Aspects of the current situation with regard to the Kent Test are that:
  • 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.   
As of today (19th May), Kent County County Council has provided no further information about the date of Testing. This is not a criticism as I don’t see how they can with the current uncertainties. Registration for the Kent Test remains for a month from 1st June.

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.

There are four main issues explored below: Setting of a Date; Preparation for the Test; the Effect on Disadvantaged Pupils; and Is the Kent Test necessary.

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

Preparation for the Test
One grammar school headteacher wrongly argued on BBC SE last week that there is no need for a change of date, as the Kent Test measures Cognitive Ability and so does not depend on school learning. Back in 2014, following pressure from several quarters, including memorably the head of The Judd School, who threatened to withdraw his school from the Kent Test selection method unless alterations were made, it was changed to give more emphasis to curriculum assessment. This altered the balance of assessment with two thirds of the marks now being awarded for performance in  English and Maths, and one third for reasoning tests, as explained here. The Medway scheme which awards 80% of the marks towards English and maths performance is outlined here. 

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.  

The Effect on Disadvantaged Pupils
There is plenty of research emerging showing that pupil involvement is less for many disadvantaged pupils. A BBC SE item this evening (19th May) highlighted the problem of many such families having limited or no access to online education. you will find a definition of Pupil Premium, an annual sum paid to schools to support such children, below

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

Is the Kent Test Necessary?

The radical alternative would be to replace the Kent Test by another method of assessment for this year only, or provide an additional feature to give balance. As an aside, over 60 years ago when I took the Kent Test, grammar school places were awarded after the test by each primary school being allocated a number according to the performance of their children. The headteacher would then award the individual places to those children they considered most suitable. It would need further regulation, but a scheme somewhere between this and the temporary GCSE/A Level process may be workable, although open to legal challenge to such an extent it is unlikely to be introduced.  
The bottom line is that grammar schools are here for this year and the future. Somehow for 2021 around 25% of the pupil cohort needs to be identified to take advantage of the specialist teaching that grammar schools  provide. Coronavirus has introduced great unfairness across society, and in one sense this could just be another. However, this would be a great tragedy for too many children.
Final Thought
I remain bemused as to why Year Six is given a priority to return to school for its final six weeks in primary school  at the expense of Year Five, or other alternative arrangements that have been suggested. Year Five pupils will have missed at least four months of school time and will have severely damaged continuity for the Year Six curriculum as well in as their run up to SATs, and for a minority the eleven plus. I do also feel very sorry for Year Six children as I do every pupil who has lost much of their education with unpredictable consequences. However, even if they do return to school in June, it will take time for them to settle back in the short period before they leave again for secondary school, with a curriculum and culture break anyway. What they will do is to have the opportunity to say goodbye, which is important, but in the scale of loss, far less than is happening for Year Five.  
Pupil Premium: Definition 
 Pupil Premium is an annual sum of money paid to schools by government to support the attainment of their disadvantaged pupils. When a school is inspected by Ofsted, it will examine how this money is being spent by schools.
Schools receive £1,320 for every primary age pupil, or £955 for every secondary age pupil, who claims free school meals, or who has claimed free school meals in the last 6 years.

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.

 There is also a Service Premium which is different from Pupil Premium as it has different conditions attached to it. Schools get £310 annually for every pupil with a parent who: is serving in HM Forces; or who has retired on a pension from the Ministry of Defence. This funding is to help with pastoral support.

Source: Kent Educational advice
The Kent Test and Coronavirus: Part Two

The Kent Test and Coronavirus: Part Two
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