From entrance papers to GCSEs, A-Levels and beyond, exams are a fact of life for students up and down the country. But how do schools prepare young people for the trials and tribulations of testing and how important are good grades to future success? We spoke to Janet Watts, deputy head (academic) at Hampshire’s Farleigh School, to find out…
How did your most recent crop of exam age students fare?
Farleigh pupils go on to a very wide range of senior schools around the country and 2017 was no exception. Of the 55 pupils in Year 8, eight boys went to Sherborne and eight girls to Sherborne Girls; six pupils went to Marlborough, six girls to Godolphin and five boys to Downside. The others went to many other schools, including two pupils to each of the following schools: Bryanston, Frensham Heights, Radley, St Mary’s Ascot and St Mary’s Calne.
Of these pupils, 20 gained awards (academic, all rounder, sport, art, music and performing arts) to their senior schools and two obtained the top Common Entrance results across all prep schools entering Sherborne School – one for the top CE mark in Biology and the other for the top result in Geography.
What do these results mean to the school and its teaching staff?
We teachers always have a tremendous sense of achievement when our pupils get into their first choice of senior school, especially when you take into account the extent of their involvement in so many other activities – music, sport, drama, debating, riding etc. There is a lot for these 12 and 13 year olds to juggle!
Beyond grades, how do you measure “success” in the classroom?
We measure success in the classroom by ‘value added’ measures. We look at ‘value added’ in two areas:
- Cognition, which is academic progress, measured using a number of different national assessments including standardised tests such as Cognitive Ability Tests (CATS) and National Assessment in Maths and English, including Reading and Spelling.
- Character, which is known as the soft value added, in other words the development of life skills and the character education developing positive personal strengths such as mental toughness, confidence and commitment.
Looking at the standardised scores enables us to assess a child in a number of ways:
- How the child fits into the context of their peer group.
- The predicted future attainment of the pupil and future schooling. A child with low standardised scores will struggle with academic work and will need a very nurturing senior school, whereas a child with high-standardised scores would show that they are a potential academic scholar.
- Where pupils are under-achieving, we may suggest that they might benefit from additional learning support, almost all of it provided free of charge at Farleigh.
We have also introduced a new online academic tracking system called ‘Classroom Monitor’, which enables us to monitor each child’s attainment in subjects across the school; these reveal attainment progress in each subject.
How do you put students at ease during the exam season?
In September, pupils in Years 6, 7 and 8 have a morning dedicated to ‘study skills’. Pupils in Year 8 who need extra support will have regular study skills sessions with members of the Learning Support team. The pupils are always very well prepared and therefore do not feel too anxious.
Help with revision is provided for boarders and there are quiet areas for private study in the Boarding Houses. In the lead up to exams the older pupils have compulsory extra study time in the evenings to help them prepare.
All pupils in Years 6, 7 and 8 are given revision guidelines before formal exams and in Years 3-5 we try to lessen the worry of exams by calling their tests ‘assessments’ and these are simply undertaken during class time and in class.