‘To Infinity and beyond’ the problems of Kent’s post 16 education

choicestop14_1 copyMy daughter is in Year 11 at our local school, Community College Whitstable. She will take her GCSEs this year and is working incredible hard with her revision. She is predicted to get mostly As.

She was judged ‘not suitable for a grammar school education’ in the Kent Test and I still don’t know what this means. It seems Kent’s 11-plus test tries to judge academic potential, but takes no account of something as important to attainment as a hard working attitude.

These days all children must stay in education until they are 18, and in Kent our 15 year olds are directed to find information at the council’s ‘Kent Choices 4 U’ education portal. My first reaction was to write to the council to and ask them to change the program’s name. I don’t want to encourage our county’s school leaver’s to write, ‘I am applying 4 this job with U.’

When I’d got over the name I looked at the site and discussed school options with my daughter. If she stays at her current school there are four pathways available at sixth form which range from ‘Insight’ which offers GCSE resits, to ‘Inspire’ and ‘Intuition’ which offer BTEC qualifications, the top level is ‘Infinity’ which offers 2 A Levels and a BTEC.

But I want ‘Infinity and beyond’ for my daughter… The A level choices at her  current school are limited, just 4 academic subjects are offered, Psychology, Sociology, History and English. There’s no Maths, no English Literature and no languages. The other A level choices are subjects like Textiles and Photography.

So it is clear my daughter needs to move school next year. The school will not be pushing her enough if they give her just 2 A levels. Her university prospects will be reduced by choosing from this limited subject range.

I am interested in the differences between secondary education in selective Kent and other counties. I do try to be open minded about selective education, but I grew up with comprehensive education and feel positively about it. The three secondary school comprehensives I encountered in my youth each offered a sixth form with an academic A level curriculum. I checked these schools today, and they still do. My daughter would have an easier life in comprehensive Yorkshire.

It is certainly the case that the majority of children at CCW will be fine with the options on offer, the assumption is that the Kent Test gets things right. I guess children judged ‘not academic’ don’t need schools to push them towards A level and a university path at 16.

But I worry that it’s not working.  Nationally 49% of children go to university, but Kent is only sending 20 – 25% of children to its academic grammar schools. How are the rest of the children reaching university? I hope it is not via a path as tortuous as the one my daughter is now experiencing.

The old fashioned ideal of grammar schools is based on university being the aim of the academic minority; but these days most parents aspire to a university education for their children. Don’t we want the same opportunities for all? In Kent we try to judge a university future  for each child at age eleven.

The obvious option for any child is to stay in their current school sixth form. But due to the divide of pupils in Kent we have academic sixth forms at grammar schools, and mostly vocational sixth forms at non-selective schools. I’m concerned that many children go to non-selective schools based on parental preference and don’t try for grammar school at all, so their university chances are limited by their parents choice. Also many children develop later, like my daughter, and need an academic syllabus at 16 but find their school doesn’t offer one. I am sure many children will simply stay at their current school because it is easy to do so. So I feel many children will not be getting the opportunities they need to reach university.

DfE League TablesI love a good statistic or two, and the DfE performance tables offer sortable data on every aspect of every school. There’s even a filter for admission policy so it’s easy to compare ‘selective’ and ‘non-selective’ schools in Kent. So I will have a look at post-16 education in our county. I will try to find out:

Are Kent’s A level results better or worse than the national average?

Is Kent sending as many children to university as the national average?

Is Kent entering as many children for A levels as the rest of the country?

Is Kent’s sorting it’s children correctly? The DfE data lists High Attainers in each school based on ‘Pupils assessed as being above level 4 at the end of key Stage 4.’ I can check the percentage of above average ability children who are not attending Kent grammar schools.

How many children from non-selective schools enter grammar school at 16? (I made a FOI request.)

How many children from non-selective schools try to get entry to grammar schools at 16 but don’t get places?

Is Kent better or worse for post 16 education for its disadvantaged children? (I think this is relevant because we know these children are rarely attending grammar  schools.

I think a selective education system can be justified if it is working well for all its children. I know it hasn’t worked for my daughter. She will be moving to the third school of her secondary school life next year. Her first school went into special measures and closed down, CCW has just suspended it’s head. It is clear that many Kent non-selective schools have troubles as the Ofsted results prove.

My family now have the stress of trying to find a school that offers Computer Science at A level, which pretty much means looking for a place at a grammar school. My daughter is a shy girl and her confidence is low, two of the three local grammar schools interview pupils when they apply. They are not supposed to use those interviews to select pupils, as places must be allocated based on results and distance from school. The interviews are just another stressful hoop to jump through. I know my daughter will be nervous, and feel that she’s not good enough. Who’s to blame her? She was told she wasn’t good enough for these schools when she was ten, now they want her to give a confident interview and tell grammar school teachers they were wrong.

Kent’s selective education has made me angry because it’s hurt my daughter. If it hurts her again my anger is going to reach critical levels. I have a bright daughter who wants to study Computer Science at university. Why is Kent education system making it so difficult for her to fulfill her potential and achieve that?





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