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Problems with the Kent Test

There are numerous problems with the Kent Test. That’s why it’s vital that Kent County Council review the test itself.

You can read about some of those problems below, and support our petition to ensure these problems are addressed.

Does every child have an equal opportunity to pass the Kent Test?

Unfortunately no.

The Kent Test is not a level playing field, and it can be a source of worry for many parents. Especially those unable to provide their children with the advantages enjoyed by other children.

For instance…

Many children receive paid tuition.

Others have help from well-educated parents with time to tutor at home.

Or they simply have parents who know how to work the appeal system in their favour.

It’s hard to blame parents for doing what’s best for their child. But are children who get this extra help at an advantage?

We think this is one reason the council should check the fairness of the selection process.

To understand this advantage, you need only look at a very obvious example…

The Kent Test (taken in the first week of Year 6) routinely features two or three questions about algebra in the maths section.

Children who are tutored after school are taught algebra, in preparation for these very questions.

But Primary Schools don’t teach algebra until later in Year 6. That’s several months after children take the test.

You might think a solution to this would be to encourage schools to teach children to take the test.

But Kent Primary Schools are banned from doing so.

By Kent County Council.

Meanwhile prep schools continue to coach their children for the test.

KCC said it would review this situation, but parents are still waiting for the review to be carried out.

Head Teacher Appeals (HTA)

Of the 25 per cent of children who go to grammar school, five per cent are selected by the Head Teacher Appeals (HTA) process.

This private committee decides which children, from among those did not pass, are “grammar school standard”.

Clearly, these HTA panels fill significant numbers of grammar school places.

The panel examines the schoolbooks of children who narrowly failed, checking for annotations from teachers.

Around half the children who are reassessed are considered suitable for grammar school.

Yet this process has some very obvious unfairness built-in.

Some primary schools nominate 30+ children to be reassessed each year. Meanwhile other primary schools don’t nominate any.

Parents are never told whether their child was entered for a HTA review, or how much of a role their headteacher has on such an important decision. No one really knows how these secretive panels work.

More significantly, their very existence suggests KCC has little faith in its own test.

Are Kent’s poorest children losing out?

Currently, only a very low number of poorer children pass the Kent Test. This itself is a tragic part of a system that was designed to help bright kids from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In 2018 there were 4858 disadvantaged pupils in year 6, yet only 258 achieved a qualifying score in the Kent Test.

That’s about one in 20.

Some grammar school tests elsewhere in the UK adjust qualifying scores for poorer pupils, increasing their chance of passing. Kent grammar schools don’t do this.

If KCC reviewed this huge disparity in pass rates for poorer pupils, and published pass rates statistics each year, they might better track progress.

As it stands, KCC proactively ask head teachers to put poorer children forward to HTA panels. But this lacks transparency and is subject to the whims of individual schools, many of which do not bother with HTA.

Furthermore, the parental appeals process seems to favour wealthier families. It is even possible to pay for professional help with an appeal.

This blog from a Year 6 primary school teacher explains how grammar school appeals benefit some families over others.

Isn’t it time the Kent Test was reviewed?

Is the Kent Test accurate?

Kent County Council does not consider it necessary to check the accuracy of the 11-plus test process. Which is unusual given the wealth of data available.

For instance, it would be easy to link Kent Test scores to GCSE outcomes and confirm whether the test was accurately predicting academic success.

But doing so would very likely show just how many children who ‘fail’ are actually doing better than those who pass.

It’s hard to know for sure though, because KCC has yet to make the comparison.

The only occasion this kind of study was carried out it showed that 22% of pupils were given an inaccurate judgement by the 11-plus.

In other words nearly a quarter of children were in the “wrong” school.

With test scores so inaccurate, it’s in everyone’s interests – children and parents – for a proper review to examine the accuracy of the current test.

The question of age rating

Some 16,000 pupils sit the Kent Test each year.

The scores in each test paper are then ‘age weighted’ to the day of birth.

This is based on the dubious logic that two children with the same test score, born a week apart, can be so different that they need different scores.

But day of birth age weighting is used to make it easier for KCC to differentiate a vast amount of children with the same scores.

This means that children of the same ability can be divided. Some are told they deserve a grammar school, while some are told they are not clever enough.

Kent County Council require an age-weighted score of 110 in each test paper. This means some children with one weak subject area will often fail.

For example, children who are good at maths but less so at English will fail the test, even though they excel in that subject.

There is also a known problem with borderline pass / fail pupils. The test isn’t accurate enough to divide them fairly.

There is also a discrepancy in SATs results and Kent Test results.

The Kent Test and SATs tests take place in the same year at primary school. Yet many children who score great SATs results have often not passed the Kent Test, or vice versa.

A review of the Test by KCC would address these limitations.

“It’s always been done this way” seems to be the rationale for the Kent 11-plus

The lack of any formal review of the Kent system has created countless small problems for parents.

For instance, the test often takes place in the first week of year 6, benefitting those children tutored over the holidays.

In the handful of other areas that have an 11-plus school system there is typically an option of a follow-up test at age 12 or 13. It gives children who develop later than age 10 a chance of a grammar school place.

But Kent County Council makes no allowance for the obvious fact that children develop at different rates.

Some grammar schools allow children to sit the 11-plus twice and use the highest score from the two tests for a more accurate assessment.

Could KCC consider improving accuracy this way?

A complete lack of openness and transparency

Cheating is regularly reported as taking place in Kent Test Centres for out of county pupils.

Without the requirement of photo ID, older siblings take the test in place of their younger brothers and sisters.

It’s an astonishing abuse of the system, and yet KCC has, so far, shown no intention of addressing it.

Abitrary figures

Kent County Council says it wants one in four primary pupils to go to a grammar school. Their entire school planning is based on this percentage.

Yet in some areas grammar schools have expanded.

Instead of 25% of pupils attending grammars it’s nearer 40%. In other areas children who pass the Kent Test have no local grammar but attend grammar streams in non-selective schools.

This appears to please parents. But KCC seem uninterested in asking parents what they want from schools, and they plan new grammar schools without even listening to local secondary school heads.

Should one test score define our very individual children?

The Kent Test is short and susceptible to flawed results, especially if a child is nervous or has a bad day.

We wouldn’t judge a child on one spelling test, or put all the pressure on one times table test.

So is it right that the Kent Test, which takes two hours, defines the next seven years of schooling, ignoring completely a children’s individuality, in favour of statistics that are far from reliable?

There are many different test formats used around the country for 11-plus tests.

Some judge maths and english skills. Some judge IQ style test skills. But all go on to select a different group of children based on their choice of criteria. Those are the children they deem “academic.”

So what reasoning does KCC use to choose the current system? And might it be time for parents to have a say?

KCC seem immovable.

It claims the test can be taken without practice. And that it judges innate ability – something they think children have or don’t.

All of which is untrue. Education is about effort as much it is ‘ability.’

The message KCC sends to children starting secondary school is a discouraging one.

It tells them that their future is out of their hands and that their “academic” ability is already set.

This is the precise opposite of what we tell our own children.

We tell them that if they apply themselves, and put the effort in, they can achieve more than they thought possible.

A lesson KCC might take on board when examining their own education policy.

Please join our campaign to ask Kent County Council to undertake an open public review of the Kent Test.