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As the first term of this academic year draws to a close, it’s always a good time to reflect on how your child is doing at school! Parents are often concerned that they don’t have the information they really need to track their child’s progress in a meaningful way. Parents’ evenings are at best an overview of what’s happening with a child’s studies and certainly don’t provide the opportunity to analyse how children compare to their peers on a national basis. School test results can also be confusing, and without a solid benchmark with which to compare them, they can be of little help.

Objective measurement

The measures used in schools have changed enormously over the years, so they bear very little relation to those that parents would have encountered in their own school lives. These measures also continue to change, as each successive government tends to change school systems.

It was previously common to track children’s progress using National Curriculum levels, but now the most common way of tracking is to use Age Standardised Scoring. This method is accurate because it measures achievement against a national average (100) within a national average score range (85 – 115) and therefore it is the type of score used in today’s SATs.

Many schools still prefer to represent achievement in different ways such as A, B or C grades, which are not at all objective as a B in one school might mean something very different in another school. Similarly, test results given in percentage scores are not objective measures useful to parents unless the context of the mark is also given. For example, getting 50% in a test if it was the highest score in the year group is great, but if it was the lowest mark then 50% is a relatively poor result. And even then, these marks only give you the limited and random context of their year group in their own school.

Measurement against a child’s peers on a national level is therefore the only truly objective picture, with age standardised scores that show where a child is in relation to others across the country who are the same age and studying at the same stage. The most useful comparative terminology in this context is whether a child is above, in line with or below national expectation. This is more useful than school grades and is precisely what parents need to know about their child.

Finding out

The most important question for parents to ask is therefore: How is my child doing compared with others nationally? How can you find out this information?

The first point of contact for these questions should be your child’s class teacher (or perhaps their academic tutor, if they are older). However, this is not a discussion for a parents’ evening, when you generally only have five minutes to talk to a teacher. When you ask how your child is doing, you don’t want to simply be briefly told what they are doing, such as learning fractions, or how they are doing in relation to the rest of their class, as that is largely irrelevant. You need to know how they are doing against the national average, as this will help you start to understand how academic they really are.

Arrange a meeting in advance, before or after school hours, and let the teacher know in advance what you want to discuss so that they can be prepared with the information you need. If you are not satisfied with the information offered by the class teacher, you can contact the head of year, deputy head or even the head teacher, to get the answers you need.

Schools can often provide the information and help you interpret it – to establish for example whether a primary age child would genuinely benefit from a place at an academically selective senior school – often, but sadly not always. That is when families come to education consultants such as JK Educate to objectively assess their child’s academic progress and potential against the national picture, and to discuss the best steps forward for their child’s education. That is what we’re here for. Your child. Our priority.

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