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Sunday, 06 June 2021 20:18

Covid-19 and the Kent Grammar School Selection Process for 2022 Entry

Last summer I wrote a series of articles warning that unless changes were made to the forthcoming Kent grammar school selection process, the pass rate amongst pupil premium children and those from ‘ordinary families’ would fall because of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on learning in primary schools. The Education Cabinet Member at the time claimed that Kent County Council would do all that was practical and possible to address all forms of disadvantage. This proved a completely empty promise, and nothing was done, apart from a delay in testing. 

As a direct result of the failure to act, the proportion of children in receipt of Pupil Premium and those in East Kent who passed the Kent Test plummeted along with the proportion of Kent state school children taking the Test, boys in general underperformed, passes for children from private schools and out of county increased, and 13 East and Mid Kent grammar schools had empty places on allocation in March. You will find the evidence for all these facts traceable back from a previous article. Social mobility, one of the principles of the selective school system which is already damaged by tutoring and private cramming schools, will inevitably take another knock in next school year’s assessment process unless the Education Department changes its attitudes and approach to selection.  There are now a new Cabinet Member for Education and a new Director of Education in the county, so the opportunity is there for such a change, necessary if there is not to be further inequality entrenched, with this year's cohort suffering nearly two years of serious disruption in school and learning by the time of the Test in September/October. 

To be precise, unless there are changes in the selective assessment procedure we shall see another and increasing betrayal of the more disadvantaged Kent children looking towards a grammar school place for the second year running, despite the valiant efforts of so many teachers to minimise that disadvantage. There is a brief note on the situation in Medway, below

Last year KCC Officers and politicians put forward the argument that there were just two models of selection available to them, the Kent Test followed by Headteacher Appeals in their current form, or assessment by headteachers without a test. I came up with a third without difficulty, requiring no change in regulations, described here, which overcame some of the problems of children whose education had suffered purely at the hands of the pandemic. I am sure there are others, but the refusal to contemplate any alternatives led directly to the present failure.  A sham consultation with primary school headteachers did not help. Julia George on Radio Kent invited me to lay down the gauntlet to KCC about their failure to follow Government Guidance to Admission Authorities on grammar school admissions under Covid. Their response 'wrongly dismisses the guidance because it ‘will cover individual schools and consortia which test far fewer children’ (a claim which was completely false as the guidance covered all grammar schools). More importantly, it completely ignores the main part of the guidance and my concern, which focused on the unfairness created for lower-income families in Kent.

A key article here,  is one of the many I wrote on the theme and includes the following highly relevant quotations. It was written in June shortly after schools started to re-open:

“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’”.

“’We are keen to know the views of primary schools before the decision process begins’ is quite simply and evidently dishonest”, (as it was sent out to primary headteachers after the conclusions had been published!).

“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.’”

Grammar Schools with Vacancies for September 2021. 
You will find a full list of Kent grammar schools with vacancies after allocation here, with just one in Medway (see below), Chatham Grammar.

In one sense most of the unfilled grammar schools won’t have a problem as they will be able to fill their vacancies through the appeals process. However, it is likely this will mainly benefit aspiring families, best able to draw the evidence of grammar school ability together and put their case to an Appeal Panel, especially with most appeals across the county being heard on a ‘paper only’ basis this year and, I expect, in 2022 also. 

In past years, despite incessant propaganda from some anti-selection campaigners, the claim that many children admitted to grammar school cannot cope with the work has been a complete fiction. However, my concern is that for a few grammar schools I can think of, this year they will have been tempted to admit further children who are unable to maintain the faster pace of work in their need to fill spaces.  

There is general agreement in education circles that many children transferring to secondary school this year will struggle partly because of their lack of a strong groundwork in key subjects. This is likely to be especially true of disadvantaged children without the support networks available to others, and is going to require grammar schools in their turn to make special arrangements for supporting them. I can only hope for the children’s sakes they do, rather than simply blaming the children for the consequences of Covid 19.

 Medway Grammar Schools
The Medway Test pass mark is set to select 23% of Medway children from state schools only, as distinct from KCC whose 21% cut-off includes children from Kent private schools, automatically denting the proportion of state school children passing. In addition, with all six grammar schools now prioritising local pupils, a large surplus of places for girls along with a selection procedure that strongly favours girls, so there are intrinsically fewer problems. Further, with a mainly tight urban population, there is no split equivalent to the Kent East/West divide. Unfortunately, Medway Council, for some reason, refuses to collect the data on Pupil Premium distribution amongst schools, and the government has informed me this year that they no longer collect it. One would think there is something to hide! I have seen no suggestion that Medway considered changes for 2021 grammar school admissions to take account of the effects of coronavirus, apart from delaying the Medway Test, nor any that they will make changes for this year's Test.
There were plenty of places available on allocation for both boys and girls who had passed the Medway Test. However, the two Thinking Schools Academy Trust schools, both filled up with out of county children, leaving just Chatham Grammar with 44 of its places empty, even after admitting 48 out of county girls. Further details here. As a result, there are very few if any opportunities for boys who have narrowly missed a pass gaining a place on appeal, but for girls plenty of opportunities at Chatham Grammar.     
Last modified on Monday, 07 June 2021 19:21

1 comment

  • Comment Link Monday, 07 June 2021 20:13 posted by Kevin W

    You have robustly walked the line between the dinosaurs of KCC and those in favour of selection by home postcode. Well done.

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