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Thursday, 23 July 2020 06:23

Kent Test Arrangements Confirmed for October

Richard Long, KCC Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, has now decided on the timing and arrangements for the Kent Test this year. A letter to schools sets out as expected that the Kent Test will be delayed by around one month as a result of the impact of Covid-19 on schools and pupils. The test will now take place on 15 October for pupils who attend a Kent school and 17 October for all other students. Kent parents will also be offered two additional preferences on their child’s Secondary school application this year, an increase from four to six, to account for the later release of Kent Test results.

The most interesting part of his letter reads: ‘while the delay in testing will provide an opportunity for children to settle back into a more normal school environment, we appreciate that children will have missed around four months of schooling. Fortunately, the Kent Test process is already designed to ensure that a child’s wider circumstances can be considered before their assessment is finalised.  We will be providing guidance for schools in light of the differing educational opportunities that children will have received over the last few months, and more generally on implementing the approved plans’. This flexibility leaves open alternative approaches to minimising the gross unfairness I have written about previously, which would discriminate against ‘ordinary’ families and those attracting Pupil Premium who have none of the advantages of children attending private schools or whose parents have arranged extensive private tuition for the six months leading up to the Test.

The question remains as to whether Kent County Council has the desire and the commitment to be as fair as possible to all Kent children looking to a grammar school place.

Children unable to take the Kent Test
KCC already appears to have ruled out two groups of children from being eligible for testing. Firstly are those whose parents, because of the uncertainties created by Coronavirus, failed to register their children for the Test within the prescribed timetable. I have corresponded with a number of these who simply took their eye off the ball, or who missed prompting by their children’s schools. Each year there is a small number of such families but I am sure that the numbers will be much greater this year. You will find relevant advice here. Secondly, an unknown number who although registered for the Test are unable to take it, especially if there is a spike in cases. These would include children whose families are quarantined because of coronavirus in the family or neighbourhood, resulting in their being unable to leave home, or children who for other related reasons are unable to attend school on the day. Presumably, KCC will have a fall back plan if individual schools are closed down because of a further outbreak of coronavirus at the critical time. I am sure we all hope that any such possibility does not happen. 
KCC Guidance
I find it impossible to predict the nature of the guidance for schools promised by KCC in the light of the differing opportunities that children will have received over the last few months, or more precisely received by the time of the Test over the previous six and a half months. Such opportunities are presumably those that would prepare them for the curriculum elements of the English and mathematics components of the Kent Test, comprising two-thirds of the marks. What is certain is that school work for the large majority who will have had little formal schooling by that time will still be sadly well behind the norm. For the five weeks in the Autumn term will inevitably be committed to catching up on what has been missed, rather than offering the curriculum levels of previous years.

My solution to the challenge was and remains a way forward to reduce the percentage of pupils selected through the test and then bring the total back up to the target 25% of the cohort by the current Headteacher Assessment (HTA) scheme although using very different selection tools from the normal criteria. These assessed children on school performance over the previous six months or so, considering work carried out in the period, test results, National Curriculum levels and headteacher recommendation which has been able to take special circumstances into account. Whatever pattern is used to replace this approach which is now impracticable, it will give greater responsibility to primary headteachers, which is where my model comes into its own. Whichever way is adopted, it will still fit within KCC’s outline scheme, but needs to minimise the unfairness. Fortunately, KCC does not need to set the automatic pass mark until it sees outcomes, so there is additional flexibility built in here. There remains the unfairness caused by headteachers who don't support the HTA process, which will presumably unchanged but exacerbated by the proposed arrangements. 

I can’t even begin to speculate how local primary schools with large numbers of candidates will be able to host the test, although this will depend on the nature and intensity of the virus at that time and whether social distancing is in place, but no doubt KCC has a contingency plan here.  

Out of County Candidates
It is reported that as many as 6,000 children from outside Kent have registered for the Kent Test this year. For 2019, 4,795 actually sat the Test,  3,065 were found suitable for grammar school, and 408 were offered places. The same report has no more than 2000 places being found at present for these candidates to take the Test, as Kent schools feel under no compulsion to offer facilities given the current pressures upon them. If and when these issues are resolved, my best estimate is that the pass rate in the Test for these children will be higher than for 2020 entry when 58% of the OOC children who took the Kent Test were found successful by the process, against 43% of Kent children.
Whatever the decisions made, the outcomes according to schools and Districts will not be available until sometime after the assessment results are published (combined Test and HTA), so probably not before Christmas. The measures that will show KCC’s success or failure in operating a fair system will be as follows. Key will be any changes in the proportions of successful pupils between East and West of the county (I fear a greatly increased pressure on places in the West if numbers grow there), changes in the balance between success rates for private and state pupils, an increase or more likely decrease in those children on Pupil Premium who are offered grammar school places (currently nine per cent of the total, probably close to being a fair proportion), and success rates for those children from outside Kent.
Local Tests
Six Kent grammar schools run local tests as a route which can count as an alternative to success in the Kent Test to qualify for places at their schools. Five of these are in East Kent, whose catchments include considerable areas of social deprivation, which will mitigate any loss of pupils through this year's arrangements. These are Dover Grammar Boys (64 offers of places through the local test out of 127 in total); Dover Grammar Girls (84/140); Folkestone Girls (111/180); Harvey (boys, Folkestone, 49/150); and Highsted (Sittingbourne, 27/150). The sixth is Mayfield in Gravesend (13/180). I wouldn't be surprised to see further East Kent schools now go down this path. 
Please note:
Although it may appear otherwise, I appreciate that all families wish to do their best for their children, which may be by arranging extensive private tuition for them or sending them to private schools. I would have adopted a similar practice for my own children to give them the best opportunity in some of the situations in which families find themselves. It is just that I believe Kent County Council has a critical responsibility and accountability to treat all its children as fairly as it can in the education system we have in Kent.
Last modified on Wednesday, 05 August 2020 12:04

1 comment

  • Comment Link Thursday, 23 July 2020 20:01 posted by John Wilkinson

    Surely it is no coincidence that Richard Long the Cabinet Member who signed off this decision is a KCC member for West Kent (Tonbridge) as is the Leader of KCC Roger Gough (Sevenoaks), Both appear to be looking after their West Kent children with little concept of what it like at the other end of the social and geographical spectrum

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