Evidence-based education – The performance of children in Independent Schools places them 2 years ahead of their state school peers.

Published today is a defining report published by ISC on the value added that independent schools offer by the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at the University of Durham. As a school, weISC logo have been using CEM centre benchmarking tools since the early 1990s, and right from the start at Reception age, we are able to ‘benchmark’ our children’s abilities using CEM centre tools.


Using PIPS though Key Stages 1 and 2 , our teachers are provided with an annual assessment in maths, literacy and developed ability and a prediction of progress.

cem_1In addition during the early years, we also use CEM centre’s suite of diagnostic tools known as InCAS, which provides detailed, age related  information and recommendations as the children progress through each year of education to age 11.

From age 11, we switch to CEM centres secondary suite of tools, starting with MidYIS for ages 12, 13 and 14, make use of YELLIS for Year 10 and 11, and on entry into the Sixth Form, we make use of the grandaddy tool of them all, ALIS, which assist in giving predictions for A level performance, using either developed ability scores (IQ to the lay person) or based on prior GCSE achievement.

So what does 25 years of experience using CEM centre tools bring to our provision at Claires Court. First and foremost, on average over the 25 years, we seem tOECD-PISA-LOGOo improve children’s GCSE grades on average by just over half a grade, once the prior academic ability, deprivation, student’s gender, single sex and compositional variable are taken into account. In short, we match the Independent Sector’s average.  This difference equates to a gain of about two years’ normal progress and suggests that attending an independent school is associated with the equivalent of two additional years of schooling by the age of 16. Interpreting the difference on the scale of international PISA outcomes equates it to raising the UK’s latest PISA 2 results to be above the highest European performers, such as Finland, Switzerland and the Netherlands, and on a par with (or close to) countries such as Japan and Korea.

The thing is, we don’t just use the tools to give us selves a pat on the back. We use them to ‘diagnose’ each child’s skills, and in conjunction with other tools such as the Suffolk Reading test, then set about designing a child’s programme of study so that those weaknesses observed are given close support. The curricular programmes always include making use of different approaches to learning, such that everyone is always learning and making progress. I write this blog at the end of February, and next week we have 3 days of specialist intervention work with Year 8 (boys this time), building with them confidence in using summarising and flagging tools.

The really important thing we know about developing a child’s set of skills and talents is to focus on what needs improving, and not to attach blame around the process.  The  most important word for children to learn is ‘YET’. I can’t manage long division YET – which leaves the child open to the concept that they will get there soon.

CEM centre’s report is a really important one to read, but what it does not report is that we already know the national picture for the cognitive mindset of 11 and 12 year olds is Cog Learning Methodslooking bleak. I wrote about this almost 2 years ago in April 2014:

“New research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and conducted by Michael Shayer, Professor of applied psychology at King’s College, University of London, concludes that 11- and 12-year-old children in year 7 are “now on average between two and three years behind where they were 15 years ago”, in terms of cognitive and conceptual development”.  

As many of those who work with me at Claires Court know, I am deeply concerned that the current DfE trajectory is making a bad situation worse for its schools. Changing all the public exams in the country all at once, making all those public examinations harder at a rate of change that teachers cannot keep up with is already threatening strike action from headteachers for Key stage 1 and 2 in state primary schools. Just last month, the expected standard for Year 6 children in English were published. Instead of setting the bench mark at a (old) level 4, the suggestion is that it will be set at (old) mid level 5. This is the academic standard of a good Year 8 child. Today’s TES carries the bleakest of warnings from Russell Hobby, the leader of the largest of the 2 headteacher associations, the NAHT.

‘Education faces a crisis of measurement due to dramatic exam and assessment reform, and as a result we will make bad decisions, invest in the wrong initiatives, punish the wrong schools and make inaccurate statements about the performance of regions.’

Anyway, let’s get back to the good news for those whose education is set within the Independent Sector. International research, validated by one of the world’s most experienced educational institute has confirmed this week that children at whatever age in those independent schools that have chosen to use CEM centre tools to baseline,


Eleanor Wood

monitor and evaluate the educational provision are doing as well as the best performing countries  in the world. And in addition, we are demonstrating in so many other ways that our children go on to excel in later life. Here’s the Sutton Trust research on the success our sector enjoys in the Arts. Current former Claires Court people to watch: Matt Polley, lead singer of The Wild Lies, actor Ali Bastian, video editor Rupert Houseman, Film director Toby Hefferman and author Eleanor Wood.  This is not a story about privilege and silver spoon upbringing, but of diligent investment by parents (of finance) and teachers (of skills and pedagogy) and of the individuals concerned just keeping going when every sane person would have given up.

And not being judged and told that they were not good enough…but learning the lesson that they are not good enough YET!



About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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