Kent County Council created a commission to review social mobility in Grammar Schools. The commission’s draft report has now been published and shows the extent of the problem with Kent’s divided schools, it can be read in full here.
While we welcome KCC’s recognition of the unacceptable social divide in Kent secondary schools, we do not believe the Commission’s draft report goes anywhere near solving the problem.
The issue is clear. On average, disadvantaged pupils make up 27 per cent of the total number on roll in non-selective schools, while the equivalent figure in grammar schools is six percent. The fact that a Commission was needed to examine the problem itself disproves the myth that a selective system improves social mobility. The report is a refreshingly honest at-
tempt to examine the problem, and we agree with its conclusion that: “current access to (grammar) schools is not solely based on academic ability but is impacted by family income.”
While recognising that family wealth determines the future of most of our children, the Commission admits that it can only make suggestions, lacking as it does the power to impose any meaningful solutions. Furthermore, in the unlikely event that all 16 of the Commission’s recommendations were to be adopted, there would be only a slight increase in the number of disadvantaged children going to grammar schools.
The Commission does not face up to the problem of widespread coaching: while independent schools are permitted to train children in taking the Test, coaching is forbidden in state schools, and recent attempts to make it “un-coachable” appear to have failed.
In the meantime, as the government pursues plans to turn schools into academies, the county council is losing its powers to enforce anything on schools whatsoever. Ultimately, KCC’s only power will rest in the administration of the Kent Test.
Kent grammar schools educate 28 per cent of all secondary school pupils, but only 21 per cent are awarded a place based on a pass mark in the Kent Test. The other seven percent are nominated by head teachers as “suitable for grammar school” despite their fail mark, or by parents appealing a result. The judgement of grammar school ability is clearly not a sci-
entific process, and nor is it open and accountable.
The commission did not look at how many disadvantaged children reach grammar school via the Head Teacher Assessment panel. We feel it is fundamentally unfair that some children who fail the test get a “second chance” while others do not. Some primary schools routinely recommend 90 per cent of their “failed” pupils for a result reassessment, while others recommend no children at all. The Head Teacher Assessment process only highlights the inadequacies of the Test itself. It costs KCC £348,000 a year to commission the Test, but they choose to select seven per cent of grammar school children another way.
Kent Education Network submitted detailed evidence to the Commission, including an assessment of the science and history of intelligence testing by Dr Michael Collins, our head of research. The evidence defined the problem of accurately dividing children of primary school age; it stated: “If Britain is to compete educationally and economically with the rest of the world, we must end this outdated selection process based on an arbitrary designation of “intelligence” at 11.”
Dr.Collins says, “Most counties in England, and countries in Europe, have long rejected this model as a discriminatory form of social engineering. The reason why many Kent schools fail is because they must compete with selective grammar schools, reducing the average success rate of students overall.” In Kent students are less likely to achieve three A levels than children of other counties, and 55 per cent of our poorest pupils get GCSE results in the bottom 20 per cent nationally.
We now hope Kent County Council will take the next step and consider the impact our school system has on disadvantaged children in Kent’s non-selective schools. A wider debate on the Kent Test is needed – the harm it causes social mobility is not only reserved to grammar schools. Kent has more schools failing to reach government targets than any other county. The children of Kent are depending on action being taken.
Kent Education Network’s evidence to the Commission may be read here: EVIDENCE TO SELECT COMMITTEE ON GRAMMAR SCHOOLS FEB 2016