Common Entrance Exams

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For most of us, May marks the first month of summer, long evenings and bank holidays, however for anyone in the education system, May is the month of assessment, when the academic year draws to a close and GCSEs, A-Levels, university exams and the key stage examinations begin. The formal assessment ‘life cycle’ now officially starts at the age of 7, with literacy and numeracy being assessed in English and Maths SAT tests.

As a result, this particular May, parents are ‘striking’ by taking their children out of school in an effort to boycott the ‘testing culture’ whereby primary school children are being assessed at an increasingly younger age, with some 40,000 signing a petition in a ‘Let Our Kids Be Kids’ campaign.

The concerns expressed by parents involved are that assessment at this age places undue pressure on young children who will already have a lifetime of exams ahead of them. That pressure is similarly felt by teachers needing to obtain results and pass learning milestones at a pace set by the government, thereby reducing the time spent at school on creative or organic learning, and just being kids.

However, whilst the government’s approach to assessment may be being implemented in such a way that parents feel the fun of the school day is being compromised, some of the benefits of assessment have been overlooked in the anti-assessment campaign.

The rationale behind the government’s proposed additional layer of assessment is that it will provide further structure to the national children’s curriculum, and through the course of the academic year, will provide benchmarks to understanding a child’s strengths, areas of weakness and areas for greater focus by their teacher or tutor. An early comprehension of subjects such as English and Maths forms the foundations of learning for later education, with children likely to be studying until the age of 21, so it is important that these foundations are not overlooked at the younger ages.

Assessment at the age of 7 is actually already imposed by several top prep schools in the form of an admissions process known as the 7+ (and/or sometimes the 8+ or 9+). Unlike the standardised SATs, the 7+ admissions process will vary from school to school, however the test will usually encompass English and Maths and sometimes also verbal and non-verbal reasoning.

Instead of focusing on the ‘should’ or ‘should nots’ of assessment, it is the role of parents and teachers to make sure children aren’t irrationally stressed about tests and assessments. A good tutor can ease the pressure of impending exams, not only by giving special attention to more difficult topics covered at school through one to one time, but also in making learning more fun and dynamic. A tutoring session should have a creative lesson plan designed to make children more enthusiastic about subjects that the school curriculum may have (due to time constraints) made more functional. An English test may make you think of niche grammatical concepts, but it is also designed to explore the child’s creative mind and ability to convey their thoughts on paper, tell a story, and learn new words and meanings through spelling.

London boroughs such as Wandsworth, Kensington & Chelsea and Richmond have some of the best primary schools in the UK, both independent and state. For example, Kings College Wimbledon, Northcote Lodge, and the Lady Eleanor Holles school all have entrance examinations for the 7+. Parents wanting their children to attend these top schools with competitive admissions processes and long waiting lists may want to invest some of their child’s after school time on a tutor in the lead up to the admissions process, particularly where the child is not already at the relevant school’s pre-prep and may not be receiving the same kind of preparation as its own pupils. Grove Tutors can liaise with the school to obtain past papers and ensure that the key subjects and skills in the tests are covered.

One further criticism of the SAT model is that the results of the tests show the child and parent how well they are performing, but do not provide specific feedback in order for them to learn from the tests. The process therefore encourages a ‘cramming’ mentality only measured on how a child performs on the day, not how they are developing over the academic year and signposting areas to work on. However, it is the duty of teachers and tutors to provide this feedback throughout the year, identifying a child’s interests and strengths, which can often be a good long term indicator of future interests and abilities. A good tutor can keep parents updated on a child’s strengths, areas for further development and most importantly, their interests. At Grove Tutors, we focus tutors’ efforts on making the child passionate about the subject, engaging their student and encouraging children to see forthcoming assessments not as an exam, but as a way of developing their awareness of different things.

To learn more about how Grove Tutors can help your child with assessments at any age, please get in touch via our contact page.