KEN’s submission to the Kent County Council commission on social mobility in grammar schools

By Dr. Michael Collins

Last February, we, the Kent Education Network (a cross-party, voluntary think-tank of Kent parents, teachers and academics opposed to selective education), were invited to submit evidence to KCC’s investigation into Social Mobility and Grammar Schools. The evidence report was authored by Joanne Bartley (mother and education activist), Dr. Alan Bainbridge (Senior Lecturer at CCCU), Pippa Doran (retired local authority officer) and myself (a parent and Lecturer at The University of Kent). It was 24 pages long and can be read on our website.

Drawing on cutting-edge scientific, social-scientific, and policy studies, and quoting a body of evidence from over 50 years of educational and demographic research, it systematically illustrated the failure of 11+ selection to provide any meaningful, positive impact on social mobility. The Kent Test is a hybrid of IQ testing methods – based on the Stanford-Binet model – and subject-specific knowledge that overwhelming benefits middle-class children and those who undertake the now-systemic practice of tutoring.

In our report we demonstrated that such testing methods are pedagogically, politically, economically and developmentally nonsensical and have not, since their implementation by the 1944 Butler Act, produced significant levels of social mobility. Most counties in England, and countries in Europe, have long rejected this selection model as a discriminatory form of social engineering. Many of our failing schools do so because they compete with grammar schools. This reduces the average success of students in Kent.

If Britain is to compete educationally and economically with the rest of the world, we must join the 21st century by ending this horrid regime of biological selection based on an arbitrary designation of a person’s “intelligence” at 11. We offered KCC 10 suggestions for possible improvements to the secondary admissions system that would aid social mobility. None of these suggestions were considered or responded to in any meaningful way in the subsequent KCC report.

The admission of the need for the Kent County Council Select Committee on Grammar Schools and Social Mobility in our current moment points to the escalating problem of failing social mobility through grammars. KCC’s own statistics show that 27% of the pupils in non-selective schools are from disadvantaged backgrounds, versus 6% in grammars. This is based on grammars constituting a third of all secondary schools in the county, and the Kent Test itself being designed to admit an equivalent number of the total population. 57% of the children from disadvantaged backgrounds that achieve the highest scores in the SATs do not pass the Kent Test. 79% of advantaged children with high SAT scores do. The KCC report admits that access to grammar schools is at least in part related to the income of a child’s parents.

We believe that the reason for the failure of grammar schools to produce social mobility is the Kent Test itself. The commission’s report fails utterly to address this basic fact. Given the increasing academisation of schools, and the diminished role played by local government in shaping school policy, the absence of any consideration of the failings of the Kent Test by the commission is doubly absurd. KCC’s responsibilities for schooling extend to admissions policy. One of the only remaining powers our elected officials have over education is the power to abolish the Kent Test. The failure to consider this possibility in their proposals amounts to an acceptance of the increasing powerlessness of our LEA over education and an unwillingness to develop policies that truly benefit the poorest in our society.

Grammar selection is socially divisive, has historically created no significant upward social mobility, exposes children to unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety, and redirects significant teaching and economic resources away from those most in need. Grammar schooling is effectively a state benefit with an entry system that results in that benefit being most-often handed out to those who are already socially and economically secure. It is still within our power to oppose this injustice.

We ask that readers help us put pressure on KCC to consider the abolition of the Kent Test. Our children are already tested relentlessly. Why burden them with another test that produces no socially-beneficial outcomes and disadvantages able people who already labour at a disadvantage?


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