What is the Preparatory School Baccalaureate?                                        


Until now, the main entry point to prestigious secondary schools such as Eton College, Harrow School, Winchester College and such like has been via the Common Entrance Exam or other tests developed by the respective schools themselves.

The main criticism of the Common Entrance Exam has been that it is actually not as accurate in determining the true, all-round ability of a child as it should be – rather, it is simply a measure of how well a student can swallow and then regurgitate a set of given facts.

First introduced in 1904, the Common Entrance Exam was designed to prepare students for entry to sought-after secondary schools, but since the world we live in today is so very different from back then, there is a certain degree of consensus among many preparatory and secondary schools that the system needs a good overhaul.

The Common Entrance (CE) tests students on their ability to perform in core subjects such as Maths, English and Science with several electives taken from a list of Classical Greek, French, Geography, German, History, Latin, Religious Studies and Spanish.

Currently, some 250 senior schools in the UK use the CE as a means of deciding who deserves a place.

However, in September 2013 a small group of preparatory schools, with the support of senior schools such as Harrow School, Wellington College, Charterhouse, Marlborough School, King Edwards’ Oxford etc. started trialling a two year academic programme which is set to provide an alternative route to the CE – this programme is the Preparatory School Baccalaureate. 

The Preparatory School Baccalaureate is based on the National Curriculum and is not much different in content to the current CE curriculum. However, the main difference is that (like its IB parent) it will allow much more freedom in the classroom, and so teachers will be able to dig deeper into subjects to really ignite their students’ interests. They will be allowed to instil in their students a passion for learning, rather than focusing on memorising parrot-fashion a list of facts to pass an exam.

The PSB is a two-year course of study over which students are continually assessed over a range of subjects and skills:

Maths The Humanities: History, Geography, RE
English Creative and Performing Arts
Science Physical Development
Modern Foreign Language Teamwork

“Pupils will even receive grades for their “skills and attitudes”, such as how well they learn and whether they display leadership qualities, and will leave school with a portfolio of grades and an average overall mark to present to secondaries.” (source: https://www.tes.co.uk) .

The extra emphasis on creative skills, teamwork and leadership is more in tune with the way children learn in the digital age and eradicates the tendency for “solitary rote learning” according to Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College (source: https://www.tes.co.uk)

A student graduating from preparatory school in Year 8 would be provided with a school report which would typically look something like this:

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Clearly, a potential secondary school would be able to see how the candidate has performed over the space of a two-year period, not only over the space of a 90 minute exam, and not only over a core set of subjects. A much more accurate measure of performance – surely.

Although there are some merits in the new system, and although the PSB has its supporters, there are still many more secondary schools who prefer to have a single set of standardised exams. So for the foreseeable future, the CE is set to stay.

It may take a  while  for the new PSB to take root in our preparatory school examination system, but with its  plethora of  merits, it surely is just a matter of time before many of our independent schools realise that the ‘one size fits all’ approach is not the best for all our students.

If all goes well, the PSB will not necessarily replace the CE altogether, but it is hoped that it will become a good alternative to it.

Those of us interested in the way this will develop should keep our eyes firmly open. So, watch this space!