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Mrs Cook’s Blog
Last Saturday we welcomed a record number of girls in to the senior school for Entrance Test Day. It is a date that has been circled on calendars inside and outside school for well over a year now; the finale of our Year 7 admissions adventure.
Many parents and girls who have ‘been through’ the process of applying to independent schools talk about it with real angst. They refer to the sleepless nights, the anxieties, the feelings of inadequacy, the hours spent on specimen papers – and that’s just the parents!
And for us, on the other side, we see girls who get quite worried and this is bound to prevent them from performing to their best. At the other end of the scale, some arrive supremely confident… as long as they are asked all the questions they have been prepared for. In previous years, we have ‘interviewed’ girls who have clearly been primed to deliver the ‘right’ answer.
This year we decided to do things differently. This was certainly not a flippant decision nor was it made quickly or as a response to any one factor. We simply started to question the value of the data (and the process) we were using in terms of informing us about an individual girl’s potential for learning. We established that the aim of our Entrance Test process for Year 7 should be to find out how girls think and learn, rather than what they already know. We wanted to find out what they could achieve at Croydon High, rather than what they have already achieved.
In short, rather than assess what our applicants know and how well they have already been trained, we are much more interested in finding out how they think and how they respond to engaging teaching.
So, in consultation with key members of the teaching staff, we designed a process intended to make girls feel comfortable, to reduce pressure and to give them a platform where they could shine. Our aim was to engage the girls in a process that was perceived as fun (or certainly not scary) and yet provided the academic challenge to be expected from a school like Croydon High.
Firstly, the girls had a lesson. They were introduced to a topic and given an opportunity to discuss it. They then produced a piece of writing based on what they had been taught but with scope for them to use their imaginations and their own creative ideas. These scripts were marked and the experienced teachers who delivered the lesson also took time to observe the girls, to see how they listened and interacted.
The girls also sat an adaptive online test to measure their ability in numeracy, problem solving and literacy. By adaptive, we mean it responds to the girl’s individual answers, getting harder each time they got a question right (and changing direction slightly if an answer is wrong and it is apparent the respondent is not familiar with this sort of question). In this way, each experience becomes personalised and unique and no child is faced with question after question that demand skills or knowledge that they have not covered before. Neither can those who have been prepared for a specific type of test, simply churn out what they have learned to be the right answers. The test challenges each girl sufficiently until it finds her level but, crucially, there is no preparation required and no practice papers are available.
Finally, the girls enjoyed some philosophical debate! In small groups of no more than six, each with a teacher, the girls discussed ideas and thoughts centred around questions such as… is there more future or past? Or, how do you know if something exists if you cannot see it?
In a non-intimidating environment, the conversations flowed freely and the staff were really able to see the girls’ personalities come through. It wasn’t just about who had all the ideas or who grasped the concepts, it was also about who listened, who was persuasive in their arguments and who could express their thoughts. No rights or wrongs.
After a lively and delicious lunch, when copious amounts of lasagne and cupcakes were devoured, the girls burnt off their energy with a fantastic session in the Sports Club, with fast moving, fun and competitive games organised by our wonderful PE department.
We thought it was a wonderful day but more importantly, it seems the girls and their parents thought it was too. The atmosphere throughout was positive and happy, in fact several girls asked me when they were going to do the test! We now have the information we need to make informed decisions about entry and the advantage is that, this year, we have had the opportunity to really get to know the girls so that they are far more than just a name and score on a test paper. Feedback from parents has been so positive – the following quotes being very typical…
I would like to thank you and your staff for making her feel so welcome at today’s Entrance Exam. She was understandably nervous first thing this morning but has returned brimming with energy and enthusiasm, in particular for her History lesson – at the dinner table she was uncharacteristically animated while retelling the story of The Titanic!
Thanks again for making what could have been such a daunting experience, so enjoyable. I sincerely hope she has done well enough to join you in September as I feel Croydon High is exactly the right environment for her.
Both my husband and I feel that it was extremely refreshing for her to be assessed in such innovative ways as opposed to the exam techniques.
We are now looking forward to welcoming an outstanding group of individuals in September, who will make up the Year 7 Class of 2019 and will embark on the next exciting stage of their educational journey together. Every girl, every day.
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