More details of Reception Baseline confirmed

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The Reception Baseline will focus on children’s literacy and maths, and may include Self-Regulation, depending on the outcome of trials of the new assessment, the body developing it has confirmed.


The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has brought together some of the evidence, practitioner expertise and experience it has drawn on for the new Reception Baseline.

It reveals that the Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) will focus on children’s early literacy and mathematics skills, because research shows that these skill areas are good indicators of how children do later on in school.

The NFER also said it would be trialling questions designed to look at self-regulation and that the outcomes from trialling these questions would determine whether self-regulation is included in the final Reception Baseline.

In April, the assessment body was awarded the four-year £10m contract by the Department for Education to develop the Reception Baseline, including trialling, piloting and the first two statutory years of delivering it from September 2020.

In a statement on its website the NFER says, ‘The design and content of the Reception Baseline Assessment will be based firmly on evidence, including existing research on the key factors affecting later performance, practitioner expertise and large-scale trialling. This will ensure it has robust measurement properties and is a positive experience for teachers and children.

‘This is an initial summary in which we have brought together some of the evidence, practitioner expertise and experience we have drawn on in our proposals for the design, content and delivery of this new baseline assessment. It also highlights some of the detailed investigation which will be undertaken to refine these proposals over the next two years.’

The document says that ‘the close involvement of practitioners is always at the heart of our approach to development assessment and the RBA is no exception. We are working with a wide range of individuals with expertise in early years’ assessment, children with special educational needs and disabilities, and with a panel of Reception teachers.’

It says that it will be trialling and piloting the assessment with schools and children ‘to ensure it is a positive experience for them, as well as a robust assessment of children’s early literacy and early mathematics skills.’

The NFER says it has worked with children and practitioners this summer and will be trialling materials from September with nationally representative samples of schools. In June, the Department for Education said it would be inviting a sample of schools to take part in trialling the new assessment in the autumn.

The document says, ‘The RBA is designed to provide a measure of children’s performance at a cohort rather than an individual level. The assessment therefore focuses on the information needed to provide a reliable and valid baseline for progress measures which will be reported at the end of Key Stage 2.

'As a result, the RBA does not aim to assess everything a child can do when they start school. Instead, it will focus on what children can do in the areas of early literacy and mathematics skills. Research shows that these skill areas are good indicators of later success in school. The tasks being developed for the RBA are based on this research as well as the performance of tasks included in RBA15 [the NFER’s previous Reception Baseline].’

What will the Reception Baseline look like?

The new Baseline will be task-based and children will be asked questions by their teacher or teaching assistant using a similar approach to the previous NFER baseline, which involved using picture prompts, sorting cards, or counting bears.

Other features being trialled:

  • The assessment is expected to take 20 minutes and may be completed in one session or shorter sessions if the teacher feels this is better for the child.
  • The assessment will progress in difficulty so that children won’t be asked the next question if they haven’t successfully completed an easier one in that skill area. This ensures that children are not introduced to tasks that are much too difficult for them.
  • Practitioners will record each child’s response in an online recording system to make the process as easy to manage as possible and to help them focus on the child during the assessment rather than the administration. There is no intention for the child to have any interaction with the technology, only the teacher or teaching assistant, for administration purposes.
  • The practitioner is guided to the next question or task if a child does not successfully complete the preceding one. This approach ensures that the RBA promotes a standard approach to the way questions are asked and answers recorded.

A reliable and valid assessment

According to the NFER, trialling of its previous baseline confirmed that it was possible to develop a reliable assessment of children’s abilities in early literacy and maths, showing consistent results when taken on different days and when administered by different people.

To ensure that assessment is valid the NFER says that it has used existing research about the key indicators of children’s future performance to identify the areas to include and exclude in the new assessment. Feedback from teachers and expert groups has been used to develop the questions and tasks to ensure they are age-appropriate and are appropriate tasks for what the NFER has been asked to assess.

It adds that it has ‘organised detailed reviews of the assessment by experts to strengthen their effective and acceptable use with children who speak English as an additional language, and those with additional assessment needs. We will include extensive trialling of their recommendations within the broader trialling of the assessment in schools with children and teachers which begins in September.’

The Department for Education's decision to bring back a Reception Baseline has proved controversial with early years experts and teaching unions.

The National Education Union and organisations and individuals in the More than A Score coalition are campaigning against the Reception Baseline.

Last week, the British Educational Research Association Group published a highly-critical report of the Reception Baseline, with its expert panel of academics finding it ‘flawed, unjustified and wholly unfit for purpose’.

  • Read the NFER's document The reception baseline assessment: Design and delivery informed by evidence and experience here
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