It is wrong to stream kids from the age of 11


The daughter of a friend of mine recently failed her Kent Test. So I finally have proof of something I’ve been thinking for a while. It’s not Kent youngsters who are stupid: it’s the Kent Test.

This is a girl who has a reading age of 14; who has been reading by herself since the age of seven; who is imaginative and creative, funny and intelligent, kind and considerate and who has all the qualities to make her an accomplished and well-rounded human being. And yet she failed her test.

I won’t go into details here. There were mitigating circumstances. But she can’t be the only youngster in the county to suffer real anguish and humiliation in failing a test that, on another occasion, she would have passed with ease.

Shall I tell you what the Kent Test is really all about?

It’s about class.

Well-off people hire tutors to ensure that their children pass. Less well off people don’t.

So the county’s grammar schools are packed with the children of the privileged.

They aren’t more intelligent than the other kids: merely more tutored in the art of passing tests.

People of Kent, why are you so deferential? There’s a good reason why the 11-plus was abolished in nearly every other county in the UK.

It is simply wrong to start streaming children at this tender age.

There are different kinds of intelligence, and children develop at different speeds.

My son had a highly developed spacial and visual awareness. He loved taking things apart and putting them back together again.

He had a logical mind and was deeply fascinated about the way the world worked. He was scientifically curious and yet artistic too, with a real flair for colour and design.

He too failed the test.

Why put people into boxes?

There is so much more to being human than the ability to get good grades in exams.

My friend’s daughter used to love school, but this obsession with testing has knocked all joy of learning out of her.

Is this the kind of education we want to inflict on our children?


The Whitstable Gazette.
The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject, but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number.
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The Editor, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE,
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8 thoughts on “It is wrong to stream kids from the age of 11

  1. There was a study about kids going onto professional sports that if you were born between September & Jan you had a much better chance of making it and although I have no proof as can’t find a study I would expect the same that you would have a far better chance getting into a Grammar school if born in those months. I know for myself being born in May and a late developer that I had a huge disadvantage. Not only luck wrt how wealthy parents are it’s also when you were born.


    1. There is a lot of research about ‘summer born’ children being disadvantaged in the school system – which is based on year groups so they are always the youngest in their year. That’s at it may be but then to base the whole of a child’s future on a single test taken at a particular time just because you are in a particular school year group risks accentuating any in built disadvantages (like being summer-born but also being on free school meals, not feeling well at the time and other changing circumstances like family breakdowns). It’s just wrong to label, categorise and segregate children in this way.
      It would be interesting to find whether there has been research correlating ‘summer born’ with what is often socially known as ‘a late developer’ (the later being very hit by the extremist streaming by segregation that selection at 11 leads to – as there is no reversing of this as understanding and aptitudes for different subjects develops).


  2. That’s a terrible story Katherine. Do you think her failure at the 11-plus had anything to do with her breakdown? Me: I think there’s no such thing as a stupid child. We have to learn how to be stupid, just as we learn how to be intelligent.


  3. I wrote to the Gazette about this a couple of weeks ago, because KCC are having a “review” of the Kent Test. I was then attacked – not for factual errors, but because I’m called Dave, which apparently is a heinous offence, blokey, and an attempt to salve my left-wing conscience! Here’s my reply, published this week:

    “It can only be the paucity of David Hillier’s arguments (letters, 12th November) which lead him to make a personal attack on me, my political beliefs and – especially bizarrely – my name. His response is unhelpful, but since our children’s education and life chances are more important than personal feelings, let us concentrate on the facts.

    Kent is one of only three county councils to retain a wholly selective post-11 education. Based on analysis from the Daily Telegraph, in the 2014 GCSEs Kent was ranked 48th out of 152 local education authorities for the proportion of its pupils achieving A* to C grades. The other selecting counties – Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire – were respectively ranked 8th and 61st , which is hardly compelling evidence for the benefits of selection. Overall, Kent performed worse than Haringey, Tower Hamlets and many other areas with significant social deprivation. If a local authority takes the exceptional decision to retain selective secondary education, it is not unreasonable to ask that it should yield exceptional results. The Kent system does no such thing.
    Comprehensive education is not, as Mr Hiller alleges, a left wing cause. Most Conservative authorities including Westminster and North Yorkshire have comprehensive systems. It is the retention of grammar schools which is a right-wing obsession: all 15 authorities with wholly selective systems are Conservative controlled.

    There is no objective basis for retaining a selective system, as any number of academic studies have shown. The impact on our children is too important to be the subject of unfounded prejudice and abuse of other viewpoints. We cannot continue to fail Kent’s children by imposing a system which prevents each of them having the chance to fulfil their potential, which is what the Kent Test does.

    Finally: As a trustee of the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Kent Savers Credit Union and Westgate Hall Trust, and an active member of the Wincheap and Canterbury Societies, I haven’t changed my name to assuage my conscience. Dave is just what people call me, and has been since I was at school.”


  4. Individuals suffer the consequences of selection but Kent suffers too, economically as well as socially, as my letter published in today’s Kent-on-Sunday tries to highlight:

    Dear Editor
    KCC Leader Paul Carter appears to equate ‘growth’ in Kent with ‘development’ (Challenges ahead but property seeing strong growth in county, 8 November). Genuine growth means getting more from the resources you already have by increasing productivity and efficiency – not just a more vibrant housing market.
    Getting more from we’ve got requires investing in Kent’s greatest resource, its people. And that brings us back to education and the failure of our selective secondary schools to maximise the achievement of every child. You just don’t get the most out of young people by telling three quarters of 11 year olds they have failed and sending them to schools seen as second tier.
    Of course “Failing 11 plus is not road to ruin” (Letters, 15 November) – some young people recover from the knock back to do well; but others don’t. Why put the extra obstacle of being labelled ‘failing’ in the way of so many youngsters? Evidence shows that, when like and like are compared, children do better in non-selective school systems where they mix and learn alongside the full range of their peers.
    As for “taking responsibility for oneself” and “making the effort” (Letters,15 November) every pupil should get an equal chance to benefit from doing these throughout their compulsory school years – rather than a large majority being sent back 10 paces half way through, even if they have been trying and working hard.
    The wide educational, social and economic divisions in Kent – all made worse by its segregated secondary education system – are holding the county back. The grammar school system just embeds inequality. We need more innovation, creativity, enterprise to ensure we make more of what we’ve got. That kind of growth would be sustainable and would help create the “quality communities” Mr Carter says he wants across Kent and Medway. With our aging population a highly killed workforce is more vital than ever.
    I would have liked Mr Carter to support genuine growth by proposing a 5-year phasing out of damaging selection at 11. Every family should be able to choose for their teenage children a high quality, local, all-ability school in which the individual needs of all children are met whatever their abilities and aptitudes. Other comparable counties offer that, why can’t Kent?


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