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Sunday, 07 September 2014 00:00

Kent Test 2014: Final Thoughts before the test

I am currently receiving a number of enquiries about the Kent Test, mainly concerning the marking system and am happy to supply my latest thoughts here. However, please remember that I do not have a formal connection with KCC so these are my views alone.

The issues are certainly attracting strong media attention. There have already been a couple of radio programmes looking at the subject; I believe that Meridian is planning a news item on Tuesday, on the eve of the test, with the BBC proposing to look at it in the SE Politics show on Sunday. They won't be alone.

You will find the specification of the new test in the Information section to the right of this page, 'Secondary School Admission', 'Kent Grammar Schools'. This information article also includes links to some of the relevant news items about the test.

Apart from the issue of coachability, the main feature of the new tests is the introduction of a literacy element, and I am confident that the marking structure will require a certain standard to be reached in English. We are told that “The English will involve a comprehension exercise plus some additional questions drawn from a set designed to test literacy skills”, but remember it is still a multiple choice assessment.......

Kent County Council has never divulged its marking structure in advance, as it waits until it sees outcomes before making this decision, in order to identify the best fit for selecting the top 21% of candidates from “the selective parts” of Kent. (This defines the marking structure for all candidates, so there is no advantage in living in the areas!). The “selective parts” are an historical partition of the county, around the grammar schools, but have no other relevance today. In practice, for many years KCC has asked for an aggregate score across the three papers, together with a minimum standard in each.

Although there are now just two papers, I would be very surprised to see this pattern applied directly as it would provide one mark in English and maths added together, with no minimum in either. I therefore anticipate minimum marks in both subjects, together with one or more marks for the second paper depending on how many sections are taken into account separately.

However, I cannot see how an understanding of the marking structure benefits any candidate, the strategy is quite simply to perform to the best standard in all sections of all papers, so there is no point in speculating in the hope of getting your child to achieve higher marks!

What is apparent is that the attempt to reduce coachability has certainly not reduced the amount of coaching, as parents become even more committed to seeing their children achieve high marks. I have already recorded my thoughts on coaching in a previous article, which still apply today.

I have also received concerns from several parents who feel they have let their children down through failing to provide coaching. Whilst we have no way of gaining statistical information on the number of successful candidates with or without coaching, there are many and I have met many who have been successful at gaining the basic pass mark and a grammar school place without having to pay out.

What I am seeing increasingly is an East/West divide, with children in many parts of the East of the county, having increased chances through alternative tests for grammar school admission in Dover, Shepway and for girls in Gravesham, and a higher chance of success through appeal. But the misinformation sown by too many people who ought to know better, that there is a severe shortage of grammar school places for Kent children in Kent grammar schools  (including the leader of a National Grammar School movement on radio last week) is untrue. Yes, each year some boys in North Sevenoaks and children in one or two other hot spots have an anxious time until the system settles down, often through the appeal structure, but year on year I was aware of no grammar qualified Kent or Medway grammar children who really wants a place deprived of one by September. This year there is an exception at Weald of Kent where the Appeal Panel found an astonishing 48 out of 62 appeals of grammar school ability. A few years ago I forced KCC via the Ombudsman to acknowledge that if there was no room for such children they should be placed on the waiting list rather than be turned down out of hand. This gives them a chance but, as the comment below confirms, it does not always work out. 

All that remains is for me to wish for all the children who have worked so hard to do well in the Kent Test (and of course those in Medway) that they achieve to the best of their ability, without any of the pitfalls that inevitably bring down a few candidates. Remember, even if every child performs to a high standard, only 21% of the cohort will be awarded a grammar school place through the test, another 4% through Headteacher assessment and probably another 5% through appeals.

Last modified on Wednesday, 09 September 2015 22:03


  • Comment Link Wednesday, 15 October 2014 10:38 posted by Anon

    The Weald of Kent Girls Grammar School had a large number of pupils admitted following the summer appeals but 12 were deemed suitable for grammar school, including my daughter, but were put on a waiting list. So far we have crept up three places but there are still a number of us still hoping for a place and unlikely to ever get one. Try telling an 11 year who was heartbroken not to pass the maths paper by a few marks that they have been found suitable for grammar school based on their year 6 school achievements but can't have a grammar place.
    We and others are still waiting...PETER: If you go back to the article above, you will see I have amended it to take into account your comment. Sorry it didn't help you.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 13 September 2014 07:57 posted by J

    Do you know what percentage of children in Kent grammar schools are July and August born? I would imagine it is higher than average. Children born in these months have a unfair chance of getting to grammar school because of the standardised scores. It surprises me because all children start school at the same time (the autumn) whether they are born in March or October. Furthermore sats, GCSE's, A levels, university degrees and job interviews don't favour July and August born children. PETER: You are correct. You will find a link to the full statistics for birth months for the 2012 Test in the Kent Grammar School Section from 'Secondary School Admissions' on the right of this page. However, I don't accept your belief that this is caused by standardisation which should produce a similar outcome for all age groups. My suspicion is that the difference is introduced in the 4% admitted through Headteacher Assessment as heads seek to compensate for perceived disadvantage in younger age groups. I have seen a number of references to this in reports from HTAs. If one wants to be picky, why do November births do better than August? The real shocker is in the Medway Test where both boys do much worse than girls and younger children much worse than older!

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