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Problems with Kent’s School System

A little history…

Kent’s selective school system was established in the 1950s to educate a future workforce to meet society’s needs.

Grammar schools taught ‘academic’ children, while the rest were given practical or technical education in secondary modern schools.

Cyril Burt instigated the idea that a test could be used to determine the type of education suited to each child. He was later found to have faked his research, and few people now believe that an ‘ability’ test at age 10 is meaningful or supported by evidence.

The 11-plus became unpopular with parents whose children did not reach grammar schools, so in the 1970s it was phased out in most of the country. However, a few counties, like Kent, kept going with the old system.

The world of education has significantly changed in the last 60 years. Our working world is radically different and half our workforce are university graduates, with all our young people needing academic rather than just practical skills.

Yet the 11-plus and grammar school admission has kept going, year after year, fitting selective places to decades old percentages. It’s nearly sixty years since anyone reviewed any of this.

The old 1950s system was designed to offer the benefits of differentiated education to both the manual workers and future academics. We are no longer sure what benefits Kent’s selective system offers the 75% majority with no access to grammar schools.

It appears to mean fewer secondary schools options for most parents, and limiting access to Kent’s highest performing schools. We feel this should be explained by our council.

It’s high time the Kent Test was reviewed

Some questions a review might answer…

What is the purpose of separate secondary schools, now there is the same curriculum in every school?

Is the percentage of pupils selected still logical, or does this need to be reviewed upwards or downwards?

It was 25% when the system began to match 1950s university entry rates. Now many more pupils go to university, this means many future graduates are classed as ‘not academic’ by Kent’s 11-plus.

Kent County Council haven’t explained why they still want selection set at exactly 25%.

Most schools now offer differentiated lessons – sets and streams to suit the needs of high attaining pupils. Are the high attaining pupils in Kent non-selective schools succeeding in their schools? If not, this is surely a problem. If they are, then why do we need grammar schools?

Kent County Council claim the grammar school system is about “parental choice” highlighting high numbers of applications to grammar schools to make the point the system is popular. Is this real support for selective education? Could it be that the council’s Kent Test creates idea children “need” selective education? If they tell parents their child requires a grammar school is this creating false demand? What would happen if KCC told parents their child would get exactly the same GCSE results in a non-selective school?

There are suggestions that non-selective schools in counties like Kent underperform. This might be because better qualified teachers choose to work in grammar schools. It could be that high schools face more teacher recruitment challenges, or offer different subject choices. If there is inequality in our secondary provision this is a serious issue. This point must be studied in a KCC review.

We know that there is inequality in school options in some areas. A test pass gives a good choice of mostly ‘outstanding’ grammar schools, while a lack of a Kent Test pass means reduced school choice and more chance of a place in an underperforming school. In areas with faith schools, oversubscribed popular schools, plus grammar schools, the selective system greatly reduces choice for most parents. KCC should review the implications for parents whose children can not choose grammar schools. Should we value all children equally, or is it right to give advantages to the 25% who pass the test?

The fact Kent has retained many traditional, long established, schools means that we have many more single sex schools than most counties. Do modern parents want this? If KCC learns parents prefer mixed education they can report this to the schools, then plans can be made for gradual change.

It is a fact that Kent’s school system means few disadvantaged and SEN pupils in selective schools. Instead, there are high proportions in Kent high schools. Does this cause a lack of social cohesion, and does this social divide in schools matter to Kent residents?

A Kent Test review could survey what people really think about our school system. It might even consider the reasons people choose grammar schools for their children, and how much this matters. It could be that parents are choosing selective schools for reasons that make good sense, or we might find they are choosing them for less compelling reasons, or don’t even mind if their child attends a non-selective school that has special provision for high attaining pupils.

Kent’s school place planning is very unusual, dividing up school places into 25% selective and 75% non-selective in a 175 page long document. Yet why has KCC no written policy defining exactly why 25% of school places “need” to be selective? We need our council to explain their workings out!

Kent’s results for pupil progress at secondary school are below average (-0.31 in Kent high schools, +0.45 in Kent grammar schools) and we have a -0.11 progress score overall as a county. What are the implications for our results by operating as a selective county? Is our system causing inequality with better results in selective schools, but worse results in Kent high schools? A review should look at this important point.

Our school system has been running a long time with little scrutiny, and central government lets our council get on with things. This means they do nothing to tweak or improve the Kent Test. We believe it’s high time there was a Kent Test review.

If you think it’s time for a review of Kent education please join our campaign.