One of the very useful things you can do with CAT4 scores is to compare them against the standardised age scores from PiE and PiM. In this way, any students who are underperforming are immediately brought to the fore
Dr Derek Cassells, Principal, Maharishi Free School

Life after levels: Supporting the whole child at the Maharishi Free School

The Maharishi Free School has taken the removal of national curriculum levels as an opportunity to assess children in a more holistic way.

At the Maharishi Free School in Lancashire, education is defined as the ‘science and art of unfolding values hidden from view.’ Its innovative teaching system uses themes, such as creativity, stability and happiness, to help connect different areas of knowledge in each subject for students aged 4 to 16.

For a school entirely focused on drawing out the unique skills and abilities of their students, it comes as no surprise that its principal, Dr Derek Cassells, was excited by the opportunity to take a ‘whole student’ approach to assessment. “Having taught for more than forty years, I remember the time before national curriculum levels clearly, which makes their removal less daunting.

“To me, this is an opportunity to ensure assessments support the tenets of our school, and to use standardisation to enhance the things we value.”


The Maharishi Free School assesses students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 using the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4) to help get to grips with students’ strengths, weakness, learning bias and likely academic aptitude.

“CAT4 gives us four measures of ability that are known to impact on learning. As schools, we often look at verbal and quantitative abilities, but spatial and non-verbal skills are equally important in so many avenues of life.

“As an example, we had one student who joined us already doing well. She was on Level 5 at the end of Key Stage 2, and was on the gifted and talented register. However, her CAT4 scores in both non-verbal and spatial ability were in the top possible percentile. It’s then you begin to realise that she was actually underachieving in terms of her potential.”

The school used to use previous paper versions of CAT but is now a convert to the convenience of digital. “We appreciate the fact that CAT4 was standardised recently and that the digital version is extremely quick and easy to administer with the help of our teaching assistants. Nothing needs to be sent away to be scored, and we are able to log on and get the results in just fifteen minutes.

“CAT4 helps us to set ambitious but realistic attainment targets for students across the whole school. This is essential to enabling teachers to ensure that every child is achieving well within the context of holistic development.”


Once a measure of ability has been taken, the focus shifts to attainment. The school stands strong in its belief that all students must be up to standard in English and maths, so uses Progress in English (PiE), which tests reading and writing ability, and Progress in Maths (PiM) which identifies and monitors individuals’ strengths and weakness in maths.  In addition, the school is starting to use the digital version of the New Group Reading Test (NGRT).

“One of the very useful things you can do with CAT4 scores is to compare them against the standardised age scores from PiE and PiM. In this way, any students who are underperforming are immediately brought to the fore.

"I am confident in the statistical validity of the comparison as it is overseen by our chair of governors who, as well as being a long-standing Director of Education and Children's Services, has a professional background which includes the application of statistics to education. He knows the right questions to ask, many of which go beyond statistical manipulation and require a full understanding of teaching and learning, and ensures we only ever use robust and reliable measurements and assessments."

But to truly support each child in reaching their full potential, staff also wanted to get greater insight into how students feel about themselves and school life more broadly.


Attitude can be the missing element when it comes to looking at why certain students who, while able, consistently underachieve. “It’s impossible to guess with any accuracy at what is holding a student back, which is why we were so excited to use PASS.”

The Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) attitudinal survey is an easily-administered online questionnaire, which measures nine attitudes proven to be linked to attainment, engagement and wellbeing. The school surveys every student from aged 4 to 16 years and the results can be revealing.

“If you imagine PASS scores on a scale of 0 to 100%, we had one underperforming student whose attitude to themselves as a learner was under 5%. Immediately we asked, what can we do about this? We decided to work with the family and concentrate on the things that interested the student. Then, instead of piling up maths and English assignments, we started by setting the class tasks we knew they were interested in doing.

“We didn’t know if this strategy would work but in less than a term, we saw a huge improvement in their progress across the board. They weren’t grumbling about assignments and their parents reported that they were doing homework without being asked.”


The final part of assessment is integrating the analysis of results from standardised assessments with teachers’ own judgements. This then feeds into our system of providing student support and reporting to parents.

“The data is used principally at three levels: students, subject and school. We focus on holistic development so, as well as monitoring a child’s achievement, we use the data in the ‘Nurturing, creativity and intelligence’ meetings that we hold with parents.

“We use this time to talk about children’s strengths along with any areas for improvement. As part of this, we share assessment results. If there are any issues, we might also look at the environment outside school; home life, diet and sleep.

“As teachers, we also use this data to keep a check on students’ performance in individual subjects. We see the figures as an opportunity for discussion; we would never use this as a way of criticising teachers, just to help plan for the future. The same thing can be applied school-wide, allowing us to look at how our Pupil Premium students are doing, for example.”

Addressing expectations

The school has worked hard to design a comprehensive assessment programme that aligns with its ethos and supports its students’ educational as well as personal development.

“Schools exist to some extent to fulfil societal and parental expectations so it’s important to us that children leave our school with a piece of paper containing exam results that does them justice. But students who leave Maharishi Free School will also do so with balance, harmony and the ability to adapt to the future, no matter what it might hold.

“We’re confident that using standardised assessments enables us to ensure we are able to meet all these objectives.”

GL Assessment says:

Phillip Wileman, lead trainer at GL Assessment, comments: “The Maharishi Free School’s philosophy of assessment sits very closely to our own recommended 4D model of how to best understand a student’s needs.

“After identifying what a child is capable of, schools need to monitor attainment to see how they are progressing and then measure this against ability. Assessments such as PASS go a step further, highlighting barriers where interventions are needed to ensure nothing stands in the way of students’ climb to success, and ensuring a 360 degree approach.

“Despite there being some uncertainty around the removal of levels, the example of the Maharishi School demonstrates that now is a fantastic opportunity for forward-thinking schools to put into place systems that retain what works well, supports school aims but also focuses fully on boosting the progress of individual children.”

Using PASS to support student wellbeing

“PASS has given us a good indication about where their barriers might be – and big barriers are their self-regard as a learner and perceived learning capability.”

Portobello High School, Edinburgh

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