For several years, St John’s on-the-Hill, along with many other Prep Schools, has been keen to move away from Common Entrance and find a method of assessment, teaching and learning that is fit for the 21st century.

First introduced in 1904, the Common Entrance Exam was designed to prepare pupils for entry to sought-after senior schools with core subjects such as Maths, English and Science and a range of choices including French, Classical Greek, Geography, Latin, History, Religious Studies, German and Spanish.

Over a century on, the world we live in today is very different and there is a considerable consensus among both prep schools and senior schools that the system needs an overhaul. With the rise of pre-testing, the majority of pupils have secured their place well in advance of June of their final year at prep school. The other major criticism levelled at CE is that it is not accurate in determining the true, all-round ability of the whole child – consider those subjects not examined for example.

Embarking on the Pre Senior Baccalaureate (PSB)

After a great deal of thought and with considerable excitement we are embarking on the PSB. We are fortunate that other schools have forged the way ahead before us: in 2013 a group of prep schools with the support of senior schools such as Harrow School, Wellington College, Charterhouse and Marlborough started trialling the PSB.

Although the content will still be rigorous, the PSB allows much more freedom in the classroom, so teachers can delve deeper into subjects that enthuse their pupils. We will be able to instil a passion for learning rather than having to race through content to be memorised as facts to pass an exam.

Emphasis on skills

The PSB places much more emphasis on skills, the kind that we know our pupils will increasingly need in the workplace of the future such as collaboration, leadership, communication, independence, thinking and learning, reviewing and improving. Many of these skills build upon the work we have done when introducing our Behaviour for Learning, which gets pupils to take greater responsibility for how they learn.

Learn in a variety of ways

Our pupils will be able to learn in a variety of ways and put that learning into action. Pupils are assessed twice during the PSB course on their academic subjects. They are also assessed on their skills; not only will staff assess them, pupils will have a pupil passport in which they can show when and where they have demonstrated their skills; this will be done in form time with guidance from their form teacher. Pupils will also choose something that they are passionate about and, with staff support, have dedicated time to create their personal PSB project.

Contribution to wider school life

The final PSB certificate also contains information on positions of responsibility and contribution to wider school life such as sports teams, choir, plays etc; this gives senior schools a much greater insight into our pupils and what great all-rounders they are.

Exclusive to excellent schools

As part of the PSB family, we will have access to specialist training days and also visits will be made to see what we are doing and ensure that it is of the highest standard and that we continue to do the very best for our pupils. Only schools that have earned “excellent” at inspection are eligible to join the PSB so we are in an exclusive club of prep schools.

We are so inspired by the PSB, that we are making sure that all our pupils benefit, not just those in Years 7 and 8. Pupils up to Year 4 have a set of skills to work towards and those in Years 5 and 6 have another. Our Year 6 pupils will also experience compiling a skills passport. This is very much the beginning of an exciting journey, one that will allow us to keep developing the learning opportunities we offer and that will allow us to make learning exciting and relevant to our pupils.