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Friday, 25 September 2020 13:06

Kent Test: KCC Fails in its Commitment to do 'All That is Practical and Possible to Address all Forms of Disadvantage'

Kent County Council has now released further details to primary schools about the Kent Test taken in local schools on Thursday 15th October. As I feared and explained in a previous article, there are no contingency plans set out in case the pandemic increases in severity over the next three weeks before the test, and the Cabinet Member’s Report to the KCC Children’s Young People and Education Committee on 22nd September completely evaded related issues apart from pinning their hopes on the Test delay. In the Minutes of the previous July meeting he had reassured Committee Members that Kent County Council would do all that was practical and possible to address all forms of disadvantage’.  However, in the same meeting, he referred to the delayed Kent Test assessment until 15th October (and) considered (this) to be the most effective change which could be made’, which was certainly not the case and not even sufficient to meet government advice, as I have discussed previously. There is a vague reference to the Headteacher Assessment process in this context, but this would need a total redefinition of the process to have any effect, as I have previously suggested and appears not to be under consideration by KCC. 

Instructions to schools issued this week include what to do if children fall ill during the Test, how to tackle self-isolation including the possibility of testing over half-term and issues relating the scrapping of external monitoring of test procedures in schools as explained below, along with other relevant issues

You will find my latest article on the crisis, entitled Coronavirus Ramblings on the Blog pages. The enclosure here contains excerpts from Instructions to Schools relating to the Kent Test, relevant Minutes from the July KCC Cabinet Committee Meeting and a Report to the meeting of the Cabinet Committee responsible for education on 22nd September. A previous article looks at government expectations for those organising grammar school selection tests, including some picked up by KCC . 

Kent Test Instructions
Most of the instructions apply to routine matters, with the big omission that there is no mention of or advice on social distancing for the Test, a critical matter for schools where there are large groups of candidates (and see below for crowd management!). Whilst there is a reference to schools using more rooms than usual relating to documentation, this airily assumes that these are available in all primary schools, so is clearly seen to be a school problem, which I have discussed previously, the scrapping of external invigilation bringing its own concerns.
Specifics from Instructions to Schools.
Children exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms on the day but prior to the start of the tests should not be admitted to the exam room, but sent home to self-isolate and tested on their return.

Children who are taken ill during testing should be withdrawn from the exam room. If they recover rapidly (eg: from brief temporary distress or nausea) they can take any tests they have not already begun away from the rest of the group. If Covid-19 is suspected, they can be tested after the quarantine period.

Children who are ill or unavoidably absent on the test day may take the tests on their return if the school can accommodate this. Arrangements will not be made to test children on a different day if their families have booked a term-time holiday.

Children who are self-isolating will need to take the test when they return to school. Schools are asked to allow pupils at least one full school day to settle back into the learning environment before testing takes place, but to avoid significant further delay.

Where all registered pupils in a class are required to self isolate due to a confirmed Covid-19 case within their school bubble you may retain the necessary test materials for pupils. Schools are asked to allow pupils at least one full school day to settle back into the learning environment before testing takes place, but to avoid significant further delay.

Where all registered pupils in a Year Group are required to self isolate due to a confirmed Covid-19 case within their school bubble Schools are asked to allow pupils at least one full school day to settle back into the learning environment before testing takes place, but to avoid significant further delay.  Schools may wish to consider whether local arrangements could be made for pupils to be tested during half term, to reduce overall disruption. If you want an absentee to take the tests and to have access to a Head Teacher Assessment should their scores fall short of the threshold, you will need to test them no later than 29 October.

Apart from the extensive security issues with large numbers of pupils inevitably taking the Test late, there is no mention of or empathy towards the potential effect on ten year olds in an important event in their lives of taking the test almost immediately after disruption caused by illness or self-isolation. There will also those who feel ill, and are sent straight back into the test as soon as they feel better; how will they respond?  I feel especially sorry for those parents who missed registering for the Test because of the stresses of the pandemic back in June, and others I am sure who feel unable to face the risk of sending their children in to take the Kent Test on the 15th October. Sadly, there are no concessions for these children, and they will have to make late entries to individual schools as explained here

Exceptionally the Council is not requiring schools to pair for invigilation this year - traditionally using the Head from a neighbouring school - to minimise the movement of adults between premises (details here). This decision appears oblivious of the security issues and allows schools to bend the rules in their children’s interests, for example by adding on extra time for the Tests. Private schools whose success depends on high pass rates may be especially tempted, as examples in the past have shown. Where social distancing causes children to be spread out across several rooms, ‘schools may wish to ensure that those administering the test have the support of another adult in an area where they can be aware of what is taking place in rooms where the tests are being administered’. Surely MUST is necessary instead of MAY to avoid different types of cheating.
Headteacher Assessment and Pupil Premium
As in my own proposal way back in June, KCC sees the key strategy for minimising disadvantage as being delivered through the Headteacher (HTA) Assessment, although with no clue as to how this is to be managed. Last year a quarter of the Kent children found to be of grammar school ability were assessed selective through the HTA process, as can be seen in my analysis of results. For 2018 the parallel figure for children attracting Pupil Premium (PP) was 40% of successes coming through HTA,  and although I don’t have 2019's data yet I anticipate it will be similar. This follows a 2016 KCC recommendation that ‘schools be urged to use the HTA option to advocate for academically able children supported by the Pupil Premium who miss the grammar threshold’. The problem this year is that the great majority of these children, along with most others in the state sector have missed four months of schooling, and a considerable number are already seeing this term disrupted through coronavirus. This means that not only will they be severely disadvantaged in the Kent Test itself, but there will be little or no recent evidence to demonstrate their academic ability as required by the HTA. KCC is silent on this issue.

Further, as I have argued previously, assuming the automatic pass rate of 19/20% of the cohort is maintained as implied, there will be no additional places. The only primary schools with evidence to support the allocation of the remaining 6% are likely to be from the private sector, so panellists will be struggling to prioritise. They could give the majority of places to PP children as a principle, but because of the limited number of places available, other children with strong potential but no evidence will lose out. KCC has not yet indicated how the process will work, but there needs to be a radical change from the current arrangements that lay stress on recent work submitted, standardised test results over the previous year and performance measures, none of which are likely to be available for most students. Instead, the Minutes of the July Meeting record that; 'Mr Long stated that if scores in the Kent Test were lower overall, the Kent Test’s pass mark could be set slightly lower than usual to achieve roughly the same number of children who were assessed suitable for grammar through the test'. i.e. there will be no change in the automatic pass rate which is the key figure, rather than the pass mark. In answer to a question about the Kent Test ‘Mr Long also referred to the system of headteacher assessments in Kent as well as the Kent Test to award places in grammar schools to children who headteachers assessed as suitable, even if they may not have scored highly in the test, this was another tool that schools could use to address inequality or unfairness’ but, as explained above and in previous articleswith no clues as to how the tool could work by excluding pupils with stronger academic evidence where it exists.

Also, in the Minutes of the KCC Cabinet Committee Meeting of 13th July, the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, Mr Long, in a specific reference to the Kent Test ‘referred to the delayed Kent Test assessment until 15th October (17th October for out-county applicants), allowing children additional time to settle once they returned to school and stated that whilst a month’s delay would not entirely remedy the loss of education during the lockdown period, it was considered to be the most effective change which could be made’.  In other words, nothing else is being considered. The Minutes give a long and unconvincing explanation as to why these deferred Test dates are still earlier than the government’s advice proposes (see previous article). 

In answer to a question about the Kent Test he ‘acknowledged the significant need to address disadvantages and educational inequalities and reassured Committee Members that Kent County Council would do all that was practical and possible to address all forms of disadvantage’. It is currently unclear what if anything has been done to address these acknowledged disadvantages.

Out of County Candidates
I have not seen the corresponding instructions for Out of County candidates, and so do not know if the challenge of finding appropriate halls for some 5,000 ooc children to take the Kent Test has been resolved. If so this is the result of a tremendous amount of work by KCC officers and they are to be congratulated. I understand that parents have as yet received no information on location of the Test for their children, or specific arrangements.OOC candidates also face the possibility of being in a different area to Kent with regard to coronavirus restrictions or lockdown on October 17th.
An email from the Interim Head of Fair Access at KCC responsible for all these issues gives some important advice, primarily for  OOC Test Centres, but which rightly also applies to Kent schools with a large number of candidates.

Some protective measures in the guidance principally intended for test centres are reproduced below in case they are helpful to larger schools. These include:

  • those children taking tests in a school whilst other children are being educated in that school should be kept separate from them to minimise any risk of transmitting coronavirus;
  • tests should be managed to avoid a mass drop-off or pick-up of candidates at the same time. Parents should not be permitted to park or congregate at or outside the centre and the admission authority will need to police safe distancing inside and outside the venue. Likewise, children should not be permitted to congregate in groups whilst entering or leaving the test centre;
  • limit escorts for candidates to one parent/adult and discourage group travel to test centres;

 The first of these items is clearly a matter for school management. The second and third will indeed be challenges for headteachers and test centre managers, the latter facing large numbers of families unknown to them and over whom they have no authority. Some parents can and will stand back from the crowd but others will quite reasonably be anxious and keen to get their children settled. Presumably, KCC will have to pay all the additional bills for testing OOC children, including those for deep cleaning. Good luck to all involved! See comment below. 

The situation in Medway is the same in principle but much worse in practice, especially for boys. Whilst I haven't yet seen any instructions for schools about managing the Test, the Review process is much less flexible. You will find the arrangements for the Test in principle here and the Review process here, between them exposing all the flaws in the process. After 23% of Medway pupils are found selective by the Medway Test, up to another 2% are found suitable by Review. In practice, the Review has focused almost entirely on the quality of work submitted has in previous years. This has produced fewer than 10% successes out of those considered. In 2019 there were 4 boys and 11 girls found of selective ability out of 147 candidates. For 2020 entry, just one appeal was successful for boys at the three grammar schools available to them out of about 90 considered (I don't have the exact figure for boys at the mixed Rainham Mark grammar).  
You will find what I have called my Coronavirus Ramblings here, in my Peter's Blog page. 
I conclude with the section from Mr Long’s lengthy report to the KCC Cabinet Committee on educational matters which took place earlier this week, but found little need to explore any Kent Test issues except

4.27.Kent Test: In July the Cabinet Member for Education and Skills took the decision to delay the Kent Test by one month and extend parental preferences from four to six. That was it, although there may and should have been questions from Committee members yet to be reported.

As I have argued many times before, sadly Kent County Council has betrayed ordinary families and those on Pupil Premium whose children are educated in Kent primary schools, by its total failure to deliver on its commitment 'to do all that was practical and possible to address all forms of disadvantage’. 

Last modified on Sunday, 27 September 2020 20:20


  • Comment Link Tuesday, 29 September 2020 12:14 posted by Matt Taylor

    Here is a controversial idea. Why don't we not have the 11+ exam and all other forms of religious selection this year and send all our children to a local school? It would avoid these difficult issues and also reduce some of the pressures on transportation.

    I am sure it would be possible for Grammar Schools to adapt to meet the needs of less able leaners and disadvantaged pupils.

    From a parent of two children - one who achieved 6 GCSE grade 9's and the other at a Russell Group Uni educated in a Kent Secondary Modern. PETER: Interesting idea, but I am afraid not controversial as it is wholly impractical and unlawful to implement. Completely abolishing parental choice is political suicide for any government in this or any year, and quite impossible to implement. Abolishing academic and faith selection will not and cannot happen for many years and require a considerable shift in public opinion in the county. We are where we are and need to make the best of it for all Kent and Medway children. Glad your children were so successful at a non-selective school like many others proving, along with countless other examples, that the claims the route is a dead end are false. My survey of school sixth forms to be published shortly shows that such routes to higher level studies are frequent.

  • Comment Link Monday, 28 September 2020 18:53 posted by Geraldine T.

    We've heard a rumour that the reason KCC hasn't allocated OOC children to test centres, is that they are still struggling to find them. The concerns expressed by you and on social media sites are very worrying. There appears no way through for families concerned about safety.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 27 September 2020 16:48 posted by Fiona

    Copied from the 11 Plus Exams website:++++ Is anyone considering isolating their child for two weeks pre 11+ to remove the chance of their bubble being sent to self isolation?
    (I realise that this doesn’t guarantee my child being able to take it on 15th, if a household member tested positive or had symptoms). I just wondered if anyone else is thinking like this. (I realise that there is a legal obligation to go to school and will only do this if my child’s school can provide remote learning, which it is already doing for others). PETER an extreme reaction, but understandable. I just feel sorry for all the children under such pressures

  • Comment Link Sunday, 27 September 2020 14:21 posted by Alan Masters

    I wouldn't want to host OOC testing for all the tea in China. The mind boggles at the thought of all the infection that will be brought in by strangers. How much infection will linger after testing and what about invigilators who are not from the school.
    If I were in post and as a HT this article would worry me.
    Think I'd arrange for all OOC testing to be done in venues that are not schools to be safe. A disused aircraft hanger would be good! Perhaps Manston has one going spare. I am surprised parents want to risk the health of their children. PETER Many parents will put their childrens' future ahead of the short term (hopefullY) risk to health. However, there is no way back for those who want to be safe.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 27 September 2020 13:05 posted by Rebecca

    It might be worth throwing a sickie just to find out what the papers are like. I bet there'll be an awful lot of 11plus papers hanging about

  • Comment Link Saturday, 26 September 2020 18:38 posted by Appreciative Primary Headteacher

    Having worked with Peter before, I had no compunction in asking him for help with a problem involving governors after KCC abandoned me. Many thanks for talking me through it Peter. PETER: My pleasure

  • Comment Link Saturday, 26 September 2020 17:56 posted by Richard

    Peter, As you appear to have more ideas on this one (and indeed many others) and more sensible ideas than the whole of KCC, why don't you place your skills and experience at their disposal. PETER: I did raise this issue directly with KCC back in June. There was no interest. I am always happy to place what wisdom I may have at the disposal of KCC and under a previous regime this was often welcome. As I write, several schools continue to benefit I believe, in the same way. My sole interest is in the welfare of the children of Kent and Medway.

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