Independent schools’ surprise tests to counter overtutored pupils
Some GSA schools are using unexpected tests to assess 10 year olds fairly. The tests make sure that prospective pupils who have been intensively coached for the express purpose of doing well in school entrance exams do not have an unfair advantage.
Jane Lunnon, headmistress of Wimbledon High School believes that some families are putting children through too many entrance exams. “We’ve seen a significant rise in applications, particularly over the last two years. It’s very, very competitive, this year we had one place for every ten sitting the tests. We all have a moral obligation to take the heat out of the situation. There’s something of a frenzy developing.
“It’s really important that parents and primary schools are measured and judicious in the applications they are making.” She recommended applying for three schools at most, adding that one girl had told her it was her 13th test.
Wimbledon is one of the schools that has introduced new challenges to tackle overcoaching. Mrs Lunnon said: “We set verbal reasoning and non-verbal reasoning papers but we wanted more information — these are all capable, bright young women.”
“Tutoring takes away time from children who should be climbing trees or reading or playing with friends on Saturday morning.
“Girls as young as five, six or seven are aware of a school’s performance. They talk about the desire to get into a school because of its results. If I’d asked a girl ten years ago what she liked about a school, she might have said, ‘It’s got a good swimming pool’.
Sally-Anne Huang, the headmistress at James Allen’s Girls School, in south London, is also bringing in unpredictable tests. “I was stunned when we had entrance days in January and little girls had done six or seven school exams in the last fortnight. It’s sad for them, not the best use of their childhood and not entirely necessary. Parents should think about what they actually want rather than having a scattergun approach and have a sense of what suits their children.
“There is so much tutoring going on it is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between very able children and those who have been very highly coached.” From the next academic year the school will ask pupils to sit initial online tests before inviting successful candidates to take the main exams.
“Girls come to interview and say exactly what they’ve been told, eg, that Jane Eyre is their favourite book, but they can’t name a character from it . . . it’s obvious they’ve been coached. I’d rather they chose something by Roald Dahl and talked enthusiastically about it.”