Ofsted chief calls for review of early years assessment

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Children could be assessed when they start school rather than at the end of Reception, Ofsted has suggested.


Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw called for ‘a major change in our approach to assessment in the early years’.

Currently all five-year-olds in England are assessed at the end of the Reception year using the EYFS Profile.

But Ofsted's chief inspector said yesterday that the EYFS Profile was ‘too broad an assessment’ and did not link effectively to subsequent Key Stage assessments, with ‘a weak basis for accountability.’

In a speech in London to coincide with the launch of the Unseen Children report, Sir Michael set out eight recommendations aimed at closing the attainment gap for the poorest children.

The report looks at what can be done to close the achievement gap throughout the country for pre-school education, schools and vocational training up to the age of 19.

One of the recommendations is that, ‘Government should review assessment in reception and Key Stage 1, with a view to publishing progress measures from the start of school to end of Key Stage 1.’

Sir Michael said that there should be a direct link between national assessment in Reception and assessment at the end of Key Stage 1 in order to measure progress.

‘In addition, if the Government does not want to reintroduce external testing in these early years then it must ensure that moderation is more consistently applied.’

He added that these changes would ‘significantly improve schools’ accountability for their work up to the end of Key Stage 1.’

The report said, ‘Most importantly, in the best nursery and primary schools there is a systematic, rigorous and consistent approach to assessment, right from the very start.

‘When children arrive in the nursery or reception class, the best schools quickly assess each child in terms of key skills such as language and grasp of numbers. They use this baseline to inform teaching and support for each child. They link frequent assessments of each child’s progress to the professional development and performance management of their staff.’

But Jan Dubiel, national development co-ordinator at training and resource company Early Excellence, said that Sir Michael’s speech was ‘ambiguous’ about what he meant by the start of school.

‘Does he mean when children walk through the door, at the beginning of Nursery, when they start in Reception or when they start in Year 1?’

He added, ‘It’s just a recommendation by Ofsted, it’s not Government policy. There’s always been a big tension with assessment – do we assess things that are meaningful or significant, or do we assess things that are easy to measure or count? For instance, you can count the number of phonemes that children know, but that doesn’t show whether they can read in context, can read environmental print and so on. Whether it links to Year 1 or not, assessment needs to be meaningful. Children’s learning is so complex and so idiosyncratic that it’s hard to pin down in a mathematical way.’

He added that Sir Michael did not appear to be aware of Ofsted’s own methodology around demonstrating progress in the EYFS classes in schools.

‘The EYFS is quite clear about formative assessment. All practitioners in early years settings assess children all the time.

‘One of the things that’s wrong with English education is that we tend to associate speed with intelligence, that the quicker a child does things, the better it will be and this doesn't take into account the diversity and differences in children's learning and development.’

Mr Dubiel also pointed to research by EPPSE, ‘Performing against the odds’, which highlights the importance of parental engagement and children’s motivation, ‘learning to learn’ dispositions, ‘or what we call the characteristics of effective learning in the EYFS, which are much more significant than simply regurgitating knowledge on its own without a meaningful context or purpose.’

Responding to Sir Michael’s comments, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance, said, ‘The EYFS is universally recognised by the sector. The EYFS Profile gives an appropriate assessment of children’s progress at the summer after their fifth birthday. It was reviewed only 12 months ago in the light of Dame Clare Tickell’s independent review of the EYFS.

‘We have consistently argued that the principles of the EYFS should be extended to the end of Key Stage 1 at age seven as this would give a better foundation for children’s formal learning thereafter. We would be concerned that Sir Michael Wilshaw’s proposal to extend the National Curriculum down into early years risks damaging young children’s learning and development.’

Early years consultant and trainer Vicky Hutchin said, 'With regard to early years, the report Unseen Children seems to lead to quite different conclusions to the ones announced by Sir Michael.  Nowhere does it mention a concern about the breadth of the EYFS Profile or the need to change the approach to assessment.  

'The report's main points are that high quality education and care has a big impact on outcomes for disadvantaged children and that "children get the best start in their learning and development when they are cared for by highly qualified and experienced professionals." The main concern raised in the report is that children from low income families are less likely to attend high quality settings.  

'The report does pay some attention to the need to assess and track progress from the start of their ‘school career’ but that "all too often, the positive gains reported in the Early Years Foundation Stage are not maintained or built on sufficiently during the earliest stages of statutory schooling."

'Schools do track progress in nursery and reception and the new reporting to Year 1 which includes the characteristics of learning is specifically designed to improve continuity.  Is Sir Michael aware of the changes recently made to the Profile and the new ‘good level of development’ measure which was only announced this April?  I am also not at all sure what Sir Michael meant by ‘ reintroduce external testing’ in the early years – when did we ever have this before?'



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