Over the last few years there has been an interesting shift in thinking when it comes to parents seeking assessment for their children. In the past, families would usually seek the services of an educational psychologist or independent consultant when they were worried that something might be wrong. The role of assessment in identifying specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia can really help to turn around the fortunes of a student who is underperforming but who can’t seem to work out why.
This pattern has started to change, and to change significantly. More and more families find themselves wanting an independent measure of their child’s abilities that is not coloured by the subjective nature of national testing or the sometimes unpredictable trends in school entrance examinations. Furthermore, parents of more able children want to know about their children’s strengths in order to make sure that they are being nurtured and extended by their teachers. “Gifted and Talented” is a phrase that has proved divisive in the past, but it is an inescapable fact that a significant percentage of children within any school environment will be functioning at a level well above that of their peers. Their needs are every bit as worthy of attention as those of less able or learning-disabled students. The Department for Education recognises that many schools are good at spotting their talented students, as skills in music, sports and drama are regularly promoted and celebrated, but gifted students tend to receive less focussed attention, presumably because time-stretched teachers do not consider it a priority to tailor lessons and resources to students who are coping just fine with the mainstream curriculum. As any good senior manager will recognise, there should be as many pupils on a school’s Gifted and Talented register as there are on its list of those with additional needs. Most schools still have some way to go towards realising this vital aim.
And now families are discovering a whole new need for independent assessment. The closure of schools to control the spread of COVID-19 has led to an education lottery unlike anything the UK has ever experienced, with provision from school to school resembling a lucky dip where the odds are impossible to predict. Independent schools and academies appear to be leading the way, with online learning, interactive lessons and an ongoing requirement for students to submit work (that they hope may one day be marked). A quick trawl of Facebook groups reveals that most parents are crawling the walls as the schools have done little or nothing to support them in their unofficial new roles as home educators. Families find themselves in the unlikely situation where Joe Wicks is regarded as a national hero for making sure that P.E. doesn’t suffer, but the core skills of literacy and numeracy seem to be left in the hands of YouTube offerings from resting actors.
At this time more than any other, an independent assessment gives parents an incredibly detailed picture of where their child is at and, more importantly, offers a swathe of practical recommendations to keep them moving forward while their peers are treading water. Bonas MacFarlane began assessing students online long before this pandemic, helping to find places at British schools for children from all around the world. The last few weeks have seen their skilled assessors and educational psychologists working at a distance from those who are closer to home, and the gratitude of parents has been palpable. With mums and dads around the country suddenly finding themselves as headteachers of an understaffed school with very demanding pupils, an independent assessment provides them with tailor-made teaching notes, learning targets and lesson plans to keep the parents sane and the kids afloat.