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

Joanne Bartley's picture

My daughter is in Year 11 at a non-selective school in Kent. 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 it takes no account of something as important to attainment as a hard working attitude. I need to discuss school options with my daughter and I can't help wishing we lived in a comprehensive county. 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 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. I feel my daughter would have an easier life in comprehensive Yorkshire. It is probably the case that the majority of children at her school 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 around 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 seem 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 easier to do so. So will many children not find the opportunities they need to reach university? I love a good statistic or two, and the DfE performance tables offer sortable data to play around with. 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, and any thoughts or suggests are welcome. I hope 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.’ Hopefully 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? (An 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, her current school has just suspended its head. It is clear that many Kent non-selective schools have troubles. 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. I know they are not supposed to use those interviews to select pupils, as places must be allocated based on results and distance from school. These 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. 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?

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 10:14

This describes what is wrong with selection at 11. It channels pupils towards particular pathways at a young age. Non-selective schools in selective areas often find they can't offer the same choices as grammars particularly post-16.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 10:18

LSN's book, 'The Truth About Our Schools' tackles the myth that 'Comprehensive education has failed'. More details here.

Barry Wise's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 12:27

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


The average point score per A level entry in Kent is 212.4 against a national average for state funded schools of 211.2, while the average point score per student is 794.9 in Kent against 772.8 nationally. The proportion getting grades AAB or higher including at least two facilitating subjects is 13.9% in Kent against 11.9% nationally.

Barry Wise's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 12:45

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

Not quite.

Proportion students from mainstream state-funded schools going on to higher educational institution:

Kent: 52%
National average 56%.


Barry Wise's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 13:06

That said, the proportion attending 'top third' higher education institutions in Kent is 26% against a national average of 23%.

Kent's Oxbridge and Russell Group figures are on/close to average.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 13:12

Barry - there were 20+ LAs where the average point score per entry was above 215 which is higher than Kent's 212.4. Some of these were selective and some were not. The majority of LAs seemed to be in the same range as Kent. Again, some were selective (eg Lincolnshire) and some were not. That said, the same statistical release said:

'Care should be taken when comparing attainment at LA level as there are considerable differences in cohort sizes, ranging from less than 100 to over 8,000 students.'

It has to be said, however, that the LAs with the highest average point score were selective: Trafford, Buckingham, Sutton, Reading. But this raises the question about how many high-performing pupils crossed county borders to attend grammars in these areas thereby creaming off such pupils from neighbouring counties.

Joanne Bartley's picture
Mon, 30/11/2015 - 20:14

I think the data for disadvantaged children in Kent is interesting. I looked at this.

The percentage of students in 2011/12, who entered an A Level or other Level 3 qualification, going to, or remaining in, an education or employment destination in 2012/13. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/statistics-destinations

The gap between FSM children who take A levels and reach University, and the rest is wider than almost any county. Just 35% of FSM A level children reach University compared to 53% of the rest of Kent children. So an 18 percentage point gap.

This may be bcause Kent's FSM children are in schools like my daughters with a poor A level offering.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 01/12/2015 - 09:43

Joanne - you've made an important point. The proportion of A level success in any region is affected by the number of pupils who have the opportunity to take A levels. If pupils in a particular LA find their A level options limited by, say, number and subjects offered, or steered towards BTec, then the proportion of A level successes would fall. And if a greater choice and number of A levels is confined to certain schools then this worsens the situation.

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 01/12/2015 - 10:09

I wonder whether the arrival of the compulsory or near-compulsory EBacc will eventually prompt a broadening of the A level options at your daughter's current school, Joanne. Too late for her though.

Psychology, Sociology, History and English seems staggeringly limited.

Nigel Ford's picture
Tue, 01/12/2015 - 10:54

The figure is probably boosted by the disproportionate number of private schools in the county.

Kent should also include Medway as these towns also lie within the county boundaries and have the same selective system.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Tue, 01/12/2015 - 13:52

Joanne, I know you are not enamoured with selective education and with good reason. However, it seems to me that your best way forward would be to confer with your daughter as to what she might like to study at university. Then ascertain the A levels she would need and then find out which schools offer those. If it's the local grammar/high school then I suggest that your daughter applies to this school to enter the sixth form.

I completely understand your reservations particularly as you describe you daughter as shy. However, I have recommended this course of action to able students in Buckinghamshire (also stuck with selective education) and all of the students who have joined the local grammar schools in the sixth form have made it on to university. Yes, some have said that the students who had been in the school for GCSEs weren't always very welcoming; and yes, some of the teachers were not prepared to give extra assistance where Upper school students arrived, with, for example, with no background in triple sciences. But the students accepted these potential obstacles in order to pursue the A levels they needed. All of the students I worked with were second language speakers, by the way; so they had to study with first language speakers with no EAL department to provide extra help for them.

Alternatively you might lo consider other comprehensive schools that may be in a more affluent area and may be offering greater choice. This might involve quite a hike for your daughter in terms of transport, but well worth it. For example, on the fringes of Aylesbury are Waddesdon C of E and also Lord Williams over in Thame. Quite a distance for students living in Aylesbury but both absolutely excellent comprehensive schools offering loads of choice. I'm sure there must be such schools in Kent?

Good luck in your search. I really hope things work out for your daughter.

Ex Kent teacher's picture
Thu, 03/12/2015 - 14:09

Kent is not like Buckinghamshire because it is surrounded by sea on two sides. Those children who live in areas in east Kent such as Thanet and Shepway and who want to escape Kent's selective system are not able to travel to comprehensives in the London boroughs or Sussex. Buckinghamshire parents who live near a county border have the chance to opt out of the dreadful effects of the 11plus. Many of them do so.

agov's picture
Wed, 02/12/2015 - 09:28

A long time ago the South Kent College of Technology, at one of its sites in Ashford, was one of the first places to offer A level Computer Science (or whatever it was called then). A local grammar school sent some students there part-time for that course. I see that after a couple of name changes and amalgamations it no longer seems to offer that A level. Disappointing.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 02/12/2015 - 10:10


Canterbury Academy describes itself as a 'comprehensive school for all the talents with a grammar school band.' It offers computing in the sixth form. Any use?


Joanne Bartley's picture
Thu, 03/12/2015 - 21:09

Thanks Barry, it's specifically Computer Science she wants to do (a programming focus) not Computing. There are 3 grammar schools locally that offer it, hopefully she'll get a place.

I just feel schools here don't push the Kent Test 'fails' to get the best of them. I think something like 65% of children take the 11-plus so there could also be bright children who have no chance to get to grammar school. Much as I dislike the system at least Bucks policy of making every child take the test means every child has a chance of a place.

Of course the right kind of parent will apply for a grammar school sixth form if needed, but I'm sure many children will miss out because the non-selective schools don't offer such an academic sixth form.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Mon, 07/12/2015 - 10:59

Thanks to the 'Ex-Kent' teacher. I didn't know this about Kent.

Joanne, all children in Bucks can take the 11+ but the primary schools here do not prepare the children for the test. Therefore, unless their parents pay for tuition, it seems to me that most of the children have no hope of passing. We also have a big issue here in Aylesbury because of all of the wealthy children from outside Aylesbury and, indeed Bucks, taking places from the local children. As you probably know, the test was fairly recently changed to try to make it less likely that tuition could affect the result. However, the new test appears to be a great deal harder than the previous one and, I think I'm right in saying (sorry I don't have the figures), the numbers of Pakistani children passing the new test have decreased.

You are absolutely right about the lack of choice of subjects in 6th forms in Upper Schools. This is certainly the case in the three Upper Schools in Aylesbury. I should imagine the situation can only get worse as budgets are stretched. I don't know what your counsellors are like in Kent and whether they could be lobbied to try to increase funding for extra subjects or whether there are arrangements for pupils to take some of their subjects in the local grammars while remaining in the local comp or Upper Schools? Have you investigated this possibility?

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Mon, 07/12/2015 - 22:36

Sorry about my incorrect spelling of 'councillor'!

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.