However, schools will be able to opt out of the baseline check and instead be judged on whether children's attainment meets a minimum 'floor standard' at the end of Key Stage 2. This is being set at 85 per cent of children reaching the required standard for reading, writing and mathematics. The current level is 65 per cent.
The 'baseline' will be used to assess children starting Reception in September 2016 and beyond, but schools will be able to introduce the assessments from September 2015. For schools that do not use the baseline assessment in 2015, progress will only be measured from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 2.
Teachers will be able to choose from ‘a range of assessment approaches’ and the check will be carried out by Reception teachers.
Ministers intend the reception baseline to be the starting point from which they measure a school’s progress and say that it will be part of ‘broader assessments of children’s development’.
The plans were confirmed in the Government’s response to the consultations on assessment and accountability schools and colleges for children from four to 19, which were put out for consultation last year.
Schools minister David Laws said, ‘The new system will mean higher standards, no hiding place for under-performing schools and coasting schools, and real credit being given to schools and colleges which may have challenging intakes but which improve their pupils’ performance.’
Tests such as the PIPS baseline assessment are already used in some schools.
In its response, the Government said that it would ‘build on the existing body of evidence and work with experts to create criteria for the baselines which will count for the progress measure. Assessments will be sought with evidence that they are strong predictors of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 attainment, while reflecting the age and abilities of children in Reception.’
A list of assessments that meet the criteria will be published. Suppliers will be developing and adapting the tests.
A summary of consultation responses shows that 51 per cent were against introducing a baseline check at the start of Reception, while 34 per cent were in favour and 16 per cent not sure.
Only 19 per cent thought that the baseline check should be optional. The majority of respondents (73 per cent) said that schools shouldn't be able to choose from a range of commercially-available assessments, with only 15 per cent in agreement with this.
The DfE will carry out a study in the autumn of schools that are using similar assessments to help inform moderation and consider the best way of telling parents the results of the assessment.
Opinion in the education and schools sector about the benefits of introducing a baseline check appears divided.
Jan Dubiel, national development manager for training and resource company Early Excellence, said that his major concern was about what the baseline check would involve.
‘Testing young children is unethical and does not generate accurate data. It should be an observational-assessment tool,’ he said.
‘It depends what they assess and how they assess it. Doing assessment on entry is an essential part of pedagogy.
‘My big concern is whether it is going to be a test. There needs to be a choice to have observational-based assessment.’
4Children’s head of early years Sue Robb said, '4Children is supportive of the principle of a reception baseline for children upon entry to school in order to help the early identification of need. We would have liked the Government's response to have asked for a national reception baseline for all schools to ensure consistency and a universal understanding for parents so they can help their children with their learning.
'This new reception baseline must be part of a rounded assessment package based on the EYFS principles and not simply a "test" if it is to be effective.
'The response recognises the importance of school staff liaising closely with the early years workforce and vice versa to ensure smooth transitions. Young children are unlikely to accurately demonstrate their true capabilities within the first few weeks of entering school when many may still be settling into the new environment. That’s why it is so important that a holistic approach to assessment is taken over time building a picture of the child and their needs.'
'Ofsted must take the lead in ensuring quality in the assessment process. Ofsted should go ahead with proposals to reinstate a separate judgment against the delivery of the principles and commitments in the EYFS statutory framework for schools to help to ensure that children in their reception year have access to provision, including assessment, which is in keeping with their development needs.'
The Pre-school Learning Alliance said the plans were ‘deeply concerning’ and signaled a move towards ‘a more formal, rigid approach to early learning’.
Chief executive Neil Leitch said, ‘The sector has been very clear about its opposition to the formalisation of early education and care. The majority of consultation respondents were opposed to this proposal, and yet their concerns appear to have been disregarded. Rather than engaging in productive discussion and debate, the Government simply dismisses the view of anyone that opposes the current movement towards an earlier school starting age, many of whom have dedicated their entire lives to understanding childhood development.’
'We of course recognise that appropriate assessments looking at all areas of learning are an important way of monitoring a child’s development and ensuring adequate support is being provided. However, many in the sector believe that the real aim of the baseline assessment will primarily be to compile data and statistics in order to compare and rank classes, schools and local authorities, when the focus should be on supporting professionals in planning for the next steps of each individual child’s development. Indeed, the consultation response describes the baseline test as “the starting point from which to measure a school’s progress”.'
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association of Childcare and Early Years, said, 'PACEY remains firmly opposed to baseline testing for four-year-olds and is unconvinced that the Government’s approach will best support a child's early development. This change has more to do with monitoring school performance than supporting children to have a strong foundation for future learning.
'As our school readiness research has shown, preparing children for school involves much more than just early reading, writing and maths skills. We believe there should be equal consideration for children’s physical, social and emotional development as well as educational development, fostered through a play-based approach to learning.
'The now discarded EYFS Profile helped ensure holistic child development was considered up to and including Reception year and we can only hope that these factors will be taken into strong consideration as Government finalises the assessment criteria.'
Meanwhile the teaching union the NAHT welcomed the move.
General secretary Russell Hobby said, ‘I believe the profession should take seriously the proposal to baseline performance in Reception. The first three years of education are arguably the most important and they are currently ignored in the accountability framework, punishing those schools who serve the most challenging communities.’
Lubna Khan, headteacher of the outstanding-rated Berrymede Junior School in Ealing, west London, said, ‘An assessment at age four will give really important information to schools about the starting points of children. Schools will find this an extremely valuable element of the wider assessment they will continue to make of their reception class pupils to enable each child to develop.
‘It is very important that we, as a junior school, have very close links and a good dialogue with our feeder infants’ schools so we are fully aware of the children’s abilities when they join us at age seven, and that assessment practices are consistent across phases, not based on test results alone but supported by a wider range of evidence.’
Children's assessments in early years and primary
- The existing statutory two-year-old progress check undertaken in early years settings
- A short reception baseline that will sit within the assessments that teachers make of children during Reception
- A phonics check near the end of Year 1
- A teacher assessment at the end of Key Stage 1 in maths, reading and writing, informed by pupils' scores in externally-set but internally-marked tests (writing will be partly informed by the grammar, punctuation and spelling test); and teacher assessment of speaking and listening and science
- National tests at the end of Key Stage 2 in: maths, reading, grammar, punctuation and spelling, and a teacher assessment of mathematics, reading, writing, and science.