A challenge to Kent County Council : Review the Kent Test

New research shows that families who pay for private tutors are winning the majority of grammar school places.  

Researchers from the University College London’s Institute of Education (IoE) discovered that 70 per cent of those tutored secured a place in a grammar school. That compares with 14 per cent who had no additional instruction, relying purely on ability.

Kent County Council will offer a new format for Kent’s 11-plus test in 2019. The Kent Education Network believes they should review the test structure, and particularly look at the social inequality caused by test coaching.

Dr Alan Bainbridge from KEN said, “This research proves what we’ve all suspected – expensive private tuition works.

“The idea that the Kent Test is a true test of ability is nonsense, children practising maths and English with skilled tutors clearly have more chance of passing than those without any help.

“Kent will have a new 11-plus test in 2019 and we want the council to acknowledge the huge tuition problem and do something about it. Prep schools and test tutors are effectively rigging results for wealthy families.

“The test is fundamentally unfair for any child who has no coaching.”

The Institute of Education researchers reviewed evidence from selective areas and found wealthy families claimed the majority of grammar school places.

The poorest 25 per cent of families had less than a 10 per cent chance of attending a grammar school, compared with about a 40 per cent chance for children who from the top quarter of household incomes.

Alan Bainbridge said, “There is no such thing as a tutor proof test and the council need to admit this.

“A consultation on the new test would be a good way to review the obvious problems. It’s not ethical to mislead our children about what we are actually testing.

“It is dishonest to suggest this test is an accurate judgement of ability when a large part of it is about practice and coaching.”

KCC currently pay £178,000 a year to GL Assessment to operate the Kent Test with the contract ending in September 2018.

No plans have yet been revealed for the 2019 Kent Test, but when the test was last put out to tender in 2013 the review involved a consultation with Kent head teachers. Many of the heads were critical of the extent of private coaching, and there was even a complaint that one head offered the services of his wife as a paid test tutor.

Alan Bainbridge said,  “The last time the council reviewed the Kent Test head teachers said coaching was a big problem, but nothing was actually done about it. Now here we are again, five years later, with even more evidence of problems. I hope the council will be honest about the flaws of the test and not bury their heads in the sand.”

KEN would like Kent County Council to engage in honest debate about the problems with the test. We feel there is too mucy secrecy about how the Kent Test operates and no consultation with the public on the way our children are divided between school types at age 11.

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Values, the 11-plus… and sausage rolls

Alan BeachI probably eat too much of the wrong food and do not get enough sleep to optimize my cognitive capacity. I also know that these decisions are not the wisest ones I have made. Yet, I do make them and I can pretty confidently predict I will make most of these poor choices again.

Importantly, I know the evidence that highlights my poor decision-making and although not among the most heinous acts of human folly, I have a pretty good hunch as to why I do them. I like sausage rolls, I like the crispy pastry and (in a good sausage roll) the delicious peppery savouriness. Frasier makes me laugh and going to bed happy is a good thing.

So how does all of this help us to think about education – particularly selective education based on a short test taken in Year 6 when most pupils are 10 years old?

Formal education takes place within dazzlingly complex systems and research that reliably predicts cause and effect, will-o-the-wisp like, still eludes the professional and research community. In contrast, the evidence to question and reject an 11-plus style selection system is largely uncontested. The real challenge is to find widespread support for test-based 11-plus selection from either researchers or education professionals.

I do not suggest that the entirely appropriate quest to gather evidence either for or against selection should cease. No, just as researchers and practitioners continue to collect and use evidence to improve practice, so should those who support or reject the notion of 11+ selection continue their quest of evidential support. It’s just that evidence is letting me down.

I’m running out of ways to present evidence to those, who despite the alarming paucity of evidence, continue to support the existing use of the 11-plus and what is now becoming a steady creep to return to a more wide-scale resurgence. Why is the evidence on the inaccuracy of the 11-plus test and the doubtful impact this has on exam outcome continued to be ignored by politicians, local education authority leaders, academy trust ‘CEOs’ and media pundits? To answer this I must return to my search for the perfect sausage roll.

I believe that the time has come to move from a mainly evidenced- informed debate to one that is values-based. I’m not rejecting the syntactic rules provided by evidence, I will continue to use these, but the move to values allows us to consider the semantic thinking behind why I continue to eat sausage rolls and the compelling case against the 11-plus has not been accepted.

Even a cursory nod towards the most basic of human values asks serious moral questions of the 11-plus test supporters. If values are brought into the debate then surely it must be much harder for the supporters of the 11+ to maintain their stance. I offer some values and their associated dilemmas in no particular order.

Honesty: Where is the honesty in a system that refuses to make public how test scores are converted into pass/fail decisions? What honesty is displayed by 11-plus supporters who refuse to look at, or simply ignore, the overwhelming research and professional evidence which can find little or no educational or social value in the 11-plus?

Respect for others: If one of the functions of education is to understand and respond respectfully towards each other, I left bemused how this can be met when large numbers of Year 7 children – who were once classroom peers, now take different routes to school, spend their days in different part of town, in different buildings, with different traditions, studying different curriculum materials, with differentially qualified staff and very often a mis-match in extra-curricular activities.

Equal access to opportunities: The role played by money alone should assuage any 11-plus doubters, when 40% of those who pass their 11-plus have done so with the support of expensive and often year-long private tutoring. Those who claim their tests are tutor proof have their heads in a desert of sand – maybe this is why they have recently gone noticeably quiet?

Opportunities for self-enhancement and excellence: I accept that not all will be able to live out their wildest ambitions but quite how 11-plus supporters can accept this educational cuckoo in the nest defeats me. To make a ‘decision’ at the age of 10 as to a young person’s likely academic (and by association) career trajectory is the stuff of a Hollywood dystopian nightmare B movie.

Surely, none of these values are contentious. I could go on: where is ‘happiness’, ‘health’, ‘freedom’, ‘choice’ or even ‘to be open to new ideas’?

I know the values behind my search for the perfect sausage roll. I make no judgments, I’m just left bemused as to quite what values those who support the 11-plus draw on to justify their cause.

Dr Alan Bainbridge is the Joint Coordinator of the Kent Education Network and member of Comprehensive Future’s Selection Working Party. He currently lectures in higher education having previously taught in Secondary Schools for 20 years. He is writing this article in a personal capacity.


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The new Sevenoaks grammar school not only by-passes the law but costs a fortune for taxpayers in Kent

_86199121_78904785By Joanne Bartley, Chair of Kent Education Network

Last week the Weald of Kent Grammar School in Sevenoaks opened a satellite of the long-established girls’ grammar in Tonbridge. The new school building in Seal Hollow Road, on the site of the former Wildernesse School, brings controversy in its wake. Current legislation forbids the establishment of new selective schools, but the school appears to have avoided legal repercussions by claiming the two school buildings are a single school. Sevenoaks pupils will be bussed once a fortnight to the legally established grammar school in Tonbridge ten miles away. This is apparently intended to demonstrate that the annexe is a part of the original school.

Kent Education Network, of which I am Chair, believes that it is shocking that the local campaigning group have succeeded in circumventing the law by dubious means, and should have used existing democratic processes if they wished to change the law. We believe that it is also wrong that Kent County Council is spending £19 million of council tax payer’s money on this project. Furthermore, there was no formal consultation with residents outside Sevenoaks, yet there are many people of all parties in Kent who do not support selective education and believe that the law banning new grammars should be maintained.

The Conservative government entered the June 2017 election with a manifesto pledge to overturn the ban on new grammar schools. But the policy received widespread criticism, including disapproval from many Tory MPs, and was abandoned shortly after the election.
The Conservative plan to create new grammar schools was clearly a mistake. Indeed, when education secretary, Justine Greening, was challenged to name any education expert who supported the policy, she could not name a single one.

The Royal Society, Britain’s foremost independent scientific academy, says selective school systems cause a negative effect on numbers of science graduates. Head teachers have written countless open letters to explain the benefits of all-ability education, while researchers have shown that results for disadvantaged pupils are far worse in selective counties like Kent. The law against new grammar schools is justified and the law should be respected.

Kent Education Network believes that the new Weald of Kent school is likely to contain more pupils previously educated in independent schools than pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. According to Department for Education statistics, the parent school in Tonbridge contains only five per cent disadvantaged pupils, while non-selective schools in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge average 25 per cent disadvantaged pupils.

At county level, KCC supports a grammar school system, despite widespread evidence that it fails many pupils, especially poorer children. Why expand a system that has so many inherent problems? Wealthier families pay for their children to attend prep schools or private tuition – banned in mainstream schools – then take places in ‘Outstanding’ rated grammar schools, leaving reduced choice of schools for the less well-off.

Selection distorts school systems and gives grammar schools unfair advantages. Kent high schools find it harder to recruit qualified teachers and to provide setting and a range of A levels to brighter pupils. And they are forced to educate children whose ambition is stifled by the result of a test taken at the age of ten. The Sevenoaks annexe is no more than a vanity project for KCC who appear to have no regard for evidence, research or the views of education professionals.

Theresa May hoped to reverse the laws around selective education, but failed because it became clear that legislation would not be approved by the new Parliament. Meanwhile, KCC are ignoring the spirit of the law and have in effect built a new grammar school.

In the light of their cavalier attitude to the use of taxpayers’ money, KEN sent a formal complaint to KCC’s auditors in May 2016, raising the possibility of improper budget use by a local authority. We suggested that funds had been allocated to a Sevenoaks grammar school in the council’s 2015-16 Statement of Accounts, even though new selective schools were illegal at the time. We have asked the council’s auditors to write a report on what we feel was an irritational and politically motivated decision. We await their report and their view of why KCC should have apparently spent public money so recklessly.

This sorry saga teaches children a sharp lesson: that it’s OK to bend the rules if you want something badly enough and need to get around an inconvenient law.

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The new Sevenoaks grammar school bypasses the law and is costing Kent taxpayers millions

Weald_of_Kent_Grammar_School,_Tudeley_Lane_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1234244The Weald of Kent grammar school opened its controversial satellite school in Sevenoaks this week. Legislation forbids new selective schools from opening but the Weald of Kent School has avoided legal repercussions by claiming that the two school buildings – one in Tonbridge, the other in Sevenoaks – are in fact a single grammar school.

Girls based in the Sevenoaks branch of the school will have to travel once a fortnight to the legally approved grammar school in Tonbridge, ten miles away. This condition is intended to prove that the annexe is a part of the original school.

Joanne Bartley, Chair of Kent Education Network said: “I think it is shocking that both the Member of Parliament for Sevenoaks and a vocal group in Sevenoaks sought a dubious way around the law instead of using our democratic process to try to change the law on new grammar schools. It is also wrong of Kent County Council to spend £19 million of council tax payers’ money on this project; one entirely based on a local pressure group with a petition and political motivation. There was no formal consultation with people outside Sevenoaks, yet many people in Kent believe the law should be upheld and do not support selective education.”

The Kent Education Network claims that the Weald of Kent school is likely to contain more pupils previously educated in independent schools than pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Department for Education statistics show that the Weald of Kent grammar school contains only five per cent disadvantaged pupils while, in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, non-selective schools average 25 per cent disadvantaged pupils.

Joanne Bartley went on to say: “Theresa May had hoped to reverse the law banning new grammars but failed because the change would never have passed in the new Parliament after the election. Meanwhile, Kent County Council has ignored the spirit of the law and has effectively built a new grammar school in Sevenoaks.

“The existence of this new grammar annexe teaches children that it’s OK to bend the rules if you want something badly enough and need to get around an inconvenient law.”
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Kent’s 11-plus should be evidence led and transparent

C_AeLdeXYAAB6TAKEN sent a letter to Kent County Council leader, Paul Carter, and Cabinet Member for Education, Roger Gough following the study of Kent 11-plus data by Education Datalab. KEN has not been able to obtain all the information we need in response to our FOI requests, and we hope the council will make more information available to ensure our 11-plus test can be reviewed properly.  We believe that if the people of Kent see how the Kent Test really works, they’ll realise the whole process is illogical and unfair to many vulnerable groups of children.

Dear Kent County Council,

The recent study of the Kent Test by Education Datalab has given us cause for concern. We hope that this research might inspire changes to Kent’s selection test, which has avoided scrutiny for decades. We would like to see an evidence-led and transparent approach to the Kent Test, and with this in mind we would like you to implement the following improvements to Kent’s selection process.

  1. KCC should define exactly what ‘grammar school standard’ means and devise a test to fit this definition.

It is a standard principle in test creation that a clear statement should be made describing the attributes being tested. We would like you to define ‘grammar school standard’ with a logical reason for the attributes described and the selection percentage it involves. It is only by defining this standard that we can check the test is accurately selecting children that fit this description.

2. KCC should release an annual report linking 11-plus scores to the eventual GCSE outcomes of the children who pass and fail and Kent Test.

This will give a clear indication of the accuracy and reliability of the Kent Test. If you are unwilling to produce this report, then anonymised test data linked to pupil’s GCSE results should be made available for researchers to study.

 3. The 11-plus pass rates for vulnerable pupil groups should be reported.

We would like KCC to produce an annual report of the 11-plus pass rates and scores of groups of pupils who may be disadvantaged by the Kent Test including:

  • Disadvantaged pupils.
  • Special Educational Needs pupils.
  • Dyslexic pupils.
  • Non-native English speaking pupils.
  • Pupils attending primary schools with poor Ofsted judgements or results.

If you are unwilling to produce this report then anonymised test data linked to these indicators should be made available for researchers.

  1. Parents should be told the likelihood that their child’s Kent Test results are inaccurate, with information on the misclassification potential of the test.

KCC should ask their commercial test provider to publish full classification accuracy statistics following each admission round. Parents should have a right to request this statistic for their child’s test result.

There are more details about classification accuracy and the probability of pupils being misclassified here.

We hope that you will be willing to help with our requests for greater openness, and look forward to hearing your thoughts on these proposals.

Yours sincerely,

Joanne Bartley,

Chair, Kent Education Network


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The Kent Test is a ‘loaded dice’

C_AeLdeXYAAB6TALeading education researchers, Education Datalab, have described the Kent Test as ‘a loaded dice,’ criticising the arbitrary nature of Kent’s grammar school selection process.

Education Datalab studied four years of 11-plus data obtained by the Kent Education Network  (KEN) through a Freedom of Information request.

Researchers found that a significant proportion of children were likely to be misclassified by the test. Around 8% of those passing the test would have failed if they had dropped a single mark in just one test paper, while one in 10 children judged highly able in primary school SATs tests were not judged suitable for grammar school. The report also showed the impact of tutoring, with disadvantaged pupils obtaining significantly lower test scores, particularly in the reasoning paper.

Joanne Bartley, chair of KEN said, “This research shows that our county’s test is incredibly unreliable, which means our school places are often being divided unfairly. There is not much to tell between many children who fail the Kent Test and many children who pass. If Kent County Council were to publish statistics for the accuracy of the test then parents would be able to judge for themselves whether this test really works.”

The Kent Education Network today sent a letter to Kent County Council based on the findings, asking for four proposals to be considered to ensure an ‘evidence led and transparent’ approach to Kent’s 11-plus test.

The proposals are:

  • KCC should define ‘grammar school standard’ so that the test can be judged for its accuracy in selecting pupils of the described standard.
  • The council should produce an annual report on the Kent Test’s accuracy, created by linking 11-plus scores and GCSE results.
  • The council should monitor and report on test pass rates for groups of pupils with the potential to be disadvantaged by the test, including dyslexic children, children who are not native English speakers, and children in troubled primary schools.
  • Parents should have the right to know the percentage chance of their child being misclassified by the 11-plus.

The Education Datalab researchers explained that tests always misclassify some pupils. The report said: ‘Imagine if, alongside your letter stating whether your child had passed the 11-plus, the assessment companies gave you an additional piece of information – the probability that they have been misclassified by the test. One parent might be told their child had passed, and yet the probability she should have failed was in fact 39%. Another would be told their child has failed, but the probability he should have passed was 47%.’

Bartley said, “The test providers know there is a significant margin for error with their 11-plus test, but parents are never told this fact. There are so many ways the test can be wrong – children may get a higher score if they took the test another day, the pass mark could be set a different way, not to mention the fact that all children develop at different rates.  Many children of broadly similar ability are divided arbitrarily by the test. There is no exact science to the process. To think that less than two hours of multiple choice questions can accurately define children’s future lives is nonsense.”

KEN’s letter claims Kent’s selection test has been, ‘an evidence free zone for decades.’ The campaigners ask for the Education Datalab report to be a catalyst for Kent County Council to improve the test process.

Bartley said, “If our council believe the Kent Test works as they claim it does, then they should provide evidence to prove it.”

The full report by Education Datalab can be found here. 

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Department for Education ordered to release Weald of Kent School annexe plan

In October 2015, the Weald of Kent grammar school in Tonbridge was granted permission by the Secretary of State for Education to open an annexe at a site around nine miles away in Sevenoaks. It was a controversial ruling because new grammar schools are currently banned by law, and so the school had to prove that it was operating as one school not two.

In January of this year the Kent Education Network used a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to see the proposal for the expansion, but we were refused. However, an appeal to the information regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has led to a ruling that the government must release the school’s plans to the group.

ICO senior case officer, Alun Johnson, acknowledged releasing the application would help: “to reassure the public it is an appropriate expansion”, and would also help groups planning similar expansions.

This ruling made it clear that the secrecy surrounding this expansion was unnecessary. The Information Commissioner’s Office said that the public interest is served by making this proposal available, and we agree.

Kent County Council is using £20 million of public money to build this “annexe” and many people feel a nine mile gap between buildings makes this two schools, with effectively a new grammar school being built to bypass the law.

In this proposal, the school explains token efforts to merge the two sites into one ‘school’ but this mainly involves Sevenoaks girls spending one half day a week doing PE in Tonbridge. The proposal is also very vague about the results of consultations, and we feel they should have presented the true numbers from all consultations in the document they sent to the Education secretary.

KEN also submitted FOI requests to see the results of the school’s consultations, but these have not all been forthcoming. We made an appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office when a consultation result was claimed to be lost by the Weald of Kent school.

In 2013, Weald of Kent put forward a plan for a mixed-sex annexe in Sevenoaks and in one of four questions they asked the public ‘Do you support the Weald of Kent Grammar School Trust proposal to open an Annexe in Sevenoaks?’ The school provided the group with results of other questions in the consultation, but claimed to have lost the results for this key question.

The Information Commissioner’s Office this week gave a ruling on this matter, and accepted the school’s answer that this result was not recorded in writing or given to school governors in any meeting. The school claim that the consultation results have since been destroyed in line with their data protection policy.

KEN believes that that a later consultation described in the school’s proposal is also misleading. A consultation in September 2014 asked parents whether they supported expansion to a single sex annexe in Sevenoaks, but only 106 parents responded, the results showing only a small minority in favour of the annexe. To the question: ‘Do you support the Weald of Kent Grammar School Trust proposal to open an Annexe in Sevenoaks?’, just 59 parents said Yes and 46 said No.

There is clearly support for this annexe in Sevenoaks, but we feel that the Weald of Kent did not take enough care to seek the views of parents with children at the school when they proposed the annexe again in 2014.

We feel that the school felt under pressure by KCC who were keen to see a grammar in Sevenoaks; or even by politicians who wished to test the waters with a grammar school built without changing the law? Is it not odd that so few parents responded to the consultation? And is it not surprising that the school went ahead when the result of the survey was inconclusive?

Now that we can see how the consultation was presented in this document, we feel that the Secretary for State must have read the school’s proposal and thought the consultations overwhelmingly positive. However, this was not the case because there were issues with the school’s consultation in both 2013 and 2014.

The annexe in Sevenoaks is a landmark case because it’s the first selective school to expand in this way. Now that the May government is pledging £50 million a year to expand existing grammar schools, it is likely that more annexe schools will be built.

It is our hope that the ruling by the ICO means that future plans will be available for public scrutiny and that future consultations will be thorough with the results reported to parents.”

Weald of Kent grammar school annexe decision notice can be seen here.

Joanne Bartley, Chair, Kent Education Network

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Thoughts on the government’s plans for new grammar schools

An article by Phil Karnavas, Executive Principal of The Canterbury Academy

Given the confusion and division, in cabinet and the country, caused by the challenges of  ‘Brexit’ it now seems that the grammar school announcement was a knee jerk reaction to win over elements of the populist right and an attempt by our new Prime Minister to  distance herself from her predecessor’s public school ‘chumocracy’.  Thus, was a policy born !

In a confusion of assertion for argument, and opinion for evidence, we are gifted an ill-conceived idea that seems rooted in the personal experiences of leading figures in government rather than a carefully thought through education strategy.

Years of change have led to a school system which is atomised and incoherent; accountability measures which appear incomprehensible; a monitoring system which is punitive; a crisis in staff recruitment which is intensifying; a curriculum which is increasingly restricted; the recognition of success based almost exclusively upon narrowing academic achievement; and, education provision that favours some groups over others in which, and as always, the children who are the more vulnerable are the most vulnerable.

This situation is now to be made much, much worse by allowing new grammar schools – a suggestion which, at a stroke, reduces the pledge of  ‘one nation’ based upon social justice that ‘works for everyone’ to rubble. We are told more grammar schools will ‘turbo charge social mobility’, – a sound bite as vacuous as ‘drain the swamp’, ‘take back control’ or ‘build a wall’.

At a time of cuts across the public sector, including education, millions have just been allocated to this policy despite the fact  that it was still being consulted on. This  consultation was so rigged with the use of leading questions and misleading statistics (it was actually criticised by The UK Statistics Authority) it would embarrass  ‘The Ministry of Truth’.

It is true that grammar schools get good academic outcomes but that is because they select those children at age 11 who are going to get good academic outcomes. Grammar schools do well not because of what they do but because of who they get.  Good intentions will not prevent, and no amount of spin will disguise, the reality that grammar schools will not admit proportionate numbers of children with free school meals, Special Education Needs, English as an Additional Language or from families that are ‘just about managing’.

Grammar schools will not turbo charge social mobility, they will reinforce social division.  Grammar schools are, to quote a phrase, ‘ stuffed full of middle class kids’ and we should also recognise the uncomfortable whiff of social snobbery coming from some champions of selection. The cottage industry of fee paying private crammer schools and private tutoring evidences the fact that parental affluence is, and I suggest will always be, a significant determinant of access to grammar school aged 11.

As long as education is a competition between schools in which schools are judged only by academic outcomes, the success of the few will be built upon the failure of the many. If insanity is, as Einstein opined, repeating the same things and expecting a different outcome then this policy is lunacy. Why does anyone think that recreating a model which was not fit for purpose in the mid-20th century will prepare our children, and our country, for the mid-21st?

For every new grammar school created there will be three secondary moderns. It is patent nonsense to suggest that the country will create ‘schools that work for everyone’ by restoring a model of educational apartheid in which the minority of schools will take the majority of the academically able and be deemed to succeed, whilst the majority of schools will be denied them and be destined to fail.


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Survey shows head teachers are against selection and grammars

The Kent Education Network (KEN), assisted by think tank LKMco, surveyed head teachers in the three largest fully selective local authorities in England: Kent, Buckinghamshire & Lincolnshire. The survey highlights widespread dissatisfaction with the grammar school system, with 71 per cent of respondents preferring comprehensive schooling to a selective system.

Among the problems highlighted by heads were the increasing use of test tutoring to win grammar school places; the stress that children suffer due to the pressure of the 11+ test; and the impact on children’s self-esteem and future ambition.  Head teachers also expressed concern about the impact of grammars on surrounding schools. A ‘secondary modern’ effect was described, alongside concerns that non-grammars in selective areas discourage academic aspirations and are perceived as lesser schools.

Joanne Bartley, chair of KEN, said: “As the government seems intent on expanding grammar schools, we thought it useful to survey head teachers in selective areas to seek their experiences of working under a selective system. These heads know how the 11+ impacts their pupils and have their own insights into the ways secondary schools are changed by the presence of grammar schools.

“I was particularly struck by the mention of pressure and tears around the 11+, while at the same time head teachers observe that the test itself has problems. I feel children trust their schools, and trust us as adults, but we are deciding their suitability for schools based on a test that is itself seriously flawed. The heads also suggest that the age of taking the test is inappropriate, while it appears that the most vulnerable pupils find the test significantly harder to pass.”

Sam Baars, Director of Research at LKMco, said, “LKMco feel strongly that an expansion of grammar schools is not the way to support the achievement of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. While grammars do support a very small number of disadvantaged pupils to do well, the evidence remains clear: they have a negative impact on the vast majority of disadvantaged young people who don’t take, or pass, the 11 plus.

We are delighted to have been able to support the Kent Education Network’s research, which shows that even teachers in selective areas are broadly sceptical about the benefits of grammar schools and their capacity to make our education system fairer. We hope this research will help to encourage greater scrutiny of the government’s proposals.”

Key survey findings about 11+ problems

  • 78 per cent of heads believe that the age of ten or eleven is an inappropriate age to judge children’s ability;
  • 59 per cent of heads think that failing the 11 plus impacts upon a pupil’s ambition or aspiration;
  • 92 per cent of heads believe that failure can impact negatively on a child’s self-esteem;
  • 96 per cent of respondents believe that test tutoring has a significant impact on pass rates.

Heads were invited to submit comments anonymously and many expressed worries about the test process. One head said: “The pressure to pass the 11+ from parents when pupils are in year 4 and 5 is causing a huge amount of anxiety in young pupils. Some children who could do very well at a grammar school in terms of ability are denied the opportunity due to the stress and pressure of completing the test. Many pupils mature and grow in year 6 following the test.”

Another head teacher claimed that: “The selection process can be soul-destroying for children.”

One head described how their school was expected to respond to the 11+. “As a primary school, we have many families who believe that our sole purpose is to get their children through the 11+… Failing the test has social implications – particularly in middle class and aspirational families. Some children are tutored for two years before their 11+ and placed under enormous pressure by their friends and family.” 

The emotional impact of the 11+ was highlighted by many school leaders: “Parents discuss the 11+ throughout their child’s time at primary school. The pressure on children is immense and seeing the tears and stress of these children reveals how damaging the system can be.”

One secondary school head said, “The culture of some children being superior to others at the age of eleven is horrific. It damages the students and we spend the first three years rebuilding their self-esteem. It damages communities with ‘us and them’ attitudes, and it damages the profession:  teachers want to work with all abilities – or at least great teachers should do.”

KEN asked heads if any specific groups of pupils were disadvantaged by living in a grammar school area. They said that children from low income families, dyslexic children and those with Special Educational Needs were most disadvantaged.

Key findings about pupil groups disadvantaged by the 11+

  • 80 per cent of heads feel children from low income families are disadvantaged by the 11+;
  • 78 per cent of heads feel dyslexic children are disadvantaged by the 11+;
  • 79 per cent of heads feel Special Educational Needs (SEN) pupils are disadvantaged by the 11+;
  • 71 per cent of heads believe pupils who speak English as an additional language (EAL) are disadvantaged by the 11+.

One head said: “Grammar schools clearly take fewer children from vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. They encourage tutoring to “pass” a selection test which more wealthy parents can afford; they therefore discriminate against lower income families, regardless of ability. Grammar schools teach a minority of where they are situated.”

Another said, “It penalises children from disadvantaged families who can’t afford tutors or who pass but then can’t afford the travel to school.”

The impact of the test on the balance of pupils in non-selective schools was also mentioned in the comments: “Huge numbers of SEN and children with challenging behaviour attend the non-selective schools and this has an impact on all children within their schools.”

KEN sought the heads views on how grammar schools impact the surrounding schools:

Key findings about the impact of grammar schools on other local schools

  • 79 per cent of heads feel parents hold grammar schools in higher regard than other local schools;
  • 57 per cent of heads state that staff recruitment is a problem in non-selective schools in grammar areas;
  • 83 per cent of heads agree that non-selective schools in grammar areas manage higher proportions of Special Educational Needs pupils as well as children who do not speak English as a first language;
  • 32 per cent of heads think non-selective schools in selective areas offered less traditionally academic subject choices and/or sixth form options;
  • 47 per cent of heads feel a child in a comprehensive school was more likely to reach university than a child of similar ability in a non-selective school in a grammar school area.

One head commented: “Children don’t value their non-selective school as they are only there because they failed, rather than by choice.”  Another said: “Children in non-selective schools can feel second best. The existence of selection creates a social divide between communities.”

One head worried about the lack of ambition potentially caused by divided schools: “It removes breadth of ability across all schools; this lowers the aspirations of non-selective pupils.”

Our survey also sought head’s views on the government’s plan to expand grammar schools.

Key findings on plans to expand grammar schools

  • 69 per cent of heads do not believe new grammar schools should be permitted, while 20 per cent support grammar school expansion;
  • 51 per cent believe grammar schools impact negatively on social mobility in their area;
  • 45 per cent agree that grammar schools should adopt fair access strategies such as prioritising, or setting aside places, for pupils of lower household income;
  • 42 per cent of heads disagree with the idea that grammar schools can successfully create non-selective school places, with 25% of heads unsure.

The idea of expanding grammar schools was criticised by a few heads. One said: “It would be a tragedy for education to extend selection, which has been the blight of state education in Kent.” Another said: ““There are no advantages to grammar schools – they are a privilege for the privileged.”

Dr Michael Collins, KEN’s head of research, said: “We hope the results of this survey will assist the current debate about the possible expansion of grammar schools. It is clear that the teaching profession sees little benefit in an 11+ system. We hope politicians will listen to advice from experts rather than expanding the use of a pseudo-scientific selection test that clearly gives a greater chance of a pass to the wealthy and educationally advantaged.”

The full survey report is available on the Kent Education Network here:


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While Kent County Council forbids state schools from practising for the Kent Test, it ignores the fact that most independent prep schools openly admit to coaching for the test

KCC sends junior schools in Kent a clear instruction: “Coaching is not required or permitted. If we receive evidence that a school is coaching, we reserve the right to ‘unlink’ it from the 11 plus process and no longer to send test materials to the premises.”

Despite this instruction, private schools openly advertise their successes in coaching for the Kent Test; yet KCC has never taken action to stop the practice.

Kent Education Network has approached 18 independent primary schools to ask what level of coaching for the Kent Test was offered in each school. Of the ten schools that responded, only one, Chartfield School in Westgate-On-Sea, pointed out that 11 plus coaching was not allowed in any school, saying that the practice was “not ethical.”

The majority of schools admitted to 11 plus coaching, with some, like St Lawrence College Junior School, even boasting on its web site that: “Thorough preparation for the Kent Test is a significant priority at SLCJS. In Years 4 and 5, TLS lessons concentrate to a greater extent on the Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning skills that candidates need to polish in readiness for the Kent Test.”

Kent Education Network believes that the significant amount of time prep schools spend on coaching pupils is not only unfair, it undermines any notion of social mobility. A study of the results for schools which admitted to coaching, showed that these schools were achieving 90 -100 per cent success rates at sending pupils to grammar schools. While the 11 plus pass rate in state schools which do not coach is generally between 25 – 45 per cent.

Dr.Michael Collins, KEN’s head of research, said: “State primary schools stick to the council’s rule and no child is prepared for the test, while prep schools appear to think they can do what they like and ignore the rules. KCC recently undertook a four-month study of grammar schools by a commission appointed to examine ways of increasing social mobility

“The commission failed to consider that around 14 per cent of grammar school places are given to children from prep schools; it’s clear that coaching is denying grammar school places to children from poorer families. We believe that KCC should act immediately to ban any prep school that undertakes coaching from entering pupils the Kent Test. There should not be one rule for parents who pay for education, and another rule for parents who cannot afford it.”

Kent Education Network have presented Kent County Council with their evidence and will raise the matter with the Office of the School Adjudicator if no action is taken.


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