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Monday, 14 January 2013 00:00

11 plus news keeps coming: Folkestone, Tonbridge (Judd) and Buckinghamshire

Updated with outcomes of Buckinghamshire's solution to 11 plus issues

The pressures on Kent’s eleven plus testing procedures continue to increase as further evidence mounts to underline the East/West divide. At the bottom of this article you will find Buckinghamshire's (13 grammar schools) solution to similar problems.  The main pressure is coming from the intensive coaching culture that pervades much of West Kent and which is responsible for seeing the Kent Test pass mark rise way above the natural level.  Kent selects 21% of eleven year olds across the county, the imbalance ranging in state schools from 10% in Dover to 36% in Sevenoaks, statistics which underline the extent of the problem. This range would increase even further if private schools are included (I am waiting for the figures from KCC). This means there are able children in East Kent being deprived of a grammar school place even though there are vacancies, and some children in West Kent securing grammar school places not on grounds of ability, but through intensive coaching. West Kent children who have not been coached can lose out in two ways if they don’t make automatic selection, as statistics show it is harder to gain a place amongst the additional 4% added through headteacher assessment, and far harder to win a place on appeal than in the east of the county......

Currently, the two Dover grammar schools address their problem by setting the Dover Test, to be used alongside the Kent Test as an alternative assessment that selects the top 25% on a national standard without using the inflated Kent requirements.   Interestingly, both schools perform comparatively well amongst grammar schools in exam league tables. At the other end of the county, Kent County Council came under pressure last year from large numbers of grammar school qualified children, mainly boys, without grammar school places, but these were mainly resolved when appeal panels at Tunbridge Wells Boys Grammar School for Boys and Wilmington Grammar School for Boys each approved an additional class of entry with the encouragement of the schools themselves.  Both made clear this was a one year solution.

Two further important developments are now in progress to address these problems. Both of the Folkestone grammar schools are consulting on offering two alternative methods of admission for entry in September 2014, either via success in the Kent Test or else by the school’s own test, which would select 25% using the national standard.  Folkestone School for Girls tried to go down this route a few years ago in conjunction with the Dover grammars, but were blocked by Kent County Council on the grounds of gender inequality as the boys’ grammar, The Harvey Grammar School, was at that time a county school. Sadly, the two schools are not proposing to use the Dover Test which would be entirely logical, especially as one can see other East Kent towns going down similar routes, and an East Kent Test would make considerable sense.

Meanwhile in West Kent, we have the Sevenoaks annexe bubbling away as a KCC strategy to resolve the shortage of grammar school places, although Weald of Kent Grammar School has undermined this by increasing its intake by 25 girls for entry this summer. Now, to quote the Chairman of Governors of The Judd School in Tonbridge, “Owing to the increase in the school-age population in West Kent we are being asked by KCC to take more students in Year 7 and we are giving serious thought to that. We are of the view that any permanent expansion should only be accepted so long as there is a financial support from KCC to do so”. I believe it is likely this request will be accepted on a one off basis, but once this happens schools often find it difficult to retrench in future years. With the Sevenoaks annexe planned to come on stream from September 2015, an increase for just two years would be very helpful. Admission figures suggest 20% of the additional Judd children may come from outside Kent. Further, not all in-county students come from West Kent, so it is unlikely that any expansion would free up more than 20 places in local grammar schools for West Kent boys, from those potentially without a grammar school place. I certainly don’t think it would significantly lower the cut off pass mark.

Back in March I wrote an article for Kent on Sunday entitled “Cracks continue to widen in Kent’s grammar system”. Some of my fears and forecasts at that time have yet to come about, but others are happening and I consider the article to be still valid, along with later ones covering different aspects of the issues. You should be able to access these via the tags at the foot of this article. KCC is still committed to providing sufficient grammar school places in West Kent, through the routes outlined above. There is a review of the Kent Test focusing on reducing coachability which would improve the East/West balance, but I don't yet see solutions which would make sufficient shift. In the meantime East Kent grammar schools in those towns where there issues, are finding their own solutions through localised tests. No one is looking at differing pass scores in different areas of Kent, which may be technically impossible anyway.

I remain of the view that the Kent grammar school map will look very different in two years time to what it is today.

Quiz question: what is the link between The Harvey Grammar School and The Judd School?

Buckinghamshire

Buckinghamshire, with its 13 grammar schools, has the second largest  concentration of grammar schools in the country, although it differs by having no super-selective schools, and a stronger tradition of schools acting together. It has also been looking at issues with the 11 plus, generated by the coaching culture which also underpins the 11 plus exams website, whose pages reflect the Bucks bias.  All the grammar schools have jointly agreed a common testing procedure for 2014 entry onwards, which has been proposed for consultation but is certain to be adopted.  This will either be operated by the County Council or the schools themselves - to be decided. You will find details in the proposed admission arrangements for each of the grammar schools, which you will find here.  

The tests are: "Two tests, each of approximately 45 minutes duration, are taken in the September of the year prior to proposed admission. The tests are comprised of elements of verbal, numerical and non-verbal ability. Each child’s raw scores in the two tests are added together and the resulting score is converted into an age standardised score thus setting all children on an equal footing regardless of when their birthday falls in the yearRegistration for the test is automatic for children who attend Buckinghamshire Primary schools unless the parent expressly withdraws their child from testing". 

There will be practice tests, and it is hoped these will not come into the public domain (no chance!).  Parents will be able to apply for a Review if they believe that their child would have met the qualifying score but for particular circumstances regarding their participation in the 11+ selection testing process. However, by participating in the Review, they will forfeit their right to make a similar argument to an Independent Appeal Panel, unless they can show the Review process is unfair, a dilemma faced by parents seeking entrance to some Medway grammar schools.  

The schools plan to commission the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University (CEM) for 2014 entry, the tests being taken this September. This organisation is also being considered by Kent County Council.  The level of co-operation in Buckinghamshire would not be possible in Kent, as too many grammar schools have too many different agendas for admission.  

Last modified on Sunday, 16 March 2014 17:18

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