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Saturday, 10 August 2013 21:27

Kent Test for 2014 entry goes out to tender again

Kent County Council has cancelled its initial tendering process for a provider for the Kent Test over the next three years, and substituted a new process, but still working to the first test being taken in September 2014. You will the specification here, but need to scroll down to the bottom and use the link to ‘final tender document’.

The main change from the previous proposal is that KCC is now asking for tenders for a new Test for grammar school selection, for one year only, with an anticipated extension period of another twelve months.

This change of approach is partly the result of KCC being pulled in a variety of directions by its grammar schools, who are seeking different outcomes from the Kent Test as explained below.

A key principle behind the laid down process is that: “The Council and Kent’s grammar schools wish to reduce the capacity for coaching/ preparation to undermine the effectiveness of selection tests used in the process”.  However, the means by which this aim is to be met is left to the tenderers and I am afraid I can't see how this it to be achieved.

The new specification tells us that the test will remain as multiple choice across two papers, designed: “to assess children’s ability in numeracy, literacy and reasoning skills in September (of Year 6)  taking account as appropriate of National Curriculum expectations”.

This task poses a number of problems, the first being the assessment of literacy,.......


and indeed tenderers are asked to provide a sample of a paper or section of a paper testing literacy skills as part of their bid. This would reflect the position of The Judd School and others who are pressing for literacy to be part of the Kent Test. However, I consider this impossible to deliver across the whole Local Authority both because of the enormous workload required to ensure uniformity of marking and setting of papers to avoid subjectivity, and also because of the requirement for the papers to be multiple choice. As a result, I suspect literacy will be retained solely as part of the Headteacher Assessment for borderzone candidates, which is to remain. You will find details of the process here.

The second major problem is the requirement to take account of National Curriculum expectations. In the normal state primary school, the mathematics curriculum is missing the last four terms of teaching at the time of the 11 plus. As a result, questions are often set on topics that some candidates have not covered, unless they are in private schools or with tutors who cover more material earlier specifically for this purpose. This clearly militates against candidates who have not been coached or otherwise specially prepared.

The third issue strikes at the heart of the problem in that, with content similar to the present, I can see no way the test can be made less coachable, except to a limited extent through an unfamiliarity of layout in Year One.

The consequence of these constraints suggests that the new Kent Test will look very similar to the current one in terms of content, even if the arrangements across the two papers are different from now. One certainly wonders about the point of the apparently futile headteacher survey, that I have criticised previously

It is planned that the contract for the new test be awarded on 7th October 2013, with work to begin by the successful company on delivery from 23rd October but KCC remains under no obligation to keep to this timetable. Further information on the structure and content of the tests may well be released at this time, although again there is no requirement to do so. Remember, the task is to select the top 25% of children in the county by ability and KCC is under no obligation, nor should it be, to assist in the coaching industry, although I have every sympathy with parents who wish the best for their children and want them properly prepared.  As part of the contract, the succssful company will be required to produce "Generic test familiarisation materials for annual use by schools and parents",  which will obvioulsy provide valuable information but I suspect in year one of the contract are unlikely to be provided before the summer term. For Year two these will obviously be available from the start. 

One caveat: the Test specification requires the contractor to test children's reasoning ability. There are two main types of reasoing tests: verbal and non-verbal, both of which are regarded as good predictors of academic success.  There is no requirement to use both and some eleven plus selection tests only use verbal reasoning.  

What is clear is that sadly, the continued provision of a single Kent test for grammar school admission is at increasing risk, the four grammars in Dover and Folkestone already offering their own test as an alternative route to their schools. Others are waiting to see the outcome of this new contract before deciding whether it meets their differing needs. Already: The Judd has indicated it is looking at alternatives; The Skinners' School is applying to be an academy which will move it one step further away from KCC influence; the three super selectives are all looking for a more discriminating test to choose the ablest children rather than those who have been coached the most effectively; some girls’ grammars are concerned about the bias towards boys of the content in the current test (although it tends to be balanced by a higher pass rate at Headteacher Assessment) and would prefer some literacy to balance the mathematics; and some grammar schools in East Kent and elsewhere are feeling the pressure as the pass rate rises inexorably in West Kent at their expense because of the endemic coaching culture, for there is still a 25% grammar school selection ceiling across the county. Further, an increasing number of grammar schools have introduced an element of higher level selection in a bid to improve the calibre of their intake. These include; Maidstone Grammar; Simon Langton Boys; Dartford Grammar Boys; Tunbridge Wells Girls; Wilmington Boys. The last three named are all seeing very high required Kent Test scores from children out of their normal intake area, which only exacerbates the need for coaching to aspire to these higher levels.

All of the above combine to fully explain why KCC has moved away from the idea of a three year contract, as they have to be able to respond flexibly to what appears a rapidly developing shift from the current pattern of a single exam for all. I believe that locking into an expensive three year contract would have been very short sighted and completely agree with the KCC decision to shorten the contract length. Sadly, I believe the days of multiple tests for children looking at different Kent grammar schools are now not far away.

Last modified on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 21:53


  • Comment Link Wednesday, 16 October 2013 20:28 posted by M.Jarvis

    On the face of it, the Kent Test is refreshing in that success is about 'what you know' as opposed to 'who you know'. But I do agree with the sentiment that some pupils could end up struggling at a Grammar School simply because they were 'programmed' to pass the Kent Test. If only Grammar schools could provide the necessary resources and time to individually assess each applicant to their school based on their year 6 school work that would equate to a much fairer system of selection. Realistically, it isn't going to happen, so we are rather stuck with the best of a bad bunch of solutions.

    It's a good job the author is not taking an 11+ test. Based on the above article, were it to include literacy and, more specifically, spelling they might not make the cut. PETER: some good points here, but as you point out, realistically there are not the resources to put on a more comprehensive testing system.

  • Comment Link Friday, 27 September 2013 15:25 posted by D Ramsya

    As a parent of a year 5 child, this change to the Kent Test which is now less than a year away for us does seem a little unfair that the contract is being awarded and decided so late in the day. Whilst I understand no child should be coached specifically to pass a test, not knowing whether or not non verbal reasoning for example will be included does not help us to plan ahead. I wonder when the content is likely to be revealed? Will the expected pass mark change? Therefore how do we know whether our child will be suitable to enter based on previous anticipated scores issued by the school? So many Q's! PETER: Perhaps it evens out the chances for children who are not coached.

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