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 Richard Barnes, deputy head at Somerset’s All Hallows Preparatory School, to find out…
How did your most recent crop of exam age students fare?
In the Academic Year 2016-17 our Year 8 pupils achieved 41 scholarships to 12 different senior schools from a cohort of 40 pupils. These scholarships included Academic, All-rounder, Sport, Music, Art and Product Design/CDT awards. This is a stunning achievement, particularly as the school is largely non-selective on entry. This pattern replicates the pattern of attainment at scholarship level by Year 8 pupils at the transfer stage in recent years.
Indeed, since 2012 nearly two thirds of our Year 8 cohort have been awarded some form of scholarship award by their destination school. Pupils’ performance at Common Entrance has been consistently excellent too, with every child gaining entry to their first choice senior school.
This academic success has been bolstered by high-performance in music and the performing arts, with pupils taking part in the Bath Festival, and achieving stellar results in their LAMDA examinations. Pupils have also gained local, regional and national sporting success, too, with our athletes and tennis players receiving national recognition. Furthermore, we are delighted to note that this cohort has gone on to settle into their senior schools extremely well, which we hope reflects the children’s preparation socially, emotionally and academically.
What do these results mean to the school and its teaching staff?
As a staff, we are immensely proud, not just of our pupils’ results, but more importantly of the young people they have become. The pupils’ attainment in their Common Entrance and scholarship examinations is great to see, but we believe that learning is a journey, and that pupils’ progress is as important as their grades. Looking back, many pupils and parents would not have believed their outcomes two or three years ago. It is important to say, too, that we are equally proud of the development in our pupils’ confidence and their intellectual character. Outcomes such as curiosity, resilience, and our pupils’ contribution to the community in their senior schools and wider society are just as important to us.
Beyond grades, how do you measure “success” in the classroom?
Through the school’s teaching and learning, and through devices such as ‘split-screen’ learning objectives, we aim to promote each pupil’s intellectual character. We want to cultivate, grow and celebrate each child’s capacity to combine thinking skills with knowledge, confidence and self-esteem, to believe in the legitimacy of their own thoughts, to speak their mind articulately (but change it when required), to contest poor thinking and prejudice assertively, and enjoy the challenge of mental sparring.
Regular ‘whole-child’ meetings ensure that pupils’ growth in these areas forms just as great a role in the outcomes we value as their progress in discrete subjects. We foster intellectual risk-taking and curiosity, independence, resilience and effective learning habits within an ambitious, supportive learning community where individual learning profiles are nurtured and celebrated, and where all children are encouraged to strive to achieve their very best. The essence of a growth mindset is embedded within the pupils, parents and teachers in the school community.
How do you put students at ease during the exam season?
Our school is led by an educational psychologist, a rarity in our sector, who works closely with pupils, staff and parents to foster the development of a balanced perspective, and help pupils to manage any anxieties that arise. Our focus on progress and growth helps us to put examinations into their proper context.
In conjunction with other staff, the Head also leads study skills sessions to equip our children to manage their preparation for examinations which will inevitably become part of their academic lives moving forwards. Furthermore, part of the school’s mission is to help our children flourish in whatever comes next for them. We also run seminars for parents, believing that interventions are far more powerful if we work in partnership to create the best outcomes for our children.