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Tuesday, 03 November 2020 20:08

Medway Test 2020: Initial results and analysis

The scandal of the gross imbalance between opportunities for girls and boys at Medway grammar schools has reached its greatest height so far this year. It is created by a much higher proportion of girls passing in the Medway Test, a hundred unnecessary extra places provided for girls in the past three years, a useless Review process and a massively discriminatory appeals process also in favour of girls. In short, the admission process for Medway grammar schools is not fit for purpose.   

The pass mark in the Medway Test for admission to grammar school in 2021 is an aggregate score of 483, with 23.06% of Medway state school educated pupils found to be of selective ability against a target of 23.0%. 812 Medway pupils passed the test, just four more than in 2019. However, the proportion of boys being found selective at 20.7% is well down on previous years, balanced by 25.6% of girls.

The number of out of county children (ooc) passing the test has risen sharply by 146 to 1126. Last year there were 248 ooc children offered places in Medway grammar schools, nearly 20% of the total, with plenty of spaces to accommodate any excess if they are girls. 

The council press statement on the Medway Test contains no mention of the inevitable effect of coronavirus on performance, which will have given a greater advantage than ever before to children from private schools and those whose families have invested heavily in private tuition, at the expense of 'ordinary' children and those attracting Pupil Premium. 

The 2019 Review outcomes and 2020 appeal results reveal once again the negligible opportunities for boys in securing grammar school places this year if they had not secured automatic passes in the Medway Test. Meanwhile, the astonishing 94% success rate in appeals at Chatham Grammar underlines the large surplus of selective places for girls. 

There is further analysis below, including a look at Review, Appeals and the situation for individual Medway grammar schools.

You will find an information article about Review and Appeal here, a full analysis of test and Review outcomes for 2020 admission here, and for grammar school allocations here.  Data for individual Medway schools, including oversubscription levels and appeal outcomes are published here.

I have completely retired from my appeals advisory service, and am afraid I am unable to answer individual questions as a result, although happy to receive relevant information on all education matters. However, this website offers comprehensive explanation and advice if you trouble to look at the relevant pages, the best start probably being here.  As in previous years, I will also publish articles on Medway Test results and Review in more detail as I receive them. 

Medway Test Results
The individual mark for a pupil in the Medway Test is calculated by adding together the score on the Verbal Reasoning Test with twice the score on each of the mathematics and extended writing tests. Although this year's pass mark of 483 is the lowest figure for many years it is no indication of the difficulty of the test having been set to allow 23% of pupils attending Medway state primary schools to pass. Rather it is related to the proportion of the whole Medway Year Group which sat the test, again the lowest proportion for many years.  
 
Medway Test Outcomes 2020
  2020 2019 2018 
  Medway OOC Medway OOC Medway  OOC
Number in
Cohort
3520  
3486
 
3361
 
Taking Test
1802 1585 1912 1503 1873 1392
Proportion of Year
Group Taking Test
51.2%   54.8%   55.7%  
Passing Test 812 1126 808 980 773 914
% Pass Rate 23.06%   23.17%   23.0%  
Notes: OOC stands for Out of County, i.e. living outside Medway, but also includes outcomes from Medway private schools
Most data comes from the Medway Press statement, validated amongst other data through FOI requests to Medway Council.
There is also a group of pupils at Medway private schools who have taken the Medway Test, included in the OOC total in the table above. This year 56 children from these four schools passed the Test, 84% of the total of 67 who took it. This is up from the 81% who passed the Test last year, supporting the proposition. 
I have written multiple articles over the years about the inadequacy of the Medway Test for its purpose, and this year's coronavirus will have exacerbated the problems. My 2019 article: Medway Review 2019 and the Medway Test. explains the issues for a normal year, which focus on the English test, carrying two-fifths of the total mark, based on a single piece of extended writing. It is evident from test scores over the years that this strongly favours girls and older children. I also know from my own discussions with parents that the focus of the extended writing task is critical too often with boys, in particular, coming unstuck because they are not familiar with the particular genre being tested. In other words, there is an unacceptable element of luck in the test. It is no surprise this year that 104 children scored over 130 points on the English Test, two-thirds of these being girls, whilst there were just 20 high scorers in Maths and  33 in Verbal Reasoning. The three birth months with the highest number of passes were September, October and November again., with June, July and August three of the four lowest. 
 
I have covered the issue of disadvantage several times for what I have called 'ordinary and disadvantaged pupils' brought about by coronavirus (but focusing on Kent), including here. In fact, the reference to Medway in this article reads 'Please note: I do not consider the Medway Test here, as I am not aware of Medway Council showing any awareness of the issues raised in the Government Guidance apart from delaying the Test as explained here. The Medway selection process has none of the flexibility created in the Kent Test by Headteacher Assessment,  The Medway Review process being a very inadequate and constrained selection mechanism, as explained here. Unfortunately and surprisingly, Medway Council unlike Kent does not track the performance of children attracting Pupil Premium (PP) through the Medway Test, or indeed on admission to secondary school. I would be astonished if their performance has not suffered in relation to pupils from independent schools or where parents have arranged for extensive private tuition and certainly Medway has made no provision to balance this. At present, I have limited evidence for this apart from this year's much higher pass rate for OOC children whose parents will have gone the extra mile. 
 
The sharply widening gap between performance for boys and girls this year has surely to be down to the effects of coronavirus on their study patterns, with it being suggested that overall boys may be less conscientious in their work at this age, with a vast amount of catching up required to perform at their best in the Medway Test. 
Review
The Medway selection procedure theoretically gives children a second chance to be found selective through the failed Review process as explained here. Unfortunately, as the press statement reaffirms, 'Parents can request to have their child’s academic schoolwork reviewed by a panel of educationalists'. Instructions to the panellists make clear that special circumstances, in this case, such as work falling behind through missing four months of school through coronavirus, are not taken into account. However, the 2019 outcomes, even without this handicap found the work of just four boys and eleven girls of a selective standard through the Review process, just 0.43% of the cohort size, and the highest by some way for several years, against a target of 2%. 
In the past, I have expressed views on the value of going to Review on behalf of a child. The very low chance of success by either review or appeal (see data below) means I am unable to offer advice, except in the case of Chatham Grammar. This is the only one of the six grammar schools that ignores the Code of Practice Ruling which states if a Review is undertaken, an appeal must not re-visit the academic evidence again, but success depends on whether there was maladministration in the process of Review. As such there is nothing to be lost by going to Review. 
Medway Grammar School Allocations March 2020 
My previous article analysing Medway grammar allocations for 2020 is here and is likely to be a good guide for 2021 admissions, summarised below. This shows that there were 422 places offered to Medway girls in the three single-sex schools against just 300 for boys in their two schools.  I don't have a breakdown of gender at the mixed Rainham Mark Grammar but as it is heavily oversubscribed and prioritises children from the east of Medway, notably Rainham and Gillingham where it is the nearest grammar school, it is likely to reflect the ratio of performance in the Medway Test. 
 
Medway Grammar Allocations
March 2020
  PAN
Total
Offers
Medway OOC
Chatham Girls 180 100 57 43
Fort Pitt 120 150 130 20
Holcombe 150 150 108 42
Rainham Mark 205  235 228 7
Rochester 205 235 152 83
Sir Joseph
Williamson's
203 203 192 11
 Note: PAN stands for Published Admission Number.
 
 The increase in places at RGS followed the change in admission criteria to win a major funding award from the government encouraging it to take in more PP children. In yet another Medway admissions scandal, as explained here, it made no arrangements to recruit them and the number actually fell. 
 
Although each of the three girls' grammars gives priority to Medway girls all had surplus spaces for local girls who had previously been found selective.  They then each topped up with a large number of girls from outside the Local Authority. Holcombe Grammar followed a similar route, but the 11 ooc boys at The Math will probably be mostly siblings. In the past three years, I have lodged seven complaints against four Medway grammar schools trying to introduce unlawful changes to their admission criteria, including two astonishing attempts by Holcombe Grammar to change to become a mixed grammar, potentially increasing the number of girls places still further. Whilst Medway Council has shown no interest in the activities of these schools, all of my complaints have been upheld and all the changes blocked without intervention from the Council, most recently here.   
 
Overall, with three grammar schools admitting above their Planned Admission number, only Chatham Grammar had vacancies at this stage, 80 in number. The three schools that actively recruit ooc children, Chatham, Holcombe and Rochester filled over a third of their places in this way between them. This makes the proposal by Medway Council to bid for a new grammar school last year (currently unlawful) even madder. 
One unusual feature at both Chatham and Holcombe grammars, is that both accept a pass in the Kent Test as equivalent to one in the Medway Test for admission purposes, so it makes sense for most applicants to take both tests. This also allows late applicants to be considered at these two schools by taking the Kent Test late. For shockingly, Medway Council has introduced a ban on late testing so that children moving into the area who miss the admission deadline cannot qualify for a grammar school place at any other local grammar school.  
 
 Medway Grammar School Appeals
I now have appeal data from five of the six grammar schools for the summer of 2020. This clearly underlines the fact that admission appeals for boys who were not found selective in the Medway Test or Review at the three grammar schools catering for boys, are very difficult to win. There was a total of one success at Holcombe, none at The Math, and one at Rainham who might have been a boy or a girl. 
 
There was a similar pattern at Fort Pitt, and RGS, but with 94% of the 63 appeals at Chatham Grammar all of whom had initially been non-selective, nearly all girls looking for a place in a Medway grammar school would have been offered one.
 
Medway Grammar School Appeals Summer 2020      
  Heard
Heard
N/S
Upheld
Upheld
N/S
%
Upheld
Chatham  63  63  59  59 94%
Fort Pitt* 28   19  4  2 14%
Holcombe  53  N/A  1  1 2% 
Rainham  43  N/A  9  1 21%
Rochester  48  N/A  5  0 10%
Math  80  18  14  0 18%
 *  Fort Pitt appeals data is for 2019 admission, 2020 figures awaited.  
Apart from at Chatham Girls, all but four of the upheld appeals were on grounds of oversubscription for children who had already been found selective.
 
I have fought Holcombe Grammar in the past over their conduct at appeals, notably in 2018. This was the year when the written school case at the appeal, presented by a senior officer of the Thinking Schools Trust which also runs RGS, was explicitly dishonest making false statements. As I wrote at the time: The 2018 Admission Appeals process is a pointer suggesting Thinking Schools Academy Trust has yet another plan to change the character of Holcombe Grammar School. It is to be changed from a school serving its local community well, to one dedicated to attracting high scorers in the Medway or Kent Tests no matter where they are drawn from. This was compounded by the school lying about the matter, before eventually admitting the truth.  Whilst I have no evidence of continued dishonesty, the single success at appeal suggests the school may still have the same ambition.  
 
Conclusion 
This article began with the claim that 'the admissions process for Medway grammar schools is not fit for purpose'. I am confident  I have demonstrated that a combination of Medway Council's failures and those of individual grammar schools deserves this condemnation. 
Medway Council has failed to design an adequate testing and review system, or to monitor or challenge proposed changes by schools for their individual self-interest, leaving this to me, with no thought for Medway children as a whole. The idiocy of the proposal to open a new grammar school, which is not only unlawful but unnecessary is self-evident and further evidence of the failure of Medway Council to have a coherent policy for its selective schools. It has made no provision for amending assessment arrangements for the Medway Test to compensate for the unfairness introduced by coronavirus. 
As well as the actions of the two Thinking Schools Academy Trust grammar schools outlined above,  I have reported other proposals by both schools in other articles in this website and accessible through my search engine, that appear to be direct attacks on the viability of Chatham Grammar. Again it has been left to me to successfully challenge most of these so far, but there is no appeal against the award by the government to RGS of some £3 million from its grammar school expansion fund apparently based on a false premise to trump several worthy cases across Kent, and threatens Chatham yet again. The unnecessary expansions of Rainham Mark and Fort Pitt grammar schools have not helped, as there is certainly spare capacity across the Local Authority for local children with only 867 of the 1073 places available being taken up by Medway pupils. It is certainly unfortunate that Chatham Grammar in contrast with the successful Brompton Academy, the other school in the University of Kent Academy Trust, has not handled this well as exemplified in my article: Chatham Grammar: Desperate Advertising
 
Final Word
Nothing in this article should be taken as a criticism of the quality of education in any of these six schools. 
    
Last modified on Wednesday, 25 November 2020 05:36

4 comments

  • Comment Link Thursday, 12 November 2020 23:32 posted by Medway parent

    'Not fit for purpose' is far too mild. Is it that the Council officers are simply incompetent, or that Members of the Council are failing in their duty to give clear direction? The schools concerned clearly do not care about the children of Medway as a whole and need their heads knocking together. What a shambles - still, with Downing Street behaving worse than a bunch of schoolchildren from whom they could learn lessons, can we expect any better from the leaders of a small LA.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 12 November 2020 16:23 posted by Medway resident

    I agree with your clear analysis that the Medway secondary admissions process is not fit for purpose. But what are you going to do about it? PETER: An excellent question. Some two thousand people have read this article. I have tried the local media but they are not interested in exposing this scandal. I have given up with Medway Council Labour Party which has no interest in supporting their residents. I have no doubt that when the Review results come out there will be further flurry of interest as there is every year. However nothing ruffles or needs to ruffle Medway Council. Over to you - any more suggestions?

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 10 November 2020 23:47 posted by Charles Richardson

    It's not surprising that RGS has been allowed to get away with its sins reported in the previous article so often and for so many years, with the total lack of monitoring by Medway Council.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 10 November 2020 16:01 posted by Gerry Herbert

    OFSTED Report today: Children hardest hit by COVID-19 pandemic are regressing in basic skills and learning. Older children have lost stamina in their reading and writing. In other words, your 'ordinary children' will have underperformed in the Medway Test especially the English! As usual, you are right: PETER I take no pleasure in this, but it is good to have my concerns confirmed.

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