- The date for the Kent Test is still currently set for September. To change it would require government approval. KCC is in discussion with government about an aspect of the Kent Test, presumably about a possible postponement.
- There is no guarantee that any change of date would see the county free of Coronavirus, or schools operating normally.
- There are no arrangements in place for children who are: unable to take the Kent Test because their schools are not open, or cannot provide facilities; or whose parents or schools judge it is unsafe to participate; or who are ill in large numbers.
- The School Admissions Code of Practice requires Admission Authorities to ‘take all reasonable steps to inform parents of the outcome of selection tests before the closing date for secondary applications on 2nd November so as to allow parents time to make an informed choice of school’.
- The five thousand out of county children who normally take the Kent Test each year still need somewhere to sit it where it can be independently invigilated. In the past this has taken place in obliging Kent schools.
This article follows up on my previous of 21st April which explores some implications of a change of date. I use ‘Kent’ throughout to include Kent and Medway, except where I specify otherwise. I do feel so sorry for the children affected and their parents, many of whom must be suffering considerable stress because of the immense uncertainty in this unique situation. I also have enormous sympathy for the KCC Officers trying to guess the unguessable with regard to the timing of the Test.
The KCC website currently states that: ‘Parents will be informed closer to the time if any adjustments need to be made to the Kent Test as a result of the recent school closures for the majority of children’ and no test dates are published.
The Kent Messenger reports that: Medway Council says it is awaiting feedback from the Department for Education on whether any changes will be made to the test.
Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education (see below)
“We’re going to be looking at working with local authorities who have grammar school systems in their area as to how best we can ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged as they look at taking the 11-plus in the future.”
It sounds as if a masterplan could be in incubation
I do not see how ANY alternative date can be set with confidence whilst the possibility of subsequent waves of the pandemic exists. Is it likely that, for example, by December we shall be free of it, but what if not?
If the Test were to take place whilst the pandemic is in full flow, perhaps in a Wave Two, is it reasonable to expect all potential candidates to assemble to take it? If not, can it really go ahead as arranged?
The physical conditions for pupils to take the test will at present require social distancing along with other essential precautions. This may be achievable in most Kent schools, but becomes completely impracticable for around 5000 out of county applicants expected, nearly a third of the total, and from well over 500 different schools across the country. These normally take the test in large school halls in Kent where they can be properly invigilated. Will schools still want to host them? Just 400 of the OOC candidates were offered places in Kent grammars last year, less than 10% of the total who sat the test, but KCC still has an obligation to cater for them.
The turn around time from Kent Test on September 8th this year to result publication currently takes five weeks, including Headteacher Assessments (In Medway the Test across 17/18th September sees results arrive three weeks later, but then there are two more weeks whilst the Review process takes place). Realistically neither of these allow an alternative date that would allow decisions to be provided before the national closing date for secondary school applications, of 2nd November.
The School Admissions Code of Practice comes as close as possible to require Admission Authorities to ‘take all reasonable steps to inform parents of the outcome of selection tests before the closing date for secondary applications on 2nd November so as to allow parents time to make an informed choice of school’. However, whilst it can clearly be argued that this year is an exception, a later Test date carries its own problems, even assuming (which is not a given) that it is fairly virus free.
The later testing date requires most potential grammar school pupils to hedge their bets across the four schools applied for, not knowing whether they have passed the test or not, applying for both grammar and non-selective schools. It would make sense if this is to be the case if the number of choices could be increased to six, as in Medway, but this would require a further change in the regulations which may not be possible
The three months that follow 2nd November see a vast clearing operation as Local Authorities across the country work in a co-ordinated scheme with every individual secondary school to arrange for offers of a school to go out for every applicant, including the 18,000 in Kent and some 1,200 across the county boundary. If the Kent Test results are not known by 2nd November then affected families will split their four secondary applications between grammar and non-selective schools, and somewhere along this process, around 5000 children will be awarded Kent grammar school places which would require the whole scheme to be re-worked. This may well be possible in theory. I don’t believe Government is going to change the national admissions scheme for the sake of Kent grammar schools!
Next: Preparation for the Test and Disadvantage
This change places greater importance on school work in these two subjects, or an alternative such as tutoring, whether through family, friend or commercially. Professional tutoring will certainly assist some pupils near the pass level, those looking for places at super selective schools and provide comfort for families that they are doing all they can for their children.
Unfortunately, the absence of schooling this year, especially for disadvantaged children, is inevitably going to make a difference in performance for many. Online or remote learning through school is critical, with teachers in most state schools working tirelessly to support their pupils. However, lack of the whole school experience will inevitably take its toll. This can be compensated for by parental support but where this is less effective or lacking children’s progress will inevitably suffer. Conversely, for many private schools, parents are paying to ensure their children receive explicit support for the Test, with commercial tutors surely enjoying a boom year. I am personally aware of the additional stresses being placed on some children as parents seek to compensate, and have serious concerns these may be too great for some.
Kent County Council promoted a policy of encouraging social mobility via grammar school through supporting children on Pupil Premium in 2016, in which I became involved. However, it appears to have had no overall success at all since then, the proportion of disadvantaged pupils being admitted since then remaining constant at 10%, although hiding some remarkable swings with Simon Langton Girls admitting over three times as many Pupil Premium children as five years ago, at 27 and Dartford Grammar a third as many at eight. The 10% figure is far higher than many other grammar school areas or individual schools, including a 4.5% from 80 grammar schools selected with care by Comprehensive Future, and a claimed ‘22 grammar schools that failed to admit a pupil premium child in 2017′,
It is surely inevitable that this year a much more sizeable gap will open between the haves and have nots, and I can’t see a way through it. The evidence is that in most years the Headteacher Assessment has compensate for the gap to an extent, but success here depends to a great extent on the quality of schoolwork over the previous six months which will be lacking this year. Sadly, I don’t see the 10% Kent figure replicated for 2021 entry, although Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education is quoted in SchoolsWeek as saying: “We’re going to be looking at working with local authorities who have grammar school systems in their area as to how best we can ensure that children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are not disadvantaged as they look at taking the 11-plus in the future.” I look forward to learning the strategy to achieve this, although I would be amongst the many who welcome such an initiative.
Next: Is the Kent Test Necessary and Final Thought
Schools get £2,345 for every pupil who has left local authority care through adoption, a special guardianship order or child arrangements order. Local authorities get the same amount for each child they are looking after; they must work with the school to decide how the money is used to support the child’s Personal Education Plan.
Source: Kent Educational advice
The Kent Test and Coronavirus: Part Two