Now it's personal: the psychometric test solution

28th September 2012 at 01:00
Self-awareness brings reduction in disruptive behaviour

Teachers might think they have tried everything when it comes to tackling bad behaviour, from detentions and tough love to care and support. But one school has turned to a technique normally used to select candidates for high-level jobs: personality tests.

The use of psychometric testing has had a "staggering" effect on behaviour at St Benedict's Catholic School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, including a dramatic fall in the number of exclusions and pupils being removed from class, teachers say.

Two groups of Year 10 pupils - all 60 of who either had records of disruptive behaviour or were under-achieving - took part in the experiment, as staff sought a way to re-engage them with education. They took assessments that tested their personality types, the speed with which they process information and their emotional intelligence.

Armed with the results, teachers explained the outcomes to pupils. They told them what the tests showed about their personalities and how they learned, and encouraged them to think about how they behaved. In some cases, teachers used the information to adapt their teaching techniques.

Before the pilot project started in 2010-11, the pupils involved had received 11 temporary exclusions from school and the number who had been removed from class stood at 47. In the year after the tests, those numbers fell to one and three respectively.

The idea to use the tests came from Sharon Ferguson, a governor at the school who works for a company that provides psychometric tests to business leaders and wants to expand into schools.

St Benedict's, rated "outstanding" by Ofsted, then received funding from Suffolk County Council to allow heads of year, careers advisers, subject leaders and the behaviour management specialist to be trained in how to interpret the assessments.

In the past academic year, 30 Year 10 pupils were assessed, with similar numbers expected to participate in 2012-13. After the first pilot year, teachers now use just the personality test as it was felt that the other two assessments were not suitable for teenagers, who are still developing emotionally.

"We've been completely open with students and parents about the process," said assistant head Andy Watts, who is in charge of the project. "Parents get a copy of the feedback from the tests after it has been given to pupils. It was all conducted confidentially and the findings were only revealed to teachers if students gave permission for us to share the results of their assessment.

"Some students didn't want to take the tests, and we didn't put them through it if they didn't want to. This has really been a 'suck it and see' project, but it has had a staggering effect on behaviour. It gave pupils the language they needed to talk about themselves."

Following the positive experience at St Benedict's, two other schools in Suffolk have started using psychometric testing to improve children's behaviour and engagement.

"It was interesting to me that all the pupils we assessed wanted to know about themselves," said Ms Ferguson. "It was the first time anyone had said to them, 'These are your values and strengths.'"

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