Campaigners slam reception baseline plans

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Early years organisations and teaching unions have welcomed plans to keep the EYFS Profile, but say they are disappointed about proposals to introduce a new baseline assessment, which would also take place in Reception.

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Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, 'The concept of using an assessment in reception as the baseline progress measure in primary schools is inherently flawed.'

Last year, the Government was forced to scrap a reception baseline due to lack of comparability between the approved schemes.

Wide-ranging proposals to change primary assessment from Reception to the end of primary school have been put out for consultation by the Department for Education today.

In October the education secretary announced that the Profile would remain in place for the 2017-18 academic year, while long-term assessment arrangements were considered.

The primary assessment consultation reinforces this further, stating the Government’s intention to keep the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, which is carried out at the end of children’s Reception year.

‘We know that the EYFSP is a well-established, valued and respected assessment, which is why it will remain a statutory assessment for future years,’ it says.

However, while stating its commitment to the Profile, the Government is also asking for views on how to improve it, as well as cutting the paperwork and workload in administering it, which some teachers have raised as an issue.

But in addition, the Government says that it wants to introduce a new assessment earlier in the Reception year, and is asking for opinions as to at what point in the year this should be administered.

The Better Without the Baseline coalition, which campaigned against the introduction of the previous baseline, accused the Government of ‘a second misconceived attempt’ at introducing the policy against the best advice of early years assessment experts, early years teachers, and practitioners.

They claim that the last attempt to introduce baseline cost taxpayers up to £7m, and said that at a time of scare resources for schools it was a waste of time and money.

Campaigners say that a baseline risks damaging children’s self-confidence and stigmatises parents by labeling children and does not provide an accurate or useful picture of children’s development.

Other arguments against include, that it does not predict future attainment, especially for numeracy and literacy; that it cannot be both an accountability tool for school performances and an assessment, which informs teachers’ planning for the learning of individual children; that it increases teacher workload and disrupts the settling-in period.

It also risks ‘having a distorting effect on the reception year, which is part of the EYFS, with its own statutory assessment principles in the EYFS Profile at the end of Reception.

Organisations in the coalition include Early Education, the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the National Day Nurseries Association, the Pre-school Learning Alliance, and the London Early Years Foundation, and the Cambridge Primary Review Trust.

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said, ‘The concept of using an assessment in reception as the baseline a progress measure in primary schools is inherently flawed. There is very little predictive validity in the measures that have been proposed.  ‘Couple this with the huge cohort changes between Reception and Year 6, and the measure is so crude as to be of no real value – contextual data could be used if decisions were based on judgement not simply data. The arguments in support of its introduction are extremely weak, given the negative impacts of over-simplistic labelling of children at an early age, and the waste of teacher time and government money which would be better spent on raising quality of early years provision.’

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said, ‘The introduction of reception baseline assessment in 2015 was a failure; the Government was forced to abandon the policy. We do not believe that a new reception baseline assessment will provide the accurate and reliable data needed for a fair accountability system, or that a new assessment will support teaching and learning.

‘Ministers have been unable to produce any evidence that an effective reception baseline assessment can be designed. Children, parents and teachers have endured too many rushed and ill- conceived assessment reforms in recent years. Our children are not guinea pigs, they should not be subject to further experimental tests.’

In response to the primary school assessment plans, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said, ‘We firmly believe that the EYFS Profile’s broad, observation-based approach is the most appropriate way to assess early development, and so we welcome the news that it is to remain statutory.

‘However, we are both disappointed and frustrated that, despite this announcement, the Government is again proposing to introduce a baseline assessment at the start of Reception. 

‘While the consultation suggests that such assessments would benefit children’s learning and development, the fact remains that the overarching aim of baseline assessment is to enable government to hold schools to account – and we are particularly concerned by reports that such assessments could take the form of online tests.

“The early years is as much about developing children’s broader skills - such as emotional control, physical development, creativity, and critical thinking - as it is about laying foundations for the development of numeracy and literacy skills. Any assessment that focuses narrowly on a few easy-to-measure skills can only ever serve to provide a limited – and most likely, inaccurate – snapshot of children’s early attainment.

‘The Government cannot relieve the current testing burden on children in Key Stage 1 by simply shifting it onto their younger peers.

‘We hope that the DfE will genuinely listen to sector feedback on these proposals, and we look forward to clearly detailing our stance on this in our response to the Government’s consultation.’   

Commenting on the consultation, Jan Dubiel, national director of Early Excellence, who developed one of the approved assessments in the previous abandoned baseline, said it was important that we have a good understanding of a child’s learning and development on entry to primary school.

'This information is crucial for ensuring accountability and measuring the impact of early education on a child’s attainment through the school system,' he said.

‘We agree that this information must be fair and accurate, as well as ambitious and supportive to teachers to help every child reaches their full potential. This is why we strongly believe that a practitioner-led observation-based approach which takes into account the nature of children in Reception Year is the best way to provide a settled and sustainable approach to on entry assessment.'

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