Kent Test blues

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We are at the time of year when Canterbury parents and children in Year 6 of primary school are anxiously awaiting Kent Test results. But we already know the result. 20 per cent of children will be told they have ‘passed’ and have a gleaming academic future at an elite school while the rest will effectively be told that they have ‘failed’, at age 10 or 11 and have a less academic future.

Except this is nonsense.

Most of the 80 percent will go on to do GCSEs and over half will go to university. Selection is then pointless but still a damaging form of educational apartheid.

This was recognised long ago, before education became a party-political punch ball. The Conservative Government in the late 1950s realised that selective education was not meeting the needs of a growing knowledge-based economy so they initiated the development of comprehensive schools and planned the rapid expansion in universities that came to fruition in the 1960s – policies continued by the Labour Governments of the 1960s and 70s.

It is just unfortunate for the 80 percent that Kent held onto the old ways, as if it were the land time forgot. Although most of the 80 percent will go on to GCSEs and A levels, in the few Local Authorities in England and Wales that retained a countywide 11+ overall GCSE results are lower on average than the country as a whole.  

So, the system does not work for the majority of pupils in Canterbury. Further, there is no educational or development reason why children should be selected at aged 10 or 11 as opposed to any other age, or at all. The Year 6 cliff edge arose out of convenience when the Education Act 1921 extended the school leaving age from 12 to 14 and created a framework for continuing education for some children up to 16 or 18.

Not only is selection pointless from an educational and developmental point of view but it is also profoundly unfair. Parents who can afford to hire tutors to cram children during the summer in preparation (generating considerable levels of stress and anxiety – as if there wasn’t enough of this already) are at a huge advantage over those who cannot afford tutorial services.

The Kent Test is not then an objective selector of ‘intelligence’ but a means of perpetuating and reinforcing social class divisions. The tests themselves measure nothing but the ability to perform certain mechanical tasks in a short time period. They reveal nothing about a child’s capacity for abstract thinking, creativity, flexible lateral thinking and the kinds of skills required in real world situations and their future education.

The Test runs the kind of exercises (like non-verbal reasoning) that might pass time on a rainy afternoon, but are absurd to use as the basis of determining a child’s future life chances. What is surprising is that, since this is a system that does not work for the majority of children and parents, there is not more groundswell to change it. Those interested in change might want to get involved in the Comprehensive Future, a campaign group to end grammar schools.

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