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What are the alternatives to the Kent Test?

A review of the Kent Test might find that our selective school system is working fine and parents are happy with our council’s chosen 11-plus test. Or… It might find that parents dislike the Kent Test and prefer a model of education similar to one of the varied school plans used around the country.

We could adapt the Kent Test, or work on a plan for a school system carefully designed to help our brightest children achieve their potential, in a system that works well for all children.

We have no preconceived ideas about the outcome of this review, we just think a school system that’s been operating 50+ years should receive proper scrutiny. Kent County Council should not assume its citizens are happy with the selective system, they need to ask!

A grammar school system without a test?

The German school system is similar to Kent’s grammar school system, but no test defines who deserves entry to the most academic schools. Instead, teachers and parents discuss whether a child can benefit from attending a highly academic ‘gymnasium‘ school. This could be replicated in Kent’s school system by offering schools that pitch themselves as being rigorously academic, with a push for university and high expectations, but with these schools available as a choice for all parents. There are similar, ‘grammar schools without a test’ in London that are very successful.

In Kent we already find that more than 8% of grammar school pupils did not pass the Kent Test but were nominated by parents and teachers through appeal stages. Many pupils are accessing grammar schools without achieving high scores in a test. If there are problems with the 11-plus test could this style of entry to grammar school be expanded?

A selective school system with a few adaptations?

Kent grammar schools control their own admissions and they have a lot of freedom to decide how this works. They could choose to admit any mix of pupils, perhaps selecting a proportion of the most academic pupils locally, and the rest of pupils from the local community. Partially selective schools like this already exist in some parts of the country. Kent grammar schools could admit half their pupils based on a test pass, with the rest based on proximity to the school. This sort of compromise could suit local parents, it’s friendly to local children who live near the school, but also helps the schools maintain high academic standards.

Some local authorities help schools admit a balance of pupils in each school by using area wide ‘fair banding’ tests. These council run tests define pupils starting point for attainment, then ensure each school has a set proportion of each attainment level. Such a test could ensure that each Kent secondary school admitted 25% of ‘grammar school standard’ pupils, rather than separating these quarter of pupils to selective schools. This would typically allow each school to have two classes of high attaining pupils, helping every school to set and stream pupils. This could ceate an academic focus in every school, and provision suited to children’s differing needs.

Another plan for the children suitable for grammar school?

If Kent residents decide that the education of Kent’s high attainers is their biggest priority, it is worth considering whether dedicated grammar schools are the best plan? KCC is spending around 40 million on grammar school expansion and they spend approximately £500,000 a year on the Kent Test. Might a better use of this funding be dedicated support for bright pupils within each secondary school?

We know that not every child who aims for university will pass or sit the Kent Test. Many primary pupils do not even take the test, so should Kent make the 11-plus compulsory, as they do in Buckinghamshire? Is the percentage selected still right after all this time? Would selective schools be better suited to the top 5% of pupils who might be most in need of differentiated learning, or for the 50% of secondary pupils who are aiming for university?

Ideas for secondary school education in Kent

In many areas of the country sixth form colleges are the norm. Counties like Hampshire offer mixed ability schools for pupils at age 11, then at age 16, following GCSE results, many children choose a college to focus on A levels or vocational education. Should Kent aim to replicate this pattern of education? This could mean that academic high fliers would find dedicated help A levels and university entry, but we wouldn’t use an unreliable test to try to predict who suits this when children are 10.

Grammar schools are invariably excellent schools, run by caring school leaders and staff. We would fully expect these schools to welcome a debate on their purpose in a modern world. Many selective schools might wish to be more inclusive, constrained by an old fashioned test that means they admit an arbitrary percentage of local pupils deemed ‘right’ for their schools long ago.

Many selective schools might also decide to make it easier for poorer pupils to access places. Grammar schools in Birmingham have started to reserve a large proportion of places for disadvantaged pupils. This fits their traditional role, many were founded as schools to educate the poor. Should Kent grammar schools take this path?

Many grammar schools have successfully opened up admissions to give places to all local pupils, and they still achieve ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted ratings and send pupils to prestigious universities. Beverley Grammar School, Harrogate Grammar School, Prince Henry’s School, and Batley Grammar School are just a few examples of historic selective schools that decided to end test admission, but still retain their traditional character and academic ethos.

One of the many ‘Outstanding’ grammar schools that gave up the 11-plus test and now accepts all local pupils.

Let’s be ambitious and forward-thinking

Kent education offers an outlier school system – a different style of secondary education to the rest of the UK. So why doesn’t our county proudly lead with forward-thinking, carefully planned and innovative secondary schooling?

Instead of offering a different form of schooling based on a 1950s plan for education, we want Kent County Council to review our education system and create the best secondary school system in the UK.

We should work on a well-thought-through, popular, education plan to suit our modern world, in consultation with parents and children who use our schools, and the teachers and school leaders who work in them. Let’s revise our school system to give Kent children a brilliant secondary education for decades to come.

Please join our campaign and support a review of Kent secondary education.