How the Independent Sector compares in examining its pupils at pre-prep and prep stages
Enabling schools to understand how well their pupils are performing against a national standard was the original purpose for SATS whilst providing an important opportunity to identify pupils needing help to achieve those standards.
The results of the tests are used to analyse primary school performance across the country, with the Department for Education producing league tables showing schools that are performing well compared to those who are struggling.
These exams can be very useful for parents, helping them understand where their child is positioned compared to the average results achieved by others and can also help in pinpointing areas of strength as well as weakness. It can highlight any difficulties they might be facing in their learning process and for these to then be addressed.
SATS as a force for good in schools
Looking at the concerns around SATS there has been much comment about the stress on pupils taking the tests. There is also the argument that the results do not reflect the many other subjects being taught outside of the core subjects, or the contribution and quality of extra-curricular activities at the school. However, SATS provide an important introduction to testing before pupils move into secondary education and GCSEs. Critics say the league tables encourage competition rather than collaboration between schools but there is proof that these tables help drive up standards and increase local accountability.
SATS were not designed to be high stakes tests and it is usually down to the skill and diplomacy of the teachers to use these tests as a force for good. Most schools do not advocate a high pressure build up to the exams with many advising against too much preparation and indeed advocate focusing on outside or fun activities away from study as a way of preparing.
The link between state and independent education
So, what is the link between the state sector and the independent sector? Independent schools are free to set their own curriculum and to choose which exam qualifications students take. They are not constrained by government and have the freedom to operate in the what they consider to be the best interests of their pupils. Many independent pre-prep and prep schools do not use SATS, but often utilise annual standardised assessments such as (CAT or CEM tests) to monitor student progression. At pre-prep pupils are assessed for their overall development, including social interaction, play and speech. To gain a place at the top prep schools applicants may face entrance tests in English and Maths, an interview and sometimes an IQ test. Whilst at prep school, pupils are often focused on preparing for 11+ or 13+ exams depending on the choice of senior school. There is a belief that this preparing for high-stakes tests sets pupils in good stead for future national qualifications such as GCSEs and A-Levels. This said, there are prep schools who do use SATS for monitoring and as a way of standing out amongst local state schools in their area, and demonstrating their value above the state system.
SATS at both Year 2 Year 6 correlate to the exams taken by prep-prep and prep school students at 7 and 11 as it offers the advantages of introducing formal testing as a pathway to the next stage of education and gives students the experience of formal exams – although at aged 7 these are very low stakes tests and marked internally. In addition to taking externally or internally set entrance exams for senior schools, prep school students often take Common Entrance exams across all subjects at aged 13 for entrance to the top senior schools.
Advantages of state and independent testing
One of the advantages of testing at both state and independent schools is that it prepares children for the next stage of their education. Primarily SATS have been designed to assess progress and expected skillsets at certain ages, and focus less on the ability to recall learned subject-specific knowledge. Conversely, those assessments taken in the independent sector in order to attain entrance to future schools are often knowledge-based and high pressured. This is the first opportunity for most UK pupils to sit formal, high-stakes exams in subjects such as French, History, Geography and Latin. It is often a perceived advantage that this process encourages private schools to ensure their pupils are ready for exams as and when they come with detailed revision practice, timed assessments and additional subject support where required.
It really is a case of managing expectations so that pupils do not view examinations as a negative experience but a way of helping them achieve their potential.
This article from Alistair Montgomery – Director for London-based education consultant, Gabbitas, first appeared in the Spring 2020 edition of School Report