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Sunday, 26 February 2012 07:11

Change in the Kent 11+; super selectives, changes in Chatham

There is growing evidence that the principle of a single 11+ assessment in both Kent and Medway is under attack as grammar schools come under differing pressures and Academy freedoms allow Governing Bodies to  consider alternatives, as some become increasingly oversubscribed and others suffer from falling rolls in their areas. The issues surrounding the "super-selectives" are well documented. At the other end of the scale, the Dover Grammar schools have for some years run the Dover Tests offering an alternative means of access to their schools, which sees them fill, whereas under the Kent Test they would both be half empty (this doesn't stop Dover Girls Grammar from being one of the highest academic  achieving schools in the county). 

Now Chatham Grammar School for Boys & Chatham Grammar School for Girls have finished a consultation that proposes to offer places to children from 2013 onwards, who have passed either the Kent or the Medway Tests, and in addition for late applicants to be considered on the basis of alternative evidence of grammar school ability. This is in the face of falling numbers entering secondary schools in Medway for some years and for another four or five years to come.  

At the other end of the scale, the 'super-selective' grammar schools in West Kent and Dartford have spawned an intense coaching culture for children that sees their pass marks creep higher and higher. This year in the Kent Test, a record number of 589 children scored the maximum score of 420 (pass mark 360), around half coming from Kent primary schools, a proportion that is constant through all the top scores. I believe the required score for most of these schools will rise even higher this year, and anticipate .......

 

from enquiries coming into me that Dartford Grammar  may see the highest rise, having started off at a required score of 411 for those outside Dartford town in 2011. Can Judd School go even higher than last year, at 417? I certainly anticipate Skinners rising from last year's dip to 407. Tonbridge Grammar School rose last year to its highest ever requiring 410/411 for in area girls and 414 for out of area. Dartford Grammar School for Girls also takes high scorers after local girls have been offered places and last year the cut off score  jumped to 413.

In Medway last year, Rainham Mark Grammar School, who also awarded places to the highest scorers, ended up offering places to all qualified applicants, a further sign of falling rolls. Rochester set an initial bar, but by the end of the appeals, I believe all qualified applicants who persisted were offered places.  

Across Kent and Medway each of these scenarios is being played out to  a great or lesser degree, and there is certainly discussion amongst grammar schools to consider alternatives. Some have suggested that the current test is 'not fit for purpose', as they  look at how coaching is perceived to be essential by more and more families and even I, who disapprove strongly of the concept, concede its essential nature when applying for a 'super selective' school, although this is most unfair on 'ordinary' children who are surely at the heart of the grammar school principle. However, what we now have in West Kent are private schools dedicated to securing grammar school places for their children.  Many of these teach to the test as this is what parents pay for, giving their pupils an unfair advantage. However, this is ruled out by KCC in state schools, as not being allowed under teachers' contracts (and what happens to members of the class who are not looking for grammar school entrance). To quote from the recent OFSTED Report of a private school in East Kent, defining the school's purpose in life: "The school aims to prepare pupils for entry to grammar schools in Kent". Succinct, and doesn't mention education,  but it certainly gives the game away.

I raised the idea several years ago that elimination of the mathematics test should be considered, as it is the most susceptible to coaching, and individual scores demonstrate clearly that it often relates to levels of mathematics taught in schools. I know that others disagree but KCC has the data to experiment with different models. Whatever happens, I am confident that KCC will not shift to the dreadful pattern of the Medway Tests, about which you will find a number of comments on this website. Sadly, Medway shows no inclination to look for alternatives, and so we may see other Medway grammar schools moving away from the common tests. 

What I do fear, but see happening, is that more schools will follow the Dover model and set their own tests, as it is unlikely there will be agreement from all schools on a new model.  Alternatively, one can see the 'super selectives' setting an additional paper to discriminate between the high performers,  which will again favour the private schools. Another alternative is that they could shift to an aggregate of the marks set in the Kent Test, as a maximum score of 420 can be achieved from only 75% correct answers on each paper so there is flexibility here, and it has the advantage of keeping the common tests. 

If we go down the route of seeing schools to 'do their own thing' (under Academy rules, and a new School Admissions Code to be introduced next year there appears little to stop them), we head for a model in a few years similar to that endured by many children in the M25 belt who are put in for examinations at up to seven different grammar schools in the region, across seven different days in September and October. This cannot be right, and I urge the grammar schools of  Kent, in the interests of our children, to keep as far as possible to the concept of a single test across the county however it is interpreted - possibly with a different pass mark for different schools, even though this breaks the principle of "a grammar school standard". 

Last modified on Thursday, 18 October 2012 23:06

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