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Letters Extra: Making the most of your CATs

I was concerned to read Claire Planel's letter about the use of CAT's (Cognitive Ability Tests) in your letters page this week. It is evident that she and perhaps many of the staff at her school are not aware of the purpose of the tests nor how they can best be used. The authors of CAT's, NFER (National Foundation for Education Research) make it clear that they most certainly are not intelligence tests. They are tests that measure a student's capability in certain skills, and then inform the school of likely outcomes based on how thousands of students of similar CAT profiles performed in previous years. They are immensely useful tests and at my school where we have used them pro-actively for five years now, have found them to be motivating for students and helpful to staff and parents.

It is of course imperative that the tests are conducted in a way that reassures the students that our aim is to note their strengths and build upon them, and to note the skills they need to develop - so that we can intervene as appropriate and aim to give them the very best education 'for them'. Students value our discussions about their ability to succeed in the classroom and in tests and examinations, and most respond well to the extra support we put in place. Teachers and support assistants value the information they receive from these tests because it enables them to have realistic expectations of the students they teach. Parents and Carers appreciate learning about the different styles of teaching and learning that their child is likely to enjoy most (because careful analysis of CAT's reveals this) and find this especially helpful when their child chooses their Key Stage 4 courses. Senior Management appreciate the data provided because it enables them to set targets with integrity, knowing that the predictions are based on meaningful measurements and not a 'pot-luck' figure arrived at using SAT's (which we all know have a poor record of reliability not to mention an under-lying politically driven agenda) and pressure from the LEA and the DFES.

I hope that Claire's school along with any other school who is not using CAT's in the best way, will take the trouble to get some proper training (which NFER do provide) on how make them a worthwhile experience for everyone involved. To fail to do so would be damaging to the students (as Claire indicates) and a dreadful waste of a school's valuable resources.

Wendy Sharp, Deputy Headteacher, Redhill School, Arnold, Nottingham

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