The rewards of a great personality

Falkirk schools introduce psychometric testing for pupils

Henry Hepburn

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A Scottish secondary school is pioneering the use of psychometric testing to identify students' strengths and weaknesses and pinpoint their ideal careers. But concerns have been raised that putting pupils through such assessments at a young age might limit their ideas of what they can achieve before they have even finished school.

Some 700 S4-6 pupils from Larbert High School in Falkirk have taken the tests this year, after a trial with S6. Three other Falkirk secondaries are now embarking on the same process.

The tests, which take about seven minutes to complete, aim to help students understand their skills and sell themselves better when applying for jobs, training or education places. Each of the 24 questions asks pupils to choose which of four adjectives they feel most applies to them. The answers are used to provide several pages of feedback, detailing what sort of work environment students would be suited to, along with an overview of their "strengths and limitations".

"Anything we can do to give our kids an advantage, we will - getting five As isn't enough any more," said headteacher Jon Reid. His 1,750-pupil school has 17 staff trained in the process and is also exploring the use of psychometric assessment for recruitment into non-teaching posts.

Even pupils who left with good grades and plenty of evidence of wider achievement could not always articulate their strengths, Mr Reid said.

He added that the psychometric assessment did not have right or wrong answers but gave students a better appreciation of their skills, and said that about 90 to 95 per cent of pupils felt the feedback had been "uncannily" accurate while parents had welcomed the process "with open arms".

In November last year, 99.3 per cent of Larbert High leavers were either continuing their education or joining work or training, an increase of about 6 per cent on 2012. Mr Reid believes that the initial trial of psychometric assessments may have contributed to the rise, although the school still promotes other forms of careers advice.

The tests have cost about pound;11,000 this year, all taken from Larbert High's own funds, but in future the school will focus on S4 - about 300 pupils - at an annual cost of about pound;5,500. In two years' time it will evaluate how helpful the process has been and whether or not to continue.

The assessments are based on the DISC theory devised by psychologist William Marston in 1928, which identifies four personality traits: dominance, inducement, submission and compliance. Marston also played a pivotal role in the invention of modern lie detectors and created the comic-book superhero Wonder Woman.

Sally Wells, managing director of private assessment company Thomas Education, said: "The biggest thing [the process] offers to young people is confidence, focus, understanding of themselves and the ability to make decisions about their future. Some young people change their lives fundamentally for the better."

Bruce Robertson, policy adviser for education directors body ADES, said that psychometric testing in Scottish schools was "very unusual", but added: "Properly introduced, with learner, parent and staff buy-in, it can be a very useful tool in the attainment and achievement cycle. The key thing about any approach like this is the follow-through, which requires a lot of commitment and resources."

He said that psychometric tests for teenagers could be considered contentious as some would argue that this was "too tender an age" to assess young people who were still developing. He also highlighted potential concerns that the tests would identify and prioritise high achievers, and that some parents were likely to be sceptical.

A spokeswoman from the EIS teaching union said that psychometric testing was "likely to be of some interest to students" but was "simply one tool in supporting self-evaluation", and that any new initiative should not add to teacher workload.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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