The Dutch primary education system is based around the premise that all children, including those of the ever-growing expatriate community, should be able to learn in the way that suits them best. In Hilversum, the IPS Violenschool has offered the Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) since it received its official authorisation in 2000, an achievement of which it is very proud.
Around 400 students aged four to 12 now attend the school. Kelly Werner, SENCO at IPS Violenschool, explains: “Our state funded school provides an international education to the children of families temporarily living in The Netherlands. We have children from 43 different nationalities, with new pupils starting at any time during the academic year.”
Assessment in the Primary Years Programme is primarily used to provide feedback on the learning process. Kelly continues: “As an international school, we have a very high turnover of children so we feel it is beneficial to have additional measures in place to look at achievement and progress.”
Checking ability levels
To test pupils’ reading and writing ability, the school uses Progress in English (PiE) from Group 3 (age 6-7).
From Group 4, the New Group Reading Test (NGRT) is used to provide a comprehensive overview of a pupil’s reading and comprehension ability and identify any areas where there may be difficulties.
“Understanding the English ability levels of our pupils is incredibly important to us as typically more than 80% of our children speak English as an additional language (EAL). We also have a high level of bilingual children as well as many who have grown up in multiple different countries.
“We really like the breakdown of the spelling, grammar and comprehension from PiE. It helps the teachers to get to know the children and their level of understanding, as comprehension can be hard to measure. If there isn’t much progress when children are re-tested, teachers are able to give more attention to working on the weaker areas.
“NGRT gives us a year-on-year reading age for individual children, which we use as an aid for checking progress. All our classes are mixed ability, so we need to carefully check progress is being made.
“PiE and NGRT provide a way of backing up teachers’ observations as to who could benefit from extra support to stay on track.”
Setting the stage
Teachers really appreciate the extra layer of information about their pupils. “They love to see the results as it’s so valuable to know what stage pupils are at with their reading. It also helps us fulfil the statistical requirements we are legally obliged to send to the Dutch government.”
Kelly regularly gets together with class teachers to discuss the progress of each child, no mean feat when you consider there are more than 20 teachers working over the school’s three locations. “In a fast growing school such as ours, with a high turnover, it’s useful to build individual record keeping files to go through together. If the child is staying with us for a while, information from PiE and NGRT accumulates and we can discuss the progress they’ve made over the years.”
Moving on with CAT4
When it comes to secondary education, primary schools in the Netherlands are legally obliged to recommend to parents of children in their last year (Group 8) which type of school will most suit their child – an academic path, a general track or a vocational route. This is based on the child’s performance in previous years and his or her personal interests.
To gain some additional information, IPS Violenschool uses the digital version of the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4), which gives a robust and reliable profile of a child’s underlying abilities.
“We’ve found it very constructive to give parents some provisional advice before it’s time to look at options for their children’s future studies so the whole family is more informed and prepared for the decisions they will make in Group 8. For this reason, we use CAT4 in the Spring of Group 7.
“We usually invite the parents to an evening at the school where we can explain the information CAT4 gives us, how we interpret it and how it tallies with our professional judgement. Then we send the CAT4 Parent Reports home digitally. It’s something we find so useful, we are considering using it in Group 5 as well.
“In a school like ours, PiE, NGRT and CAT4 give teachers a welcome supplementary source of knowledge about their pupils’ abilities and progress, no matter how long they stay with us."