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Canterbury woman who failed Kent test went on to study at Cambridge

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As thousands of nervous schoolchildren sit down to take the Kent Test today, one young woman who failed the controversial exam has revealed how she refused to be defined by it.

Harriet Seager-Fleming burst into tears after learning she had failed the 11-plus.

Harriet Seager-Fleming achieved a First Class Hnours Degree from Cambridge
Harriet Seager-Fleming achieved a First Class Hnours Degree from Cambridge

She'd had her sights set on going to a grammar school, but her dreams were now in tatters

To add insult to injury, her parents went through the appeals process but were told Harriet wouldn't cope with the academic demands of a grammar school.

Fast forward 12 years, and Harriet is now studying law with a top London firm, having achieved a First Class Honours degree from the prestigious Cambridge University.

She says her success is proof that the Kent Test does not, and should not, define a child's life.

"I was distraught at first when I failed the test and quite tearful," said Harriet, now 23.

King's College, Cambridge
King's College, Cambridge

"Even when my parents appealed, the chairman of the panel told them I wouldn't cope with the demands of a grammar school education.

"It just made me even more determined to succeed and prove them wrong."

Harriet, from Bekesbourne, near Canterbury , took the test while at Wincheap Primary School, on the outskirts of the city.

She had hoped to go to the city's Simon Langton Girls' Grammar, but was instead offered a place at a comprehensive school in Deal - 16 miles from her home.

Fortunately, her parents managed to secure Harriet a place at Canterbury's St Anselm's Roman Catholic School.

"Comprehensive schools are great for all abilities and people from all walks of life..."

Despite not making the grammar grade, she says her ability and determination was encouraged by teachers.

She also combined her studies with her love of dance and singing, appearing on stage in numerous productions.

"Looking back," she says, "I don't think I would have worked as hard or been as determined if I had gone to a grammar school.

"Comprehensive schools are great for all abilities and people from all walks of life."

After securing a raft of top GCSE results, Harriet moved to the sixth form at the nearby Simon Langton Boys Grammar.

Harriet Seager-Fleming aged 11
Harriet Seager-Fleming aged 11

There she gained three A* grades in history, politics and philosophy - plus the equivalent in an extended project question - earning her a place at Cambridge University.

She admits the entry process was especially demanding and nerve-racking, with another test and three interviews to pass to secure her place.

"For some reason, from quite a young age I was fascinated by Oxbridge and dreamed of one day getting a place," she said.

Harriet's drive to succeed continued, and she worked hard to earn a First Class Honours degree in philosophy and theology.

"I was so happy," she says. "Being in an environment like Cambridge, you never expect to come top, but I did."

With her Kent Test failure proving no barrier to Harriet achieving that success, she questions its effectiveness as a measure of a child's educational ability.

"I don't think a one-off test is necessarily the best way to determine where a child goes to school," she said.

"They may perform badly on the day, or really feel the pressure, as I remember I did. It's a lot of pressure to put on an 11-year-old. I think there has to be a more rounded approach - not just one test on one day."

Harriet's proud parents - chartered surveyor James and primary school head teacher Hester - also believe the Kent Test is "only a snapshot" of a child's true ability.

"I don't think a one-off test is necessarily the best way to determine where a child goes to school"

"We expected Hattie to pass so there were a lot of tears when she didn't," said James. "When the appeals panel chairman also wrote her off, it just seemed to spur her to try even harder.

"She is proof that you can fail the Kent test, attend a comprehensive school and still get a First Class degree from Cambridge University.

"To every child that fails the test, I would say this does not need to be a barrier to achieving your dreams. If a child is given the opportunity and wants to work hard enough then our education system will provide the opportunity to fulfil their potential even to the highest level.

"We should be proud of all our schools, but we should keep in mind that the family is also core to child’s development. Working together, family and schools, can bring out the very best in a child.

"Our daughter wanted to prove herself and refused to be defined by that one test result - I dare say that failing the Kent Test is what drove her to work so hard."

With two more years of study ahead of her, a lucrative career in corporate law now awaits Harriet, who has aspirations of one day being a partner in a top firm.

Her success has certainly silenced those who doubted her 12 years ago. Asked what she would say to the man who once said she wouldn't cut it at a grammar school, Harriet admits the thought has crossed her mind.

"I did actually think about him when I got my uni results," she said. "I'd tell him, politely, that people in positions like his shouldn't put limitations on others when they are so young.

"They don't take into account the impact something like that can have on an 11-year-old. But in my case it actually made me want to prove him wrong, and luckily I did."

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