As a British national curriculum school, Victory Heights Primary School in Dubai is keen to balance high academic attainment with a nurturing environment. So while its educational philosophy is one of pursuing excellence, its culture is that of a local community school where every child’s strengths and weaknesses are known.
As the school approaches the end of its third year, pupil numbers have soared from 250 to 630. The majority of children come from international ex-patriate families, and most speak English as their first language.
Laura Dowlman, Deputy Head of the school, comments: “We welcome children who have previously studied many different curriculums all over the world. If they are coming from overseas, we aren’t always able to meet them before they join us so we need a way to profile them from a distance. We ask the school where they are currently studying to supervise the child as they carry out the CAT4 test online. Following a British curriculum in Dubai, it’s imperative to benchmark the achievements of our children internationally and check they are in line with UK levels. CAT4 helps us to do this, and so much more.”
Detailed and accurate
GL Education’s Cognitive Abilities Test assesses a pupil’s ability to reason with and manipulate different types of material through a series of verbal, non-verbal, quantitative and spatial ability tasks. The results provide a comprehensive profile of a pupil’s core abilities when it comes to learning and can be considered alongside attainment data to ensure each child’s potential is maximised.
Kathryn Dixon, Learning Enhancement Co-ordinator, continues: “CAT4 gives us a thorough report on children’s abilities and what their needs are. It’s a valid marker of potential, and is especially useful for looking at spatial ability, which would be very hard to determine by other means.
“As well as for overseas admissions, we have been using the assessment with all our Key Stage 2 children (years 3, 4, 5 and 6). This gives us a comprehensive overview of our Key Stage 2 cohort, and helps us set realistic targets and track progress over time.”
Once children have been assessed, the results are shared with the senior leaders as well as class teachers. Laura says: “The group report for teachers gives highly detailed data on individual students, and teachers are very positive about the information they receive. Usually, results correspond with the teacher’s own judgements, which is reassuring. However, there have been a few surprises.
“For example, we had siblings at school who were very close in age, one of whom was dyslexic. The level of their academic achievements had led us to believe that the child without dyslexia was the more able. However, we discovered from the CAT4 results that this simply wasn’t true.
“What I really like about CAT4 is that it gives every child an opportunity to shine. Its real value to us is highlighting where a child’s strengths lie. Then, we can develop these whilst still addressing any areas which require support.”
This commitment to personalised learning was favourably noted in the school’s latest Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) school inspection report, which stated: “Teachers’ knowledge of students’ strengths and weaknesses in most subjects and phases resulted in the majority of teachers providing support, modifying activities and providing appropriate time for students to achieve.”
Parents at the school are extremely interested and involved with their child’s education, so plans are underway to begin sharing results with them, too.
Kathryn explains: “The parents here like to know how they can help so we are keen to work out the best way to share CAT4 results with them. At the moment we do it on an ad hoc basis, perhaps as part of a wider conversation around academic results, or if we want to ensure we are setting realistic targets.
“For example, we had one pupil who joined us in Year 5 at an attainment level at least two years below where she should be. She had not received any support or intervention at her previous school, but it was something we started straightaway. Her standardised CAT4 scores showed low averages across all four batteries, so we met with her parents, sharing the results in order to set realistic targets for her.
“As it happens, her birthday was at the end of August, so the possibility of repeating a year had been on her parents’ minds for some time. The CAT4 results formed a key part in the conversation about how best to meet this girl’s needs.”
Conversely, the school has also identified many children for whom expectations could be set higher.
“Our aim is always to set challenging but reachable targets. We had one pupil whose overall ability was very high, although his achievements to date had not been outstanding. We had suspected he could do better, but seeing the evidence in black and white gave us a renewed focus on working out what was holding him back. We are currently working on improving his attitude and motivating him more. “Although we’ve only used CAT4 for a short amount of time, we already know we will be able to have an even bigger impact on achievement by utilising the results further.”
In Dubai, affluent parents often take advantage of the fact that there are many educational options open to their children. Laura says: “It’s quite usual for a child to join mid-way through the academic year, especially if the parents feel a previous school has not done all it could for their child.
“School inspections take place every year, and these reports are very publicly available. They can heavily influence parents’ decisions, and yet a year gives quite a short time frame in which to make substantial improvements.
“CAT4 is on the KHDA list of approved international benchmarks, and our inspection report mentioned the fact that our assessment systems were linked closely to the National Curriculum in England and provided valid measures of student attainment. Of course, we’re striving to improve all the time as part of our vison statement to ‘Nurture, Challenge, Excel’. Results from CAT4 will play a key part in helping us effectively meet the learning needs of all our students, as well as providing appropriate challenges to ensure an excellent and sustained rate of progress.”