Reports suggest that the DfE is considering taking part in a pilot programme, set to run in September 2018, that will see reception class children take part in a series of tests.
The move is reportedly disclosed in an ‘expression of interest’ document seen by the Telegraph last month, which states that, ‘Currently three countries – including the UK (represented by England and possibly Wales) – have agreed to participate in the IELS (International Early Learning Study) pilot. Scotland and Northern Ireland will not take part.’
The document has since been unpublished from the DfE’s website.
However, a spokesperson for the Department told Nursery World that no decision has yet been made about whether the UK will be participating in the pilot programme.
According to the Telegraph, the new tests will be tablet-based and run by the Organisation for Economic and Development (OECD).
It is thought that they will assess four aspects of pupils’ development – literacy, language and verbal skills; numeracy and mathematics; self-regulation and ability to pay attention; and ‘empathy and trust’.
Described by academics as a ‘pre-school PISA' or ’baby PISA’, the tests are understood to have been rejected by Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium.
PISA tests, which already exist for 15-year-olds, are regarded as an international benchmark by which countries can compare their education systems.
If given the go ahead by the DfE, the pilot programme will reportedly involve a sample of 3,000 five- to five-and-a-half-year-olds in at least 200 schools in England.
Professor Peter Moss, emeritus professor of early years education at University College London’s institute of Education, said the proposed IELS raises cause for concern.
Writing on the IOE London Blog he said, ‘The IELS, and similar testing regimes, seek to apply a universal framework to all countries, all pedagogies and all services. This approach rests on the principle that everything can be reduced to a common outcome, standard and measure.
'What it cannot do is accommodate, let alone welcome, diversity – of paradigm or theory, pedagogy or provision, childhood or culture. The issue raised – and not acknowledged, let alone addressed by the OECD in its documentation – is how an IELS can be applied to places and people who do not share its (implicit) positions, understandings, assumptions and values.’
Mathias Urban, professor of early childhood at the University of Roehampton has also criticised the OECD’s plans.
In his joint paper with Beth Swadener from Arizona State University, which has received the backing of 170 academics, the pair argue that the ‘standardised assessment’ will fail in its aim to gather any meaningful information to improve early childhood experiences for children.
A Department for Education spokesperson said, ‘Making sure our youngest children are given the tools to achieve their full potential is vital, and high quality early education is such an important part of this. That’s why we are investing a record £6 billion per year by 2020.’
An OECD spokeswoman said, 'The new OECD study on Early Learning and Child Well-being will help participating countries to support all children get a strong start early in their lives.
'The study will help countries to see what is working well and where improvements could be made, including the experiences and outcomes of other participating countries.'