Kent County Council (“KCC”) is planning to rewrite the 11-plus exam to make it tutor-proof. This is in order to address complaints that parents hire private tutors, or send their children to private schools, to gain an advantage in the 11-plus exam, thereby enabling their children to gain admission to Kent grammar schools at the expense of clever children from disadvantaged families.
KCC Education Chief Mike Whiting said, “It doesn’t seem right that those who can afford to have their children coached can gain an advantage in a test over those less well off. Any new test should seek to reduce coachability. We are preparing to consult with head teachers further on this.”
The new 11-plus exam is likely to be introduced in 2014, for grammar school admission in 2015, which is the same time as the Sevenoaks Grammar School is planning to open. This will enable the new grammar school to adopt a “tutor-proof” admissions policy from inception, thus enabling a key aim of the grammar school campaigners to be realised – the improvement of social mobility in Sevenoaks.
At present, because Sevenoaks does not have a grammar school (despite being within Kent’s selective education system),1,150 Sevenoaks children travel daily to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells to attend grammar schools, which typically represent a two hour round trip. Furthermore, several factors are conspiring to make these grammar schools increasingly socially exclusive:-
Firstly, due to high population growth in West Kent, Sevenoaks children are increasingly finding that they can only gain admission to the so-called “super-selective” grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, and that they can no longer gain admission to the community grammar schools that admit pupils within a defined catchment area. (The catchment areas of the community grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells cover these towns, but no longer cover most of Sevenoaks). This means that the majority of Sevenoaks children are now required to score very highly on the 11-plus exam to gain admission to a grammar school, and this has encouraged a private tutoring culture to develop in Sevenoaks, which favours middle class children and excludes disadvantaged children who cannot afford tutors or private schooling.
Secondly, KCC no longer funds transport costs to schools outside of a child’s home town. Sevenoaks children must therefore pay to travel to the Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells grammar schools, which again favours middle class children and excludes disadvantaged children whose families cannot afford this.
The campaigners are therefore calling for the Sevenoaks Grammar School to be located on a central site in Sevenoaks that most local children can walk to, meaning that they will not need to pay for transport.
In addition, the campaigners are proposing that the Sevenoaks Grammar School will operate a catchment area based admissions policy, and not super-selection. This will mean that anyone within the catchment area who passes the 11-plus exam will be admitted, thus greatly reducing the need for private tutors to coach children to achieve high marks, because these high marks will no longer be required for admission. This should go some way to levelling the playing field between middle class children and disadvantaged children.
The campaigners are also exploring other ways to level the playing field between middle class children and disadvantaged children, and to encourage greater numbers of disadvantaged children to apply for, and achieve, grammar school places. Ideas that are being examined include Sevenoaks Grammar School teachers visiting local primary schools to provide special language and science classes to inspire learning in young people.
The over-riding ambition of the campaigners is to establish a Sevenoaks Grammar School that is socially inclusive, as this will provide the best possible education for the young people of the town from all backgrounds.