The Kent Test is a failure based on a lie

The Kent Test is a failure based on a lie, argues Dave Wilson

This Thursday is Kent Test day, the annual ritualised tormenting of small children by educationalists who really should know better.

Because, let us be clear, the Kent Test is a failure.

Like the similar tests run in only Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Medway, it claims to both improve educational attainment and improve social mobility.

It does nothing of the sort. Instead, it has the effect of designating around 70% of 10-year-olds as “failures” and creams off the remaining 30% into a segregated and better funded set of schools, allowing its supporters to make spurious claims.

For example, it is said that where there are grammars, 96% of their pupils obtain the top three grades at GCSE, as against 50% of comprehensives.

Now you might think that the smart people who run grammar schools would understand statistical analysis, but apparently not.

Because firstly, if you remove the supposedly most able pupils into a separate grammar school system, what remains for the others cannot be a “comprehensive” school system, since by definition a comprehensive system includes pupils of all abilities. And obviously taking the best kids away from the remaining schools automatically suppresses their average attainment.

That’s before thinking about how the preferential funding grammars get, and their supposed cachet, allows them to employ and retain the best teachers, provide the best equipment and avoid most of the requirement to provide education to children with special needs or with English as a second language, all of which falls on the remaining secondary schools.

In any case, the test is based on a lie: that it aims to select the brightest pupils. Actually, it is an admission test which aims to assess pupils’ academic potential to pass GCSEs. Which is not, with the best will in the world, the same thing at all.

All this might explain why of more than 3,000 secondary schools in the UK only 164 are grammars, including a number of fee-paying schools. Those numbers alone are hardly an endorsement of the system.

So why is Kent hanging on to this discredited relic of a system?

The answer isn’t, for a change, political ideology. Plenty of Conservatives across the country, including in Kent, are opposed to grammar schools. Otherwise, of course, the system would have been re-instated in all the counties and cities run by Conservative councils – at least before the establishment of the academy system to replace local education authorities.

So the people who actually endorse this annual stress test of our county’s 10 year olds really come in three categories.

Firstly, there those groups who benefit financially from the system – headteachers and the company which runs the test, GL Education. Heads gain by being able to boost their salaries and rewards, as well as their kudos, and GL Education obviously gets paid to run the test.

Then we have parents. I’m sure few of them actually enjoy putting their kids through the torment not only of the exam but of the practice and preparation, and the five weeks of stress after the exam before they get the results. But parents, of course, want the best for their children. And if they believe the misleading claims of benefit made for the Kent Test, and in any case know that there is no immediate way of avoiding it, then most elect to enter their children. In essence, parents in Kent are manipulated into accepting the test because it is a fait accompli in the short term, and because the grammar schools tell them it’s best for the children.

Finally, we have those who are neither paid by the system nor have children going through it. This group can only be driven by nostalgia and emotion, since there is almost no worthwhile evidence to support the idea that grammars provide an overall benefit for society. 

On the contrary, all the empirical evidence and analysis suggest that as a whole we are worse off. So these cheerleaders for a divisive selection system are, I assume, hankering after their own schooldays.

But why we should have a system imposed on us which is ineffective, expensive, derided by peers and specialists across the country, and places ridiculous strain on 10-years-olds without actually improving their personal life chances or those of their age group as a whole is unclear.

Kent and its schools need to dump the test, as soon as possible.


  1. The cheating that occurs by private schools to get pupils through the test has been exposed. The system is the get out of school fees for parents that can afford to pay if they want their children to continue to be segregated educationally. The grammar schools are full of these children.

  2. One, having a potentially life-changing exam in the first week back after a six-week break is insane. Two, those children whose parents can afford/want to pay for private tutoring have a ridiculous advantage. Three, as Dave nearly said, how can it be right for 70-80% of children to be effectively told that they are second-class? And I speak as someone who passed the old 11-plus and went to a grammar school.

  3. In a world where we see our children facing the highest rates of mental illness and are trying to encourage diversity and equal opportunity and ban discrimination why does the Kent Test still exist? Children whose parents can afford tutoring and go to schools who are prepared to cheat the system are unfairly advantaged. I would love to know the number of children that passed who were not tutored or whose school didn’t practice previous years papers. This is a test of financial status and designed to segregate our children at a young age. I cannot believe that such a system exists. We torture our children and push them beyond naturally healthy stress levels, what are we doing?
    Get rid of it. Without Grammar Schools we could send all children to their local school where they could experience excellent teaching standards, regardless of ability (or wealth) and flourish.
    Either that or let the schools decide who goes without the need of that awful test.
    I think there should be a petition to ban it. Let’s nurture our children and encourage them and stop such a classist, antiquated system.

  4. I am all for the kent test. All my children passed and they went on to have an excellent education at a grammar school without being held back by those children not as intelligent as them.
    My wife and I paid for a tutor for each child. We have plenty of money so were able to provide advantage to our children. This happens throughout life and it makes for an ordered society.


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