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Taking testing seriously

Alastair Montgomery, Director of UKiset, reflects on how schools and families benefit from advances in assessing international applicants

Posted by Alice Savage | May 02, 2017 | International

Rewind three years ago and the UKiset test was being designed to address the myriad ways that independent schools were recruiting international students. Each school had their own system, largely assessing what the applicant knew about the British curriculum using tests devised, arranged and marked by their own staff. Prospective families navigated their way through each school’s policies and could wait weeks to find out about their fate. 

Today, many of the same schools use UKiset to assess international applications. Using an objective test of underlying academic potential and English language skill, schools spend their valuable time on the most suitable applicants. It is hard for all stakeholders (admissions teams, families and academic agents) in this growing market to gauge how a child measures up against British students of the same age. Standardised scores provide a direct comparison between the candidate’s abilities and students in the UK – both nationally and within the independent schools sector. 

Alison Stanbury, Walden School, said: “It is difficult to know what international applicants are really like in terms of future potential, so UKiset helps enormously in this way. It is also a good message to send to overseas students and agencies that the school takes testing seriously.”

Ahead of the ISC census figures being published on the state of independent schools’ student numbers, UKiset has seen a steady growth in international students applying for coveted places at British independent schools. With increased competition for limited places, an assessment to differentiate applicant qualities has become increasingly necessary. 

It is hard for international families to gauge how their child measures up against British students of the same age. Prior to UKiset there were few ways for these students to know what the academic standards are in the UK, and if they would be able to keep up with their British peers. This data then often supports agents and admissions teams in helping families understand why their child might not be the right fit for a particular school.

Alistair Montgomery, Director of UKiset

At a recent gathering of registrars from leading British schools in which we reported on market trends and lessons learned, it was clear that UKiset has changed the way we approach international applications. In the past, admissions teams and academic departments needed to allocate valuable resource in developing their own assessments. These tests would need to be benchmarked, arranged at secure test sites, distributed, collected and marked before decisions could be made. All registrars can relate to the difficulty in trying to get their own maths tests marked midway through a school holiday! 

Anastasia Hatvany, Registrar at Downside, said: “All of the information is hugely helpful. We accepted a Year 10 boy from Hong Kong on UKiset alone and looking at his most recent report, UKiset was an excellent indication of promise.”

UKiset is proud to have recently assessed its 5000th candidate since our launch in September 2014 and having sent profiles to over 300 British schools; we are looking towards the future. As evidenced at the recent BAISIS conference UKiset attended, British curriculum schools overseas are increasingly keen to demonstrate that they are as good as their British counterparts and UKiset is a good measure to see how they compare. 

Further innovation in looking deeper at applicant skills will also extend the kind of profiling entry testing can achieve. Schools are becoming interested in considering and assessing soft skills such as social acuity, resilience and attitudes towards learning. Future tests might include modules designed to look at a wider range of skills in order to find the right fit for the right environment.  


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