Recruiting the ‘right’ international students – best practice in admissions testing

SPONSORED: Helen Wood, Head of School Partnerships at Password English Language Testing, shows how the company can facilitate admissions decision-making with reliable tests

In their introduction to the APPG Report on International Students issued in November, Co-Chairs, Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea and Paul Blomfeld MP argued that, while education is one of the UK’s greatest assets, Brexit and a hostile migration policy have put us on a ‘self-defeating course’ which undermines this.

One area of concern highlighted was the off-putting processes facing older students even before they receive an offer from their university of choice or start the complex visa application. These include expensive tests as well as additional travel costs to assessment centres, often located far from their home city.

It does not take a great leap of imagination to see how this pertains to international pupils applying to UK independent schools, too. Regardless of whether their school has more overseas applicants than places or depends on international recruitment to sustain its numbers, the fundamental challenge for the Head of Admissions remains the same: to ensure prospective international pupils will thrive and achieve the goals that are bringing them to Britain in the first place while assessing them in student-friendly, efficient and reliable ways.

Traditionally, schools used their own paper-based tests in English and maths, sometimes supplemented by commercially produced Non-Verbal Reasoning (NVR) papers. But sending papers and scripts backwards and forwards, marking and subsequent data input all become increasingly challenging as numbers of applicants grow. Additionally, to be secure, in-house tests need to be regularly refreshed or the danger is that a pupil’s results will not necessarily reflect their real ability. This is similarly the case when published NVR papers are used and practice versions are available for purchase, as this facilitates tutoring to the test.

Until recently, there were only two alternatives to a school’s own English tests. Firstly, basic general English online placement tests designed by publishers to sort students into the right level class on their first day in a language school. While these are easy to administer and relatively economical, they are not intended for making critical admissions decisions about whether a prospective EAL (English as an additional language) pupil will be able to access the academic curriculum or how much language support they may need to facilitate this.

The fundamental challenge for the Head of Admissions remains the same: to ensure prospective international pupils will thrive and achieve the goals that are bringing them to Britain in the first place

The other alternative to a school’s own tests – university entrance exams such as IELTS – are inappropriate for school-aged pupils in terms of the content and the cognitive challenge involved. And, in any case, they are only conducted at specific test centres on fixed dates which delays matters considerably.

With respect to maths tests, commercially produced online versions can be bought, at least ensuring a school’s entrance assessment dates can be flexible. But these tests often consist of a bundle package including non-verbal and verbal reasoning components, where the weighting of the VR element penalises EAL pupils because they are standardised against a UK cohort of whom EAL pupils represent a minority.

Password online English and maths assessments, specifically designed for international pupils, overcome all these problems. Password’s testing platform was originally developed for universities and their pathway providers, but in 2014 d’Overbroeck’s in Oxford experimented using the HE test for their Year 12 applicants. Liking the system, but feeling the content needed customisation for pupils across the age-range, d’Overbroeck’s helped instigate a collaboration between Password and a wider group of independent schools – and the Password Pupil suite of tests was born.

Today, Password Pupil results can be relied upon for admission to secondary education, GCSE, A-level and IB programmes or utilised for international pupil placement on arrival. Password Pupil facilitates admissions decision-making by providing accurate, reliable English language and maths tests, securely delivered, every day of the year in over 120 countries from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe. This contributes to exactly what the APPG report called for – a ‘frictionless’ admissions process for international students and, crucially, schools can be confident these pupils are the right ‘fit’ for their school.

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