Less than 8 per cent of teachers believe baseline assessment is ‘fair and accurate’

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Teaching unions are calling on the Government to scrap the Reception baseline after a damning report has found that most primary school teachers find it unreliable and inaccurate.

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The unions believe that children should not be assessed in the first few weeks of starting school using a baseline assessment

There are also serious concerns about the baseline’s impact on four-year-olds’ well-being.

Key findings – what teachers said about the baseline:

  • An additional burden on Reception teachers 74.9 per cent
  • An accurate and fair way to assess children 7.7 per cent
  • Undertaken at an appropriate time in the school year 17.1 per cent
  • A good way to assess how primary schools perform 6.7 per cent
  • A good way of assessing where children start from 26.0 per cent

According to research commissioned jointly by teaching unions the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, six in ten primary teachers and heads do not think the baseline is an accurate assessment of what four-year-olds can do when they start Reception.

A similar proportion believe that it disrupts children’s start at school, and around a third say that it has damaged their relationship with the Reception-class children at a time when they should be settling in.

The majority of schools are using their own informal entry assessments alongside the baseline to plan teaching and identify children with particular needs, because they have serious doubts about its accuracy.

The baseline has had ‘a significant effect’ on teacher workloads, particularly where schools are continuing to use their previous entry assessments, the report found.

The research carried out by UCL Institute of Education involved a survey of 1,131 of NUT and ATL members, the large majority of which were Reception teachers and early years foundation stage leaders (88 per cent of respondents).

Researchers also carried out interviews with staff and parents from five primary schools in England last autumn.

Speaking at the launch of the report, ‘They are children…not robots, not machines’, co-author Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes said, ‘Baseline assessment is problematic at best and potentially damaging at worst.’

He said that most teachers had very serious reservations about whether the baseline would give them an accurate picture of where children would be at the age of 11. The majority of teachers surveyed also said that the baseline had not helped them to identify the needs of children with special education needs (71 per cent) or the needs of children with English as an additional language, and were concerned about the impact of the baseline on summer-borns.

Parents were also concerned that children would be labelled.

Dr Roberts-Holmes said, ‘Children know full well who’s on their table’, and that this could affect a four-year-olds’ mind-set and impact on their future learning.

Data was ‘variable and inconsistent’, he said.

Obstacles to an accurate baseline assessment included children’s different pre-school experiences, he said, for example, some may have attended the school’s nursery and be familiar with the school, while others may not, and the gap between assessments, with some children assessed in the first week of starting school and others after five weeks.  

‘The assessment is disrespectful of young children because it’s a deficit model,’ he added.

Union leaders said they had grave concerns about the report’s findings. Both unions favour ongoing use of the EYFS Profile.

The fact that just 7.7 per cent of those surveyed agreed that the baseline was ‘a fair and accurate way to assess children’ proved that the baseline had failed in its stated purpose – ‘to assess the child’s starting point at school so that “value added” can be calculated at the end of primary school in year six’, they said.

The research follows results from last year’s trial of the baseline, which found that more than half of four and five-year-olds were under-performing. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL, said, that she simply did not believe that this was true.

(In contrast, the EYFS Profile data for 2015 found that 66 per cent of children were achieving a good level of development at the end of Reception.)

Just 2,000 of England's 17,000 primary schools did not carry out the baseline, when it was introduced last September.

Most schools selected the Early Excellence baseline, due to its similarity to the EYFS and the promotion of the scheme as ‘early years friendly’, with some schools reporting that they were under pressure to do so from their local authority, or because other providers were removed, the report said.

But the union leaders stressed that they were not 'anti the baseline provider' but against the baseline, whatever the provider, and wanted schools to use the EYFS Profile instead.

While the baseline is not mandatory, the report said that most schools feel under pressure to use it, because it will form a key part of how schools are assessed in the future. There are also implications for the allocation of funding, as the baseline data will replace the EYFS Profile as the basis for the allocation of low prior attainment funding to schools from 2016.

Ms Bousted added, ‘The Government would be wrong to push ahead with baseline assessments in the light of this research.  It is questionable how far any form of assessment can accurately show the knowledge and skills of a four-year-old.  Children are not robots and do not develop at a regular rate, so we have grave concerns about the reliability of measuring their progress from age four to 11.’

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said, ‘The charade of the baseline is a house built on sand.’

She said that there were genuine concerns about the impact of the baseline, with reports of ‘children bursting into tears in frustration and the teacher can’t intervene.’

Ms Blower added, ‘This research shows that teachers have no confidence in baseline as something that will produce fair and accurate results and that it can also have a negative impact on children’s start to school and the relationships that they develop with their teachers.

‘Baseline is part of a punitive system used to de-professionalise and demoralise teachers and punish schools. It is not about supporting education and has no place in our schools. Children’s education and wellbeing are being treated as less valuable and important than accountability measures. We continue to oppose baseline assessment and call on the Department for Education to withdraw it.’

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