Parents wanted more English and a greater exposure to global issues, so we met demand by transforming into an international school at an affordable rate. We are keen to keep our Malaysian values, but now we need to benchmark students on a world-wide platform. As a non-selective school, we also need to be sure that prospective students can keep up with lessons taught in English.
Peter Wells, Principal

Transforming to an international education in Malaysia

With an educational heritage going back more than 20 years, Taylor’s International School started the transition from a Malaysian to a British national curriculum in 2011 and will become a full international school in 2016. Part of the Taylor’s Education Group, the school’s central aim is to ‘educate the youth of the world to take their productive place as leaders in a global community’.

With the exception of Mandarin and Malaysian language lessons, all classes are now conducted in English. However, unlike most other international schools, here the vast majority of the teachers and the 1640 students, aged three to 16, are Malaysian. In other words, they are teaching and being taught in a language that is only native to around 15% of the school.

Peter Wells, Principal, explains: “Parents wanted more English and a greater exposure to global issues, so we met demand by transforming into an international school at an affordable rate. We are keen to keep our Malaysian values, but now we need to benchmark students on a world-wide platform. As a non-selective school, we also need to be sure that prospective students can keep up with lessons taught in English.”

Assessing ability

In 2012, the school started using GL Assessment’s Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4). This looks at pupils’ developed abilities in verbal, non-verbal, quantitative and spatial tasks, and helps schools understand likely academic potential. For Taylor’s International school, the assessment met several requirements.

Peter says: “Our school year runs from January to November, but children can join us at any time and from any place. So, we needed something we could use to support our admissions process that wasn’t specifically linked to any one curriculum.

“As CAT4 is an online assessment, results are received instantaneously. We can quickly see a child’s strengths and weaknesses, and this helps to speed up our decision making process about the most appropriate teaching support when it comes to admissions. On a basic level, if a child doesn’t have the language skills to access CAT4, we know they will struggle with lessons taught in English. In isolated cases when we are unable to offer the child a place, CAT4 gives us useful information for when we talk to their parents and explain why.”

The school was also looking for something teachers could use to help benchmark, set targets and assess children accurately, all the way up the school to IGCSE level. “As CAT4 looks at a child’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s a powerful starting point for students and teachers alike.”

A bright outlook

As well as on entry, children are further assessed using CAT4 at crucial education points. Peter explains: “We assess in Year 4 to sum up children’s primary education, Year 7 as they move to secondary school and Year 9, to help with their IGCSE choices.

“Interestingly, we hadn’t expected our students to score as highly as they have, so CAT4 has helped us lift our expectations in the first few years of our transition to the new curriculum. It’s had a huge impact on teaching at the school. We know we can benchmark lessons at a higher level, and that many pupils would benefit from being challenged.”

A new approach

CAT4 was quite different to anything that the school had previously done. “Teachers were not familiar with this type of tool as there is no Malaysian equivalent, so the notion of an indicated grade was something of an alien concept,” says Peter. “However, teachers were quick to see the advantages of bringing in a robust and accurate system. I’ve seen them gain confidence from the fact that CAT4 results tend to match their own judgments so they know they are doing the right thing.

“We’ve also seen that with focused teaching we have been able to improve on the indications. We challenged students who were underachieving and used this as positive evidence that they can achieve higher grades. Approximately 60% of our actual results are higher than the standard indicated grades.” As principal, Peter looks at the cohort results with the senior leadership team. “Malaysia is a melting pot of Indian, Chinese and Malay so we tend to see high spatial and quantitative scores. The results help us stream abilities in English and maths from Year 5 and also to place any new students in an appropriate set straight away.

“CAT4 results are a very powerful way of tackling student engagement, especially for anyone who is flagging up as attaining less than they could be at IGCSE level. We’re able to quickly address motivation if they lose direction, and get them back on board psychologically with one-to-one conversations of how much we think they can achieve.”

Measuring maths and English attainment

Two years ago, the school introduced the use of Progress in English (PiE), which looks at children’s reading and writing ability, and Progress in Maths (PiM), which tests mathematical skills and concepts.

“Previously we were uncertain about how well we were doing compared to the children’s peers worldwide, so we needed a standardised assessment to see what progress we were making,” says Peter. “Now we share data with parents to demonstrate how their children are doing against others learning the UK curriculum.

“Both PiE and PiM highlight areas of strength and help us address any points of concern. For example, we’ve found that the level of oral English is much higher than written English amongst our younger pupils, so now we focus our teaching accordingly. The assessments give us a clear marker of the starting point, a target to aim for and a way of checking we get there.

“Again, our teachers had no real concept of these kinds of assessments before, but they reacted enthusiastically to the benefits when they saw them in action. PiE and PiM give a good degree of knowledge – you don’t have to rely on guess work about which concepts children understand.”

Successful transition

Having moved from a national to an international curriculum, the school is keen to get an insight into how pupils have coped by using the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School survey (PASS). “It’s important to take on board how our pupils are handling our new way of doing things, so we’ll look at using PASS in the future.”

In the meantime, Peter is confident that CAT4, PiE and PiM have supported the transition. “Their worth to us is undeniable. To my mind, the main advantages are that we can show the value we’re adding, teacher confidence has increased and we now have a system for accurate benchmarking of pupils.

“We’re part of a bigger group of schools, but unlike us, they have the more typical expatriate student body you might expect from an international school. Because of this, we’re often questioned by parents about how effective what we’re doing is and how can we be sure we’re successful. CAT4, PiM and PiE give us hard evidence that our teachers can do the job well, now that we are following a British curriculum. These assessments verify our success and firmly place our school on an international platform."

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