Schools invited to pilot Reception baseline as opposition against it grows

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Schools can sign up from Friday (1 March) to pilot the Reception baseline assessment, which starts this autumn.

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Chalk protests against the Reception baseline have begun appearing on pavements across the country, says More than a Score

All schools with Reception classes have been invited to take part in the voluntary national pilot of the assessment, which will test four- and five-year-olds on their language, communication, literacy and early maths.

Taking place from September, the pilot will be run by National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), which was awarded the contract last April to design and deliver the baseline assessment that becomes statutory next year (September 2020).

According to guidance for schools on the Baseline, children will not ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ the assessment – it will be used to provide a ‘snapshot’ of where they are when they start school in Reception and a measure to see how they have progressed throughout primary school.

Key Stage 1 tests will effectively be scrapped and made non-statutory in 2023.

School standards minister Nick Gibb said, 'The Reception baseline assessment is an important step forward as it will provide a starting point from which to measure children’s progress during their whole time in primary school while reducing the burden of assessment for teachers.  

'This is an opportunity for schools to familiarise themselves with this new assessment and help us make sure it works for children and teachers ahead of its scheduled statutory introduction in autumn 2020.'

Sector reaction

Writing on behalf of the More than a Score campaign group, member of TACTYC Nancy Stewart, said, 'It's time for the Government to listen to parents, heads and education experts. They know children best and they know standardised assessment for four-year-olds makes no sense.

'Like SATs, the baseline test will create an extra workload for teachers, as well as stress for children right at the start of their school experience when they are settling in.'

Many in the sector have expressed their disappointment at the DfE for continuing with the introduction of the Baseline, despite opposition and evidence against assessment for young children.

Chief executive of the Early Years Alliance Neil Leitch said, ‘It’s incredibly disappointing, though unfortunately not surprising, that the Government has chosen to push ahead with the roll-out of baseline testing despite widespread concerns from educators, parents and the wider early years and primary sectors.

‘Rather than looking to assess children across a broad range of areas of learning and development, these reductive, inconsistent and often-unreliable tests instead take a narrow focus on easy-to-measure skills such as numeracy and literacy. 

‘As Government has itself admitted, this policy is all about assessing the effectiveness of schools, rather than supporting children’s early learning and development. As a result, we have a system about to be introduced which is liable to place undue pressure on young children at the very start of their educational journeys, without any real benefit to them at all. 

‘We urge the Government to rethink the introduction of these tests and will continue to oppose this policy in partnership with our sector and union colleagues.’

Early Education's chief executive Beatrice Merrick said, 'Baseline assessment has been introduced and scrapped twice before in England, not to mention similar criticisms being made of P1 testing in Scotland, yet ministers are still persisting with this flawed policy. 

'Government still hasn’t made a convincing case that these tests will produce valid data, so schools should think hard about whether participating in the pilots is good use of time and resource, or whether it will simply waste teacher time and distract from the important process of getting children settled into the Reception year.'

  • For more on this story see the next issue of Nursery World magazine, out on Monday.
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