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Kent Test in danger of 'splintering' as schools set own exams says ex-Gravesend Grammar School head

The Kent Test is in danger of 'splintering' according to one former grammar school head teacher as more selectives introduce their own entrance exams.

Thousands of children across Kent will sit the 11-plus exam today with the Medway Test taking place in just under two weeks.

Securing the pass score will see the Year 6 pupils deemed suitable for a grammar school place starting next September.

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But Peter Read, an education adviser and former Gravesend Grammar School head, says simply securing the required mark is no longer enough for a growing number of selectives.

He said: “What we have is 32 grammars in the county with more than a third no longer using a pass in the Kent Test as their sole or majority selection process.

“Six offer local tests – the grammars in Dover and Folkestone, Mayfield in Gravesend and Highsted in Sittingbourne.

School stock image
School stock image

“Two, Maidstone Grammar and Simon Langton Boys in Canterbury are partially super-selective; they give priority to those who achieve a certain score across a wider geographical area.

“The two Dartford Grammars give half of their places to high scorers no matter where they live, and then there are three that give absolute priority to high scorers, the Judd and Tonbridge Grammar and Skinners in Tunbridge Wells.

“I think that’s significant. It’s been increasing year-on-year and I think there will be others.

"What we have is 32 grammars in the county with more than a third no longer using a pass in the Kent Test as their sole or majority selection process" - Peter Read

"I can think of schools that are not that popular who will want to increase their numbers and I think they’ll go for their own tests.”

Mr Read, who operates the popular kentadvice.co.uk website, says in the case of the Dover and Folkestone area tests, it is actually delivering results when it comes to grammar schools’ long term claim to enhance social mobility.

He adds: “Lots more socially deprived families are getting children into grammars in those areas which is a good thing.”

Despite efforts to tighten up both the Kent and Medway tests in recent years in order to make them more challenging to prepare for, tutors say the demand for their services is still as high as ever.

James Goldsmith, a member of the Tutors’ Association, who runs Eleven-Plus Tutors, explains: “There has been no loss of demand at all – it’s made no difference.

“It’s like saying to a parent not to help their child pass their GCSEs. It’s just ridiculous. Who is not going to help their child?”

In addition, Kent’s selective system continues to prove hugely attractive to those living outside the Kent and Medway areas.

And not only does that put pressure on areas close to our county’s borders – north and west Kent in particular – it comes at a huge cost. It is thought to cost the local authority tens of thousands of pounds to stage and process the thousands of applications.

Last year 15,900 children out of county (OOC) sat the test and that figure is expected to rise this year.

Around 1,000 register but then don’t show up for the exam. Test centres as far east as Canterbury and Thanet are having to be used this year. In Medway, around 1,500 enter – with around half from Kent schools.

A spokesman for KCC said: “In these austere times we would of course like to see reductions in expenditure but we have a legal obligation to meet demand, grammar schools are a very popular choice among parents and they are legally entitled to apply for any school they wish.

“We remind them there is a limited likelihood of OOC pupils securing a place in a Kent grammar school given the admissions criteria of most schools.”

But these are just the tip of a controversial iceberg caused by the tests. Many believe they instil a sense of failure on those missing out and insist we should return to a comprehensive system.

The debate will rage on. The exam results for both the Kent and Medway tests will be made available to parents in October.

Note: The sample questions are not necessarily the same question types that appear in the test itself. Source: Kent County Council/GL Assessment’s Kent Test Familiarisation Booklet 2018.

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