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Elstree and the ISEB Common Pre-Test

We, surely, all want our children, and those children in our care, to be happy and successful. In that order. We want young people to thrive whilst feeling relaxed and supported and, ultimately, we want our children to feel a sense of worth. One major challenge to us as parents, carers and teachers is that of examinations; particularly when it comes to entrance to their next school. We naturally want to guide, support, and encourage young people whilst also hoping they find their own motivation to take on the challenges they face. Examinations cut to the very core of our insecurities and doubts and, like sporting selections or casting for plays, the first time it really matters can be the most daunting for the adults involved.

It is no surprise to me that the move by most major independent senior schools in the U.K. to use the I.S.E.B. Common Pre-Test (CPT), a computerised test sat in the Autumn Term of Year 6, has created concerns. Approximately two hours in total, in front of a screen, to summarise my child’s suitability? No creative tasks or written work? Testing in Year 6 for a place which starts in Year 9?

Lots of questions to answer and a wide range of senior schools to visit.

Many families will have concerns about their child being able to demonstrate their full potential and range of skills in a relatively short period of time. I also understand that some parents become anxious that their child is being judged. It is critical to understand the point that the CPT is a small snapshot of a child, in conjunction with the Head’s reference (including an academic profile) and an interview. A number of schools will also have a second stage of assessments. The majority of senior schools use the CPT to ensure the child is a ‘reasonable’ candidate relative to their other applicants; then subsequently interviewing and assessing in greater depth.

Recently we had a senior member of staff from the admissions department of one the country’s most competitive schools visit Elstree. We spent much of our meeting talking about how families should be doing all they can to produce well rounded individuals; not spending hours (or considerable amounts of money) on improving their verbal reasoning scores by a few points. Senior schools are looking for interested and interesting pupils and Elstree’s close relationships with leading schools has shown us that they are experienced at identifying potential rather than simply offering places based on current attainment alone. It is important to remind parents that the pre-test has no correlation with winning scholarships or fee reductions and rarely do we see a child going to the wrong school.

Headmaster of Elstree, Mr Sid Inglis regularly communicates with senior schools and I have seen first-hand how much respect and influence his comments carry with senior school admissions. Elstree takes pride in not ‘hot housing’ pupils in advance of such assessments, but I hope we find the correct balance of ensuring pupils feel confident and prepared. Our record of sending pupils to the most competitive environments provides us with a sense of confidence in our process.

At Elstree we offer the following: 

- Every child attending an interview will have interview practice with senior staff
- Pupils in Years 5 and 6 benefit from the ‘Elstree Enrichment’ periods on a Friday evening. These include lectures, guest speakers (often from senior schools) and other CPT lessons. We have received positive feedback from a number of senior schools both in terms of these periods preparing pupils for assessments and adding to the curriculum. 
- This additional support works in conjunction with English and Maths lessons which consider the Common Pre-Test in their planning.

We are currently working with the Atom and BOFA websites to allow pupils and families to access suitable materials from home as well as providing engaging resources for those children in the classroom. At Elstree we recognise every child is different and each application and assessment will provide a unique set of circumstances. I hope with our close and personal approach to this important time we can ensure all pupils are supported to show their best whilst still allowing them to enjoy all that prep schools has to offer beyond assessments.