Your Guide to School Entry Assessments

It’s that time of the year again, when stressed parents and harried children face the worry of school entry assessments.
Your Guide to School Entry Assessments
By David Westley
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What if we told you, you really shouldn't worry? That, in fact, worrying could actually be working against you. To explain why spoke to two UAE principals to find out what REALLY happens in a school assessment; how best to prepare and what schools expect of both you and your child.

The two principals in the WSA hot seat: Patrick Horne, principal at British International School Abu Dhabi (BISAD) and Chris McDermott, founding principal at Oaktree Primary School, Dubai.


First, are you a selective school?

Patrick: We are a non-selective school. We invite all of our Fs1, 2 and Year 1 (pre KG, KG1 & 2) applicants to a play sessions at school. This allows our Early Years practioners to meet with the children and assess their ‘readiness’ for school and the session also gives parents the opportunity to meet with our Early Years team.

Chris: We are an inclusive school, although we do assess and, in doing so, we try to keep our assessment processes as informal as possible. This reflects the child-centred approach that we adopt. Our processes are designed to allow us to get to know each child before they arrive for their first day in the classroom. We do this by giving our teachers as much information as possible on our new students before they start. We look at how well the child separates from the parent and whether they seem confident in answering simple questions. We look to see if he or she joins in straightforward conversations with our lovely admissions team.

For our Foundation Stage children we invite all the children and parents into school for a play date. This is where children and parents spend time in the classrooms to familiarise themselves with the classroom and teachers. The week after children are invited back for a second play date where parents will be invited to meet with our leadership team in our Parents’ room so they have a chance to ask any questions they may have.

Our aim is to be as friendly and welcoming as possible.


How best can parents prepare their child in the weeks leading up to assessment at your school?

Patrick: Please do not add any unnecessary pressure to your child, our play sessions are looking at the readiness of the children and if parents and children are stressed this can have an adverse effect. It’s best to speak to your child about the play session gently and positively and generate a sense of excitement about going to ‘big’ school.

Chris: We would suggest that parents explain to their child that they will be coming to school to have some fun with a teacher. This prepares the children so they are more relaxed and comfortable. We want to know what your child CAN DO, not what they cannot do! If parents wish to go through some letters and numbers as well as playing with puzzles and jigsaws beforehand, they may choose to do so.


In your opinion, should parents employ the services of a tutor prior to assessment? Please give reasons for your answer…

Patrick: Definitely not for a play session, however if your child is of late primary, secondary age it is good idea to review what they have learnt over the past academic year, We would assess that the child is working at the level appropriate for their age group.

Chris: No. These are informal assessments. The most important issue is that the child is relaxed on the day.


How should plan the day of the assessment?

Chris: The parent should make sure that the child is well rested from the night before. The child should be in the frame of mind to focus, but be relaxed and looking forward to something that will be fun.


What are you broadly looking for during the assessment/testing process?

Chris: A calm and friendly child who is able to interact successfully with an adult, as well as an ability to concentrate on the task in hand.


Can you give us three definite ‘DON’Ts’ of school assessment/testing?

Patrick: Don’t ask your child to ‘perform’ in terms of showing off what they know, we don’t need to hear the alphabet in 5 different languages!

Don’t add any pressure to your child by pre-warning about their behaviour.

Don’t just not attend, or demand another time/ date that suits you. If you are unable to attend the date/ time offered, try and give as much notice as possible and be prepared to be flexible.

Chris: Don’t make your child feel nervous by telling them they are to be assessed.

Don’t appear flustered or worried yourself as this could transfer to your child.

Don’t spend the previous night going through the sorts of questions you think your child might be asked.


And, what about three ‘DOs’ for the assessment?

Patrick: Do attend on time.

Do speak positively to your child about the forthcoming experience and create a sense of fun.

Do be prepared to leave your child for a short period and to step back and let your child play and answer questions themselves.

Chris: Do exude calmness and happiness – your mood will be picked up on by your child.

Do give yourself plenty of time to get there; the UAE’s traffic can be busy at the best of times.

Do make sure that your child gets a good night’s sleep the night before – all of us do our best when we are feeling good, and a good night’s sleep helps us to feel that way!


How should parent’s best behave during the assessment?

Patrick: This is your opportunity to assess the school and see if this is the best place for your child to grow and develop, so when the opportunity arises ask the questions that are relevant to your needs as a parent.

A big no, no is to speak for your child and not let them engage with the other children and Early Years specialists.

Chris: Relax – when we are relaxed we show off our best! If you are relaxed, your child will be too. Simply allow their child to get on with it and have fun.


What do you recommend as the best ‘follow-up’ method (with the school) for parents who are anxious to find out how well their child has done in the assessment?

Patrick: If you’ve not already been informed at the initial application stage, ask at the play session what the ‘next steps’ are and when you can expect the next communication.

Chris: Simply give us a call. Our team is very friendly and will always do the best we can to be of assistance.

And, says Chris, remember to enjoy it!

“Every assessment we try to get a giggle in there somewhere – when we smile, we relax. But we did once have a child who loved pretending to be a fireman. Ironically, the fire alarm went off during the assessment and the little boy excitedly jumped up and said ‘Don’t worry – I can save us! I’m best friends with Fireman Sam,’ as we were quickly led outside. Luckily there wasn’t a fire and we were back inside shortly after. At least, if we ever did have a fire in school, we knew who to call on!”


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