Opinion with Matthew Munson: Making decisions about the Kent Test

Matthew and Bryan

I have to remind myself sometimes that we’re still coming out of lockdown; that there are things we’ve not been able to do for a long time. When we can, they are small explosions of delight after so long away.

The cinema was our treat last week in a nearly-deserted room; a few other people ended up coming in, and it was rather lovely. We watched Peter Rabbit 2, which I laughed at just as much as Bryan – a mean feat indeed – and we smuggled in some snacks as I was reluctant to take out a second mortgage to buy some popcorn and a drink large enough to expand my bladder to outlandish proportions.

Bryan is a typical child; he likes playing with his friends, being intellectually challenged, and having fun. So when I suggested that we walk home after the cinema, he looked at me like I had suggested we kill all the world’s wildlife; he clearly thought I was mad. It would be fun, I insisted. So would a taxi, he countered. No, I insisted, it’s good to get some fresh air; he was semi-convinced, but the stroll home from Westwood Cross proved me (thankfully) right. We played, chatted, and watched the world go by. He even held my hand on a couple of occasions, even though he has a reputation as a cool kid to maintain.

I wrote a while ago about the Kent Test, which used to be known as the 11+ (I am now at the age when things that happened when I was at school have changed beyond all recognition – middle age has well and truly hit). I wanted to involve Bryan in this; it’s his future, after all, and the school he spends five years at needs to be one he feels passionate about.

There are some children in his class who want to do the Kent Test and some who don’t; it’s a real mixture. I’ve really encouraged Bryan to think about it and tried to give him an honest view without forcing him to tell me what he thinks I want to hear; I would be mortified if that were ever the case.

That said, he came to the conclusion – after some practice papers and conversations – that he doesn’t want to do the Kent Test, instead focusing on going to a good secondary school. He’s ambitious for himself academically, and he’s got a good moral centre – and, more than that, he’s a kind and generous young man. Am I biased? Of course I am, but all those things are also true.

I’m glad he has expressed an opinion on what type of school he wants to go to; this is a choice that affects him, and his voice deserves to be heard. All I want for Bryan is to be stretched, to make some good friends, and enjoy his school days. I wasn’t a very cool kid, nor was I very socially confident; school was certainly more difficult as a result. Bryan is his own person, of course, and a very different personality in some ways to me!

My son is growing up fast, and this must stop; I am not pleased that my diktat for him to stay 10 forever is being ignored. He is making me proud every single day, even when we have minor disagreements (!), and I hope he continues to enjoy his education; it’s a responsibility and privilege to help him choose the next chapter in his life, and I know I’ll never take any of these important years for granted.


  1. Like Matthew, I am old enough to recall the 11+ exams that everybody sat.
    But most of England and Wales opted to abolish the idea and introduce Comprehensive education for all.
    Only odd or unusual places still cling to versions of the idea of having different schools and styles of education for pupil based on how they performed in an exam at the random age of 11.
    Having lived elsewhere in England , I was surprised when I moved to Kent that the outmoded and discredited idea of separating children into different schools at the age of 11 was alive and well and that many parents and pupils seemed unaware that most of their own nation had long ago modernised their approach, leaving Kent (and a few bits of Glos and Manchester maybe) as an oddity.
    Out of interest, I passed the 11+ and went to an all-boys rural Grammar school. Later,I delighted in being able to adopt a career that gave me a modest, average sort of lifestyle.
    My younger brother failed the exam and I still feel the sense of anger and rejection felt at that time.
    But I also delight in his responsible, well-paid job, his pensions, his four-bed house and his (small and rustic!) holiday home in France!!
    The 11+ exam tells us nothing about the real abilities of the pupil. It certainly failed to detect my brother’s intelligence ,drive and hard working attitudes. He had to prove that AFTER he left school.
    I passed the 11+, proving that I had the ability to remember things, sit at an exam and stick with a middling career for 30 years.
    The Kent test does NOT give us choice. It gives us unnecessary hurdles to jump.

  2. As a retired teacher, with experience from infants, primary, secondary and college levels, l strongly believe that it is nearly impossible to teach “ Through the middle” of groups of students of mixed abilities, as some are inevitably left struggling, and the brighter students get bored, resulting in behavioural problems at both ends. Therefore if children are taught. In similar ability groups, this problem is solved.. l would like to add that when individual children’s abilities begin to change, they can,and are, changed into groups which suit them better. This seems not to happen in secondary schools, but it is part of the ethos of the grammar school system. It works well, from an academic, discipline,and self wrporth perspective.

  3. The reality of life is that it is an elitist system.
    No matter how much we buffer them, eventually children will be confronted by the stark realities.
    Is it better to do that sooner or later?
    Every child is a “special needs” child – each one is different, each one has his own strengths and weaknesses. But the system focuses too much on children who are perceived to have a “disability” of some sort; to them is directed the additional learning support and so on. Children whose “disability” is to have more than usual intellectual capacity are far too often neglected.

    It’s worth pointing out that, although school is the best place to get a firm grounding in education, there are options later in life. College courses, evening classes. The Open University.
    So, if you “failed” the Kent Test, it’s not the end of the world, but the beginning of a new one.

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