AIMing to make selective schools accessible to all

AIMing to make selective schools accessible to all
The Skinners' School, Tunbridge Wells

Tutoring for the Kent Test, or the 11-plus as it is more commonly known, has long been something you had to have plenty of money to do. Children at private school, where it forms part of the curriculum, have always benefited, as have those whose parents can afford the private tuition fees.

Those from poorer backgrounds have always been at a disadvantage, but thanks to AIM, a local registered charity, preparation to sit and hopefully pass the Kent Test has been opened up to those from less privileged backgrounds.

The charity, which started in 2014, offers a free programme of weekly tutoring, holiday workshops and mock exams courtesy of tutors from The Right Tuition company, to ten students from less affluent backgrounds every academic year.

And this year one of its co-founders, Zoe Cantania, has announced that it now has additional support from The Skinners’ School, who will be hosting two mock Kent Test exams this spring.

“While the grammar school system was set up to offer academic education to children based on their academic ability, there is an increasing body of evidence that suggests that the system does not promote social mobility, and that children from poorer backgrounds do not have equal access to grammar school places.

“AIM wants to change that,” explains Zoe.

“AIM was founded by parents passionate about social mobility and increasing accessibility to grammar places for bright children from low-income families. The gateway to grammar is the 11-plus test, and familiarisation and practice is key, so AIM ensures that its classes are kept small so tutors can take a keen interest in the individual child.”

This year, AIM’s work has been further boosted by the involvement of The Skinners’ School, who have agreed to host mock exams in April and July.

“Grammar schools are under increasing pressure to be more inclusive, but unfortunately progress is painfully slow,” continues Zoe. “Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge grammars have been aware of AIM and the work we do for a number of years. Skinners’ Headmaster, Edward Wesson, has always been very supportive of our work, but this year he has really made a difference with his contribution towards our future by allowing us to run two mock exams at the school which are open to ALL children taking the test in September.

“For AIM, the key is to plug the mock exams in April and July as it’s an amazing fundraising opportunity and could potentially fund a whole year of our programme.

“What’s also exciting is the changes the grammar is making to policies by listening to feedback from low-income families. They’ve already rewritten documents, which is a breakthrough.”

Zoe goes on to say that the mock exams, which have been written for AIM by The Right Tuition Company, are a great opportunity for children to experience the real test format, practice under timed conditions, identify strengths, and highlight areas for future focus.

“Arthur Ponsonby and his team at The Right Tuition Company have been incredibly supportive of the work we do, and continually supply us with high quality tutors. At AIM we offer a very supportive environment and will try and accommodate all children with varying degrees of support.”

AIM children will attend the mocks for free, but all other children wishing to sit the mocks will be charged a fee, which will go to help fund AIM’s future work.

Mr Wesson told the Times he was keen to lend his support to the charity for the 2020 Kent Test.

 In addition to hosting the mocks, Skinners’ are also working collaboratively with AIM to look at additional barriers low-income families face. This includes access to financial assistance with school uniforms and school trips – two things which Zoe says often ‘exacerbate societal inequalities’.

“Skinners’ are genuinely committed to making changes to these policies and increasing their places for children from low-income families. It is great they are actually doing something and not just talking about it!”

The criteria for getting a place on the AIM scheme is pretty straightforward, says Zoe. “The child needs to want to do the 11-plus, go to a grammar school, and be prepared for the extra work that is involved. Families can’t earn any more than £22,000 per year in order to qualify, and each child also needs to pass an AIM entrance test so we know they are working within the academic levels required.”

 The AIM programme has been running for the past six years and has now seen over 60 children complete its tutoring programme.

 “Last year, 70 per cent of our children passed,” reveals Zoe. “And the benefits of this programme go beyond the 11-plus test – all parents notice an increase in confidence and skills.”

 Each AIM programme runs from January to September every week of term time, and also offers workshops during school holidays, despite having no regular funding sources.

“Each year we have to apply for various grants in order to support our tutoring,” says Zoe. “This year we have been fortunate to have been given a generous donation from a trust fund, and we hope that the mock events in April and July put us in a more stable financial position for future years.”

AIM classes run every Monday evening from 5.15-6.30pm from January to September at Broadmead Church Hall. There is an entrance test every November and there are ten places each year on the programme.

The mock 11-plus exams take place at The Skinners’ School in St John’s Road at 2.30pm on Sunday April 26 and Sunday July 5. AIM children sit the exams for free, but others can apply and pay £40 to sit one mock and £70 to sit two mocks. Pupil premium families are eligible for a 50% discount.


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