Schools

Lucy Hig­gin­son de­mys­ti­fies the ever-chang­ing and of­ten baf­fling world of your child’s school­ing

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Illustration by Clare Mackie

Lucy Hig­gin­son knows her CAT from her G&T (p90), Ysenda Max­ton-gra­ham re­ports on how girls’ schools have changed (p92) and Martha Terry won­ders whether board­ing is bet­ter (p98)

Cog­ni­tive Abil­i­ties Tests (CATS) give a snap­shot of a child’s per­for­mance in English, maths and non-ver­bal rea­son­ing—teach­ers ap­pear di­vided about whether chil­dren can or should be pre­pared for such tests. Scores are usu­ally given as an SAS (Stan­dard­ised Age Score) to take age into ac­count.

Some schools share them openly with par­ents; oth­ers do not. ‘They’re a form of bench­mark­ing to help de­part­ments mea­sure if there’s “value be­ing added” when, for ex­am­ple, GCSE re­sults come out,’ ex­plains Neil Roskilly of the In­de­pen­dent Schools As­so­ci­a­tion.

Some CATS are ‘adap­tive’—ques­tions be­come harder if the can­di­date be­gins well. Al­dro prep school in

‘These buzz words de­scribe more than tod­dlers build­ing dens and rac­ing snails’

Sur­rey sets CATS each Septem­ber, with scores used in se­nior-school ref­er­ences and shared with par­ents to help them make sec­ondary-school choices, but head­mas­ter James Han­son also con­sid­ers them ‘added prac­tice for sit­ting pub­lic-school ap­ti­tude tests’. You can find sam­ple ques­tions on web­sites such as www.nfer.ac.uk

Pre-test tests

Ev­ery­one is fa­mil­iar with en­try tests for pop­u­lar schools, but a more re­cent in­no­va­tion is the on­line pretest test, an ad­di­tional hur­dle that must now be cleared be­fore you can even pitch up at Har­row (for one) for the tra­di­tional en­try test and in­ter­view. It tests ver­bal and non-ver­bal rea­son­ing, maths and English.

The ISEB (In­de­pen­dent Schools Ex­am­i­na­tions Board) pre-test is widely used, in­clud­ing by Be­nen­den, West­min­ster and 600-plus other lead­ing schools (www.iseb.co.uk).

Mr Han­son is a fan: ‘If we can man­age chil­dren’s anxiety by hav­ing them sit this at their own school, it helps get the best out of them.’

It’s fair to say that top schools— Eton is about to start—have in­tro­duced them through ne­ces­sity, to con­trol bal­loon­ing num­bers of can­di­dates be­fore in­vest­ing time in in­ter­views. Har­row head­mas­ter Jim Hawkins ex­plains: ‘We avoid rais­ing false hopes (and, in some cases, large travel bills) for those lack­ing suf­fi­cient raw abil­ity to cope with Har­row’s aca­demic life.’

SMTS

Once, par­ents de­scended on their child’s form teacher, deputy or head if they had a query, but Se­nior Man­age­ment Teams (SMTS) are now so com­plex it’s hard to know who does what and the struc­ture can vary. ‘A lot of schools have spe­cial­ist deputies—typ­i­cally in charge of mat­ters aca­demic and pas­toral—plus “Di­rec­tors of Stud­ies”, se­nior tu­tors and so on,’ ex­plains Mr Roskilly.

Typ­i­cally, there will be se­nior staff head­ing Special Ed­u­ca­tional Needs, the cur­ricu­lum and so on. Smaller schools may en­cour­age you to meet the head, but it usu­ally pays to scru­ti­nise the school web­site to work out which SMT you need.

G&T pro­grammes

Gifted and tal­ented (G&T) pro­grammes, which were much in fash­ion 10 years ago, are still around, de­spite be­ing some­times di­vi­sive. In­tro­duced to en­sure the bright­est pupils were kept en­gaged and given as much at­ten­tion as the less able, they could open doors to ex­tra trips, cour­ses or places on over­sub­scribed sum­mer schools. How­ever, in 2010, a quango charged with sup­port­ing gifted chil­dren in the State sector was axed.

‘Many schools have cut back on G&T pro­grammes as they pre­fer not to la­bel pupils so young—they feel it may be dam­ag­ing,’ says Mr Roskilly. Else­where, such pro­grammes may ex­ist un­der another guise, such as the top sets in streamed schools or as ‘schol­ar­ship sets’ pre­par­ing high-flying pupils be­yond the reg­u­lar de­mands of Com­mon En­trance.

Out­side learn­ing/for­est schools

These buzz words de­scribe more than tod­dlers build­ing dens and rac­ing snails. Science, maths, lit­er­a­ture and more are now brought to life in the open air. Bound­ary Oak School in Hamp­shire teaches not only bushcraft and chicken rear­ing, but ge­om­e­try—mea­sur­ing the an­gles of tree shad­ows—in its out­door class­room. ‘Ex­pe­ri­ences and achieve­ments made while learn­ing out­doors of­ten be­come life­long mem­o­ries,’ says head­mistress (and former Scout leader) Hazel Kel­lett.

Mount Kelly in Tav­i­s­tock, Devon, embraces LOTC (Learn­ing Out­side the Class­room); it’s com­pul­sory for years seven to 11—bi­ol­ogy is cov­ered by skin­ning rab­bits on bivouac ex­pe­di­tions.

Gram­mars, bi­lat­eral and par­tially se­lec­tive schools

You’d have to live on Mars not to have heard about the scrum for se­lec­tive State school­ing. Gram­mar schools (ac­cessed by the Eleven Plus, with its con­tentious sup­port in­dus­try of pri­vate tu­tor­ing) range from be­ing heav­ily to ob­scenely over-sub­scribed. It’s vi­tal to re­search a school’s catch­ment area, pop­u­lar­ity, sib­ling rules and what ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion it re­quires (for in­stance, for faith schools) be­fore com­plet­ing the Com­mon Ap­pli­ca­tion Form and do­ing ev­ery­thing in your power to help your child achieve the re­quired Eleven Plus score of 90%-plus.

Eng­land has eight bi­lat­eral schools, in which gram­mar and non-se­lec­tive streams are taught separately, and more than 35 par­tially se­lec­tive ones, which re­cruit be­tween 10% and 35% of pupils on gen­eral, mu­si­cal or other spe­cial­ist abil­ity (www.eleven­plu­sex­ams.co.uk).

Pre-us

These were cre­ated by Cam­bridge Univer­sity in re­sponse to the de­clin­ing rigour of A lev­els. As their name suggests, they were in­tended to be a more ap­pro­pri­ate ground­ing for univer­sity-bound stu­dents, with more scope for choice and in­de­pen­dent think­ing in the syl­labus. Ex­ams are taken in one sit­ting at the end of the sec­ond year.

Orig­i­nally taken up by lead­ing in­de­pen­dent schools, they are now widely recog­nised by uni­ver­si­ties. Avail­able in 27 sub­jects, the grad­ing sys­tem sounds mys­ti­fy­ing un­til you learn that the letters stand for Pass, Merit or Dis­tinc­tion. There are three tiers within each cat­e­gory, with the high­est grade, a D1, rep­re­sent­ing a higher level of at­tain­ment than an A* at A level (www.cie.org.uk).

New-look GCSES

This sum­mer, the first of former Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Michael Gove’s new, tougher GCSES will be taken, start­ing with English and maths. The lat­ter will cover more top­ics than be­fore and English will tackle more sub­stan­tial texts and re­quire longer, es­say-style re­sponses. Course­work is be­ing hacked back in favour of exam test­ing and there will be fewer op­tions for study­ing science—pupils must ei­ther sit com­bined science (worth two GCSES) or take bi­ol­ogy, chem­istry and physics as sep­a­rate qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

In many re­spects, this sounds like hark­ing back to the good old days of O lev­els—with one ex­cep­tion: the new ex­ams will no longer be graded G to A*, but will be scored from 1 to 9, with 9 rep­re­sent­ing some­thing above an A*.

To en­sure the first stu­dents don’t suf­fer as these changes bed down, ‘sta­tis­ti­cal pre­dic­tions’ will be the ba­sis for this year’s grades, with ‘ex­am­iner judg­ment’ be­ing sec­ondary.

CATS

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