Posted: 21 March, 2016

Entrance tests at Putney High School; a note from headmistress Suzie Longstaff

Blog, Suzie Longstaff

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As we end the 11plus testing season, and look forward to welcoming a new Year 7, I read with interest an article in The Times about the entrance tests designed to “weed out those who have been overtutored”.

In common with most highly selective independent schools, we take great effort to ensure we spot real talent and potential, and are well used to identifying the signs of over tutoring. We are looking for girls who are bright, eager to learn and able to combine their academic studies with a  curiosity and thirst for interests outside the classroom, whatever they may be.

However, our first priority is the young girls sitting our tests. We want to be open and upfront with our parents and candidates, so they know what to expect, to lighten their stress. At Putney High School, where pastoral care is one of our core pillars, we think carefully about the impact on girls even before they join our school. That’s why we ensure our interviews are friendly and informal. The exams follow a straightforward system testing core skills in Maths, English and creative writing. This  proves time and again to be the best predictor of future potential and ability, while doing so with the minimum of stress on the young candidates. Our own data, and the girls’ subsequent achievements, would suggest we get it right.

The use of verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests by schools is nothing new. Many schools have used such tests although currently they do appear to be reducing in popularity as a key tool. Research conducted by David Lohman, Professor Emiritus at the University of Iowa over a number of years, on the effectiveness of verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests, concluded that the best predictor of future accomplishments is current ability and not reasoning tests. Put simply, this means that the best predictors of future accomplishments in Maths and English are tests in Maths and English.

The English paper we set at Putney High School assesses core skills while looking for future potential in creative thought and writing ability, skills required across many subjects during a student’s lifetime of study. As a Mathematics teacher too, I can bear witness to the plain and simple fact that Mathematics skills learned at primary school are the basis for academic success in Mathematics at secondary school.

I think the question of how to select the right students will rightly continue to be discussed and a careful, reflective and considered approach is definitely best for all involved in this process and for the children who sit these tests.

Suzie Longstaff, Headmistress

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