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One in five students gain place at grammar school through head teacher assessment after 11+ fail

More than 20% of Kent pupils are getting into grammar schools after failing the 11-plus exam, according to newly released figures.

Pupils are gaining entry to the selective system via head teacher assessments (HTAs).

Education expert Peter Read
Education expert Peter Read

The number of children getting the qualification to get a grammar place was up against the target for entry in September 2024.

HTAs are awarded by a panel of heads who analyse overall academic ability and possible reasons for under-performance.

Kent education expert Peter Read is in favour of the HTA system as it catches those able pupils who might fail the 11-plus on the day.

The figures he has published came as a result of requests made under Freedom of Information legislation.

Mr Read said the percentage of Kent children found to be of grammar school ability for entry in September 2024 by the Kent selection process (Kent Test combined with HTAs) was 26% against a target of 25%, comprising 26.5% of the cohort of boys and 25.5% for girls.

The target is also set to select 21% of candidates by the Kent Test and the rest through the 11-plus.

A fifth of grammar school students did not take the 11-plus. Stock image
A fifth of grammar school students did not take the 11-plus. Stock image

More boys than girls (456) passed the 11-plus.

Mr Read added: “This means that over a fifth of Kent children selected for grammar school are there following an assessment of their work and achievements with limited regard to their test performance, a proportion I find very positive if one is to have a selective system of schools.”

The former headmaster said a straightforward pass is sufficient for entrance to the majority of Kent grammar schools, apart from seven which require higher marks for all or most of their entrants.

The required points for Dartford Boys and Girls, Judd and Tonbridge vary according to demand each year, whilst for Maidstone, Skinners and Simon Langton Boys, there is a set total score to be achieved by some or all boys.

Further places are awarded on appeal for those who failed.

More girls than boys passed the 11-plus. Picture: Thinkstock
More girls than boys passed the 11-plus. Picture: Thinkstock

The eight primaries schools with the highest pass rates were: Dartford Bridge 67%; Sheldwich, Swale, 62%; Claremont, Tunbridge Wells, 60%; Amherst, Sevenoaks, 59%; St Joseph’s Catholic, Gravesham, 57%; Holy Trinity CofE, Thanet and St Bartholomew’s Catholic, Sevenoaks, 54%; and Ethelbert Road, Swale, 53%.

Tunbridge Wells with 33% success tops the district list, followed by Sevenoaks and Dartford (31%) while Dover and Folkestone & Hythe sit at the bottom with 17% and 16% respectively.

Mr Read added: “Understandably, many parents are interested in identifying the primary schools which have the greatest success rates in the Kent selection process, and I have been regularly asked about these.

“Any list is fraught with difficulty as children’s success rates will depend more on the number of pupils with the requisite abilities which will vary year on year, the prosperity of the location, and often on private tutoring arrangements, than in-school support.

“Indeed, KCC rules make it quite clear that schools may not teach to support Kent Test performance, a rule which is broadly enforced in state schools, although many use devices to get around this.

Simon Webb
Simon Webb

“Despite claims to the contrary, there is no regulation of private schools in this matter, some of whom exist primarily for the purpose of helping children get to grammar school.”

But Simon Webb, former Principal Primary Adviser for Kent state schools, said that hiring tutors is pointless.

He added: “It’s quite simple – either a child has the ability to pass the 11-plus or they don’t.

“A child who has been tutored makes little difference to the scores in testing. While you can fine-tune a child in taking the test – what they cannot do is add ability to a child.

“I can see why it’s happening but I don’t see what difference it will make – I think the parents are wasting their money.”

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