suitable for grammar schools through three elements, each carrying the same weight: English, maths and reasoning. The remaining quarter of successful candidates comes from a process known as Head Teacher Assessment (HTA) which is not mentioned in either document, although it is unworkable in its present form this year. This is considered further below.

Survey of Kent Primary School Headteachers
The decision has been published part way through a brief (four yes/no responses) survey of all Kent primary schools, seeking their views on delaying the Kent Test to the 15th October for Kent pupils.  A letter to primary schools on Friday, from the ironically named Fair Access Team, apologises that school responses to the questionnaire are still being considered after the decision was published. Publication was just four days after the survey was sent out to schools, the closing date being next Wednesday!. In any case the survey was clearly just seeking affirmation of the delay, and so almost completely missed the opportunity to explore any wider or alternative options, such as flexibility to assist state school pupils. However, it is all irrelevant as the decision has clearly been made in advance. Sadly, the quote: ‘We are keen to know the views of primary schools before the decision process begins’  is quite simply and evidently dishonest.
 
Two more of the four questions are about the consequences are about the consequences of the delay (see below), the fourth being about what would happen if no testing was possible, in which case: ‘it may be necessary to consider a system of recommendation supported by evidence of academic achievement by each school. In your view, would this be practicable?’ Of course, if it is necessary than it has to be made practicable!
 
Disadvantage
Nearly all Kent children in the relevant Year Five will have missed almost four months of education in this school year. The Kent Test awards two thirds of its marks for curriculum English and maths, so this lost time is critical, although many schools have worked hard to provide some remote learning for these children. If all goes well for September, children will have five weeks ‘to give all those taking part the opportunity to settle back into school life before the Kent Test’. Settling back is of course very different to ‘preparing for’, and very limited compensation for the lost curriculum.

The government’s £1bn catch-up tutoring fund for England's pupils is very welcome, but the clue is in the term ‘catch-up’, i.e. nothing for the more recent and advanced curriculum work needed on which two thirds of the marks in the Kent Test will be based.

Meanwhile, many of those children whose parents can afford it will be put through extended and in some cases excessive coaching to maximise their chances in what is now a loaded competition for places. I have no criticism of the large majority of these. There has been no effective sanction applied to private schools who coach for the Kent Test, although it is officially banned, so these will go into overdrive to secure grammar school places for their children.

The only sop provided is the statement: ‘The proposed delay will also provide an opportunity for all students to take part in school-based learning before undertaking the Kent Test’ , However, schools will clearly focus the five extra weeks on firstly the settling into school life and then some elements of the now missing five months.

If there are no changes to the nature of the Kent selective assessment process, then ‘ordinary families’ will lose out big time, although the numbers selected will still fit the required pattern. The first public measure of this will only be seen when the data emerges relating to Pupil Premium children taking up places in grammar schools for 2021. Currently 9% of Kent grammar school places go to PP children, in my view a fairly healthy proportion, and above the national average. Sadly, I believe that with no changes to the KCC policy the proportion of PP children will plummet, along with those in the east of the county. These children will have been replaced by the academically marginal overcoached children in the wealthier parts of the county which will see numbers soar. The second measure will be in grammar school performance at GCSE in five years time, as too many children inappropriately placed in grammar schools work their way through. This should be a great concern for grammar school leaders.

Whilst there is no mention of the inequity outlined above, ‘The proposed delay will allow KCC to take appropriate steps to ensure that the Kent Test can be delivered in the safest way possible, with sufficient social distancing controls in place, but also accounting for the unexpected educational environment that Year 5 pupils will have experienced in the lead up to taking part in the Kent Test’.  Unfortunately, there is no indication of how this unexpected educational environment will be accounted for.

I have previously explored the relevant issues in some detail here, in an article exploring my own suggestion which addresses these concerns, but there are of course other alternatives.  That article also shows that the current form of Headteacher Assessment, which normally selects around a  further 6% of the Kent Year 6 cohort on top of the 19% identified through the Kent Test, is unworkable in its current form, as the additional evidence of academic ability will no longer be available.

Headteacher Assessment
Here four Panels of headteachers across the county consider requests by primary head teachers for additional pupils to be found selective. The parameters are outlined here. However, self-evidently primary schools will not have sufficient of the data required to make a case and so KCC will need to replace the current requirements.
 
My Proposal
My own proposal for new arrangements comes up with a fairly radical solution capable of adaption, including a variable proportion of successful HTAs, whilst sticking with the basic KCC laid down formula, but one which meets a variety of contingencies whilst protecting ‘ordinary’ and PP children and various special cases. Yes, it would still be rough justice, but a great improvement on the present proposal. I am sure there are other possibilities and providing they look to the principle of fairness, I would welcome their consideration. They would also sit alongside the super-selective school arrangements, but those for an estimated 5000 out of county candidates will need more thought.
 
Consequences of the Change of Date
The main consequence is that Kent Test results will not be published before the closing date for secondary school admission applications of Monday 2nd November. The problem this causes is to be overcome by increasing the number of choices of school from four to six, so that Kent families have flexibility to choose both selective and non-selective schools before having received the Kent Selective Assessment result. The other two yes/no questions on the Headteacher survey seek approval of these changes.  
 
Summary
In conclusion, and certainly repeating myself for which I make no apology, the change to the Kent Test, which simply delays it for a month next term, with no further changes in structure proposed, in no way changes its status as ‘not fit for purpose’ in this coronavirus year. The proposal is only possible because of the unique nature of the Kent  Headteacher Assessment process, with no obvious possibility of change for Medway families apart from parallel delay in sitting the Test. 
Last modified on Saturday, 18 July 2020 12:56

4 comments

  • Comment Link Thursday, 16 July 2020 20:28 posted by Lionel Tagoe

    Dear Sir/Madam,
    I have just realised that we missed the deadline for the 11 plus exams registration all due to the stressful times we find ourselves in. 
    However, I have heard from my daughter's school that the test which was to take place in September this year, has been postponed.
     
    Should this situation provide us with some hope of the registration being opened again for my daughter to get registered in order to participate in the test? Many thanks. PETER: I am so sorry to hear this, and you are certainly not alone this year. 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 at https://www.kentadvice.co.uk/peters-blog/news-a-comments/item/709-missed-registration-for-the-kent-test.html.  I am so sorry. However, I would advise you to let them know what has has happened.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 30 June 2020 19:50 posted by Edward Jeffries

    After Leicester and the uncertainty of a possible second coronavirus wave. the KCC decision to go ahead with the Kent Test and no backstop looks even more like madness. I don't think your scheme is ideal Peter, but racking my brains such as they are, I can't think of a better. It's clear our politicians are incapable of showing any vision. How do we get them to even consider your proposal? PETER: How indeed? I am promoting where I can, happy to take on board alternatives, but no one seems interested in any form of a contingency plan for what appears a very real possibility

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 16:07 posted by Ritchie Donaldson

    It ticks most of the boxes which the KCC proposal patently does not. However, where is the discussion on possibilities? Does no one care about Kent'#s disadvantaged children?

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 June 2020 10:54 posted by Maidstone Primary School Headteacher

    KCC has without difficulty shown its contempt for primary school headteachers by its false and fraudulent consultation as exposed here. Peter, you are proposing the contrary, placing trust in the professionalism of those same heads. The question is, which side do the grammar school heads back!

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