The Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) heads’ conference in late September was titled ‘Emerging with ambition’ and focused prep school leaders’ minds on the creativity and vision required to continue driving improvement forward in a post-Covid landscape. The theme encouraged me to reflect on how Password and our partner prep schools have pressed ahead with innovations during this difficult period.
Any quick Google search of the terms ‘UK preparatory school’ and ‘international admissions’ produces pages of results, illustrating how proactively schools are marketing to overseas parents of younger pupils. And, if the number of Pupil English (Younger) tests conducted is anything to go by, our partner schools continued to successfully recruit internationally throughout Covid imposed closures.
So, what drove us and our partners to collaborate on developing a new test for the prep school sector, despite doing so in the trickiest of circumstances? Historically, many international pupils arrived in the UK with fairly low levels of fluency. For this reason Password Pupil English (Younger) was created to assess from A1 (basic user) to B1 (early independent user) on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). Schools used the test pre- or post-arrival to check which pupils would be fluent enough for their English to gradually improve via exposure and to ensure the weakest received the EAL support they required.
However, in recent years, even very young pupils have begun arriving in the UK with well-developed communication skills. Hence our partner schools asked for a more linguistically challenging yet age-appropriate test. It was particularly important for those working with ambitious international parents using a prep school as a springboard to a prestigious senior school for their child; equally our partners transitioning EAL pupils into their mainstream senior school from their international provision were keen. This led to our collaboration on Password Pupil English (Younger) in a new semi-adaptive format which tests across the full spectrum of language skill from A1 (basic user) to C1 (proficient user).
The test assesses key areas of grammar and vocabulary, but depending on their performance pupils are directed to more or less challenging content. Those demonstrating strong competence in the use of English component are subsequently required to demonstrate their mastery of more complex text types. The weaker performers are directed to tasks based on the original Pupil English (Younger) format, with simpler requirements. The Writing questions are always carefully worded, so that even pupils with lower levels of language will find them accessible. And, whatever a pupil’s level, the topics are motivating and encourage thoughtful engagement, thanks to input from our partners during the consultation process.
My favourite part of being head of schools’ partnerships is that I have had the privilege of steering this project and working so closely with EAL colleagues in schools (mostly remotely) on the assessment content. Drawing on their collective expertise has helped ensure the final product fully meets their initial brief and has been an enriching experience for me, too. I am looking forward hugely to our first face-to-face events in a very long-time, as they will give me the opportunity to personally thank those who helped with the project and celebrate our common success.
If you are a head of EAL or a learning support lead with responsibility for EAL and you would like to join us to find out more about the new Password Pupil English (Younger) test, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you will want to become part of the next stage in Password Pupil English tests’ on-going development. We’d be delighted to welcome you on board.