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Testing times

  • Early Years
  • Tests
Mike Hodgkiss
Mike Hodgkiss 24 September, 2019

League tables and performance indicators can make or break a school. So it’s maybe no surprise that, despite outrage from parents, teachers and education experts, a pilot of new baseline assessment for four-year-olds will be introduced in almost 10,000 primary schools this September.

This baseline will test children within the first six weeks of starting school and will be used to measure the effectiveness of the school by identifying progress made seven years later when the child leaves primary education. The baseline assessment is not designed to benefit individual children. It is purely to be used for accountability purposes to judge the school’s future performance. There will be no incentive for teachers to score children highly on these tests as high results will make progress more difficult to achieve.

The assessment will be meaningless to teachers, but not to children – because rather than focusing on settling into the early years classroom, attention will instead be focused on the test. Indeed, a small-scale survey by University College London found 86% of headteachers were negative about the reception baseline assessment.

Children in the UK are already some of the most tested in the world. As each child enters school, they are already measured against a set of age-related norms. These measurements continue as the child progresses through school. Data from assessments is entered into online tracking systems, which identify gaps in knowledge, set targets and predict future attainment. This data is used to judge not only the child’s performance but the effectiveness of the teacher and the school.

Many primary headteachers are critical of Reception baseline assessments, with some branding them “appalling” and “total and utter madness,” according to research.

A study by Dr Alice Bradbury at UCL Institute of Education – Inappropriate, unnecessary, unhelpful: The headteachers’ verdict on baseline assessment – found that 86 per cent of primary school teachers surveyed had negative or qualified views of the tests, with only 8 per cent expressing positive views.

“Overall, the headteachers’ views on Baseline were largely negative, with even those who had some sympathy with the principle of assessing progress often expressing some concerns,” Dr Bradbury said.

“There was some very negative language used in relation to this policy which suggests that some headteachers feel very strongly that this policy will not benefit schools or children.”

“These findings raise questions about the need to bring back Baseline and how it might affect children as they start school.

“Headteachers are frustrated that the problems which emerged in the last version of RBA have not been resolved and that this policy continues to disregard professional concerns about accuracy and the appropriateness of a test for four-year-olds.”

Nancy Stewart, for ‘More Than A Score’, commented, “Heads agree with education experts and parents: this scheme is a waste of everyone’s time and a waste of £10 million. It has no basis in academic theory or even simple logic. It is simply another way for the government to judge schools, using unreliable and unfair testing methods. A batch of reception pupils will be used as guinea pigs when they should be settling into school and the government still can’t tell us how they’ll use the data which will be extracted from these four-year-olds.

“It’s time for the Department for Education to admit failure and halt the roll-out of this pointless and damaging experiment.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The Reception baseline assessment is not a test. It does not have a pass mark, and there is no reason for parents or teachers to prepare pupils ahead of the assessment, which has been carefully designed with children in mind.

“Carried out in the right way, children should not even be aware an assessment is taking place. It will simply provide a vital starting point to measure how well primary schools are doing to make sure all children reach their potential.”