Selecting a School? 4 Questions to Reveal All

Four questions that cut to the chase and identify whether a schools really is, or will be, delivering the results for your children. By Christopher Morgan, Assistant Head, Foremarke School Dubai.
Selecting a School? 4 Questions to Reveal All
By David Westley
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LET'S GO

There are two words that are more important than all others when selecting a school; Attainment and Progress. That is to say, to what level do children achieve and how quickly do they get there? Keep these two words in your head when selecting a school because they will give you the evidence you need when choosing a school.

It is easier to find benchmarks of attainment for secondary and senior schools. Certainly GCSE, IB, and A-level results are available on most school websites. However, there are no publicly available benchmark tests for primary or middle schools, and many schools are reticent in providing them. Yet we all have to take benchmark tests.

So how can you accurately find a potential school’s progress and attainment? Well, I am going to give you four clear questions to ask potential schools that will help you decide on whether schools really are progressing the children and the level of attainment of its children.

ASK: What are the average Progress Test results in the school, by year group, across core subjects?

Schools should be measuring every pupil’s progress and attainment. Foremarke, for example, uses GL Progress Tests in English, Maths and Science. This is very popular with schools in Dubai as it is a standardised test, meaning GL has taken the average UK pupils’ score and made that score 100. This means that, approximately, half of children will score under 100, and half over 100. The sample to standardise the score was taken from 100,000 UK pupils and it is verified every year by half a million pupils’ marks from the UK and over 100 countries around the world.

Thanks to the standardised tests, we are able to compare our school against the UK and international averages. A year group with a mean score of 100 is considered average attainment, anything over 115 is considered exceptional. So what is the average progress test result for your child's year group in that school in each core subject? Your current school may have your child’s last progress test score, how does that compare?

ASK: Does the school use CAT4 data to ensure that a pupil exceeds his or her predicted attainment? What measures does it put into play for a child not reaching his potential?

CAT4 tests are common in schools in the UK and Dubai. They test four areas of a child’s “innate ability”; Verbal, Non-Verbal, Quantitative, and Spatial abilities. This is their underlying potential.

Schools should be comparing a child’s CAT scores with their end of year progress test scores. For example, a pupil scores 110 in his or her CAT Verbal test at the start of the year and 120 in their English progress test at the end of the year, then the child is doing well and exceeding their expected potential. However, if the scores were the other way around then you may want to ask questions.

At Foremarke we consider this “Value Added”. We compare each pupil’s expected attainment with their actual attainment using the CAT4 and Progress Test scores at the end of every year. Any pupils who are not achieving their expected attainment are highlighted and provisions put in to boost them.

ASK: How does the school track progress? Does it have a pupil progress tracking system and how does it use it?

Progress can be measured on a yearly basis between Progress Tests. Each year a pupil’s report will say whether he or she has made expected progress. However, does the school monitor progress in between those annual tests? They should be able to share with you your child’s achieved targets at any point in time throughout the year. If they have a good pupil tracking system (normally a computer programme) to “monitor targets” then they will be able to pull that information from the system at any given time and explain to you where your child’s focus areas should be.

ASK: How does it stretch those identified through data as “Gifted and Talented”, or how does it support those pupils identified by the data as possibly needing something extra?

Data should have a purpose. It is not merely a series of numbers that only Rainman can understand. Schools should be using data to identify those who need some kind of provision. That provision could be to boost up their knowledge to get closer to their peers; or it could be to stretch those who are More Able, Gifted and Talented (MAG&T).

What extra provision does the school put in for these pupils?

Schools should, of course, be differentiating in the classroom in order to challenge those who need stretching and support those who need some “scaffolding”.

Schools should also be providing targeted extra-curricular sessions and invited clubs for these pupils to ensure that all children are being extended and pushed to be their best. For example, those who may have a low Verbal ability (as identified in their CAT4 tests) could, one term, have an invited morning club to concentrate on building up that understanding. Those who are talented at mathematics could be asked to attend an after-school problem solving club.

Schools know all this and now you do too.

So, you now have the four questions to ask. Any school proud of the answers will want to encourage more transparency for parents to be able to make a very informed decision when choosing the right school for their child.

There will always be a lot of noise when choosing schools. You will be drowned in information, some of it relevant, some less so. However, as the English say, the proof is in the pudding; when you ask these questions, can the school answer and show you the evidence?

Be prepared to speak “data”, and don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions, they do matter.

This article was written by Christopher Morgan, Assistant Head, Foremarke School Dubai

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