Campaigners publish case against the baseline

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A coalition of educational experts, teachers and parents is calling for the Government to abandon plans for a new baseline for four-year-olds.

The More than a Score coalition has published what it calls a dossier, which highlights evidence to show that the plans for a new baseline are statistically uninformed and educationally damaging.

The report’s authors are leading academics Professor Cathy Nutbrown, from the University of Sheffield, Dr Alice Bradbury and Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes from UCL Institute of Education, Dr Pam Jarvis from Leeds Trinity University, Dr David Whitebread from the University of Cambridge, and early years expert Nancy Stewart from TACTYC.

The document Baseline assessment: why it doesn’t add up, says, ‘The Government says that a baseline test is required in order to judge the progress children have made at the end of primary school. They want to use the test data to “hold schools to account”. We say such a test will be damaging to young children. They will be pushed into a high-stakes assessment, which is at odds with young children’s learning and development.’

The campaigners say that they are not opposed to the assessment of children’s learning. ‘On the contrary, we support it,’ the report says. ‘Assessment is essential to good teaching and to helpful conversations between teachers and parents. But baseline testing is not good assessment.’

They argue that:

  •  baseline assessment cannot provide a valid account of learning for four-year-olds;
  • it cannot therefore provide a trustworthy basis on which to measure progress;
  • it will damage the early years curriculum and hold back the learning of many children;
  • it will adversely affect primary education as a whole;
  • its costs are not justified.


The campaigners say they plan to share their message with parents and schools.

The research was unveiled at a meeting this morning hosted by shadow early years minister Tracy Brabin MP, who said, ‘I’m pleased to be able to host so many passionate early years experts in Parliament and welcome the new research document. I believe children learn through play and creativity, not just through examinations, that’s why it’s great More than a Score is leading on this important work.’  

Nancy Stewart from TACTYC, the Association for Professional Development in the Early Years, and one of the report’s co-authors, said, ‘The proposal to test 99 per cent of four-year-olds in 2020 is based on the false premise that the knowledge and skills of a four-year-old can be accurately measured. But few statisticians believe this, and no research has demonstrated a strong link between attainment measured at four and later progress.’

Elaine Bennett, early years leader at Friars Primary School in Shoeburyness and co-founder of Keeping Early Years Unique, said, ‘Baseline testing is a pointless and expensive exercise which threatens children’s mental health at a crucial time in their development; a time where they are starting school, settling into new environments and making new relationships. It is irresponsible and unethical to put children in this position and to reduce them to a number when they have been in existence for 48-60 months.  The danger is that their score will see them grouped by ability from the very beginning.’

The campaign is supported by the National Education Union.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary, said, ‘Baseline assessment has everything to do with finding new ways of holding schools accountable and nothing to do with supporting the learning of children. The Government could do far more for children’s education by lifting them out of poverty than by spending £10 million on tests in which few education experts have any confidence.’

Madeleine Holt from the parents’ organisation Rescue our Schools, said, ‘Parents are becoming far more aware that their children are being over tested. The new test would steer the teaching of four-year-olds towards an excessive focus on numeracy and literacy. Parents wanted a broad curriculum for their children, not one that is organised around narrow tests.’

The Government is expected to name the provider of the new baseline shortly, after putting a £10m contract to run it out to tender last November. When the plans were first announced last year, the Department for Education said that the baseline check, which will be developed in conjunction with the teaching profession, would ensure schools are given credit for all the work they do throughout a child’s time at primary school. The government was forced to abandon plans for a previous baseline in 2016, due to a lack of comparability between the three approved schemes.

Watch the campaign film from More than a Score below:

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