ISEB stands for the Independent Schools Examinations Board–and a lot more besides. It is, essentially, ‘what it says on the tin’, an examination board for the independent sector, positioned at its heart and responding to its needs.
From the beginning, we have provided mainly transition assessments from preparatory to senior schools, either in terms of selection or providing mechanisms to demonstrate what pupils know, what they understand and what they can do when they arrive at a new school.
This has been a core function since the first Common Entrance (CE) papers were set in 1904, and ISEB is proud of that heritage, which recognises the importance of subjects, the benefits of learning and the value of terminal assessment.
ISEB is very much about innovation, which is why ISEB set about modernisation of CE two years ago with the primary aim of ensuring that study was not designed to acquire knowledge for its own sake, but to equip pupils with the ability to manipulate knowledge, apply it to new situations and thereby develop their understanding.
Pupils studying CE specifications in Year 7 for examination in 2023 will be working towards assessments which will provide a certification of what they have achieved in the last two years of prep school and also enable senior schools to have a clear indication of what they know, understand and can do as they move onto senior school. The purpose of these assessments is to equip pupils not only for the next stage of their education but for life-long learning based on a secure foundation of subject knowledge, concepts and skills and the ability to apply what they know to new situations.
Parents should see the benefits of this approach as pupils become more confident in handling subject knowledge in preparation for CE taken at 13+ (usually at the end of Year 8) or 11+ (in Year 6) or for the Common Academic Scholarship Examinations (CASE) (in Year 8). They should see their children become enthusiastic learners who are open to new ideas and experiences, curious, eager to question and keen to experiment. They will learn to enjoy reading and be able to articulate clearly, orally and in writing, as well as gain the confidence to weigh up evidence and make up their own minds, and develop the resilience to learn from their mistakes. They will gain the skills to work independently and collaboratively, understand how subjects connect with each other and demonstrate cultural awareness and empathy, developing an understanding of their own place in the world.
Alongside schools, parents play a crucial role in ensuring that pupils approach assessments in the best spirit and frame of mind. Well-prepared pupils who have followed school guidance about revision and practice for CE, who know that their application is supported by their headteacher, will perform best when they understand that assessments are an opportunity to identify what they can do to assist in progression to the appropriate senior school, and that no-one expects them to do more than their best.
We hope that this introduction to the context of ISEB gives parents a fuller understanding of the assessments their children are encountering. ISEB is proud of its history in this field and we will continue to develop our offering as the sector calls on us to provide summative and formative assessment tailored to the needs of all pupils in our independent schools.
Durell Barnes, former ISEB Chair of the Board.