The British School of Manila (BSM) is unique in the Philippines as it operates entirely in English and follows the UK’s national curriculum up to age 16, after which students study the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). However, as children come from different parts of the world and have followed many different syllabuses, BSM needed a form of assessment that focused on potential and capability rather than knowledge.
As a co-educational school with 800 students aged three to 18, there is no such thing as a typical background for the students that enrol in the British School of Manila. Glenn Hardy, head of the primary school explains, “About 30% of our students are British, 24% are Filipino and the rest are a mix from all over the world. Many have parents on international assignments here, perhaps at one of the banks or at the embassy, so some children only stay with us for a short amount of time. Entry can be at any point in the term, depending on when a place becomes available.”
BSM’s unique status in the Philippines means that demand is high, so students need to be assessed to go on to the waiting list. “We’re a selective school, but not highly selective. The most important criteria is that children are able to fully operate in English. Beyond this we also need some predictor of level – a standardised assessment that is divorced from the curriculum so that we can look at our children as individuals, as well as a cohort. It can’t be a curriculum-based test as, for example, children from Korea or Japan will not previously have followed the British national curriculum so might score badly despite being tremendously bright.”
GL Assessment’s Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT) assesses numerical, non-verbal and verbal reasoning as well as an element of spatial ability. The school has been using CAT for the past seven years, and made the decision to adopt the digital version two years ago.
Glenn explains, “It made complete sense for us to go online. We have an annual 15% turnover of students and with the rolling entry system, we need to administer CAT literally every week. By testing online, we can get the results immediately and the data is available to all the teachers. Previously, subject teachers and heads of faculty would have been made aware of the scores, but the fact they now have better access has opened a lot of eyes to the value of CAT results.”
Ready, steady, go
Students sit the CAT assessment to see if they qualify to be added to the waiting list. Once they have a place, the primary school translates the CAT results into a traffic light system with green indicating children who are performing above the level for their age, yellow showing that they are at an age-appropriate level and red highlighting an issue.
“The traffic light system is a simple but effective way to identify any children that are underperforming when a teacher would expect more from them. As an international school, the results of CAT, taken alongside GL Assessment’s Progress in English (PiE) and Progress in Maths (PiM), are an ideal replacement for Key Stage 2 SATs at age 11, before the students move into senior school.”
In the senior school, Catherine Johnson, assistant head, sums up how CAT helps them. “We use CAT to help decide whether potential students will be offered a place, to help place a new student in an appropriate group – such as which set for Mathematics – and also to help with tracking and target grades. It gives our staff a general picture of the students’ overall ability and allows quick identification of those at the extremes.”
The senior school was keen to develop a tracking system to monitor pupils’ progress, and as CAT can be used as an indicator for future educational attainment, it was the obvious place to start.
Dinah Hawtree, head of the senior school, explains further. “Over the last year we have really developed the use of CAT to enable us to work out ‘tracks’ for our students, to help us ensure children are fulfilling their potential. Essentially, we created a formula to apply to the children’s CAT scores and this guides staff on the general ability of a child when they take over new groups.”
At age 14, we use CAT to predict grades for GCSE results. Dinah continues, “With so many of our children coming from backgrounds where education is valued and parents have high expectations, our pupils tend to outperform children in the UK. To allow for this, in Years 10 - 11, we use the results as a target minimum grade the pupils should be aiming for, and would expect the children to do as well or better. In Years 12 - 13, we use it alongside the GCSE results to set challenging target grades for students beginning the IB Diploma.”
As well as levelling the playing field for students entering the school, all agree that one of the key benefits of CAT lies in its accuracy. “In my experience,” says Dinah, “CAT is a largely reliable predictor of ability and is simple to administer, both in terms of testing and getting the scores.