Thousands of schools signed up to pilot the Reception baseline

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Almost 10,000 schools have signed up to pilot the controversial Reception Baseline Assessment in September, the DfE has confirmed.

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Over 9,600 primary schools are to take part in the Reception Baseline Assessment in September

According to the Department for Education (DfE), more than 9,600 primary schools have registered to take part in the pilot of the RBA – a 20-minute check that will enable schools to familiarise themselves with the assessment before providing feedback ahead of the national roll out in 2020.

The assessment which will take place in the first few weeks after a child starts Reception will replace the current Key Stage 1 tests at the end of year 2.

The news follows the release of heavily redacted data from the trial of the Reception Baseline Assessment by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from teacher and author Sue Cowley.

Last month a march of four-year-olds, parents and teachers to Downing Street took place against the introduction of the tests.

According to the DfE, schools will not receive individual scores for the RBA, but a series of short, narrative statements that will say how each child performed, which they can use for informing teaching in the first term.

It says there is no reason for parents or teachers to prepare children ahead of the assessment, who should not be aware an assessment is taking place if carried out in the ‘right way’.

The DfE goes on to say that data will be shared with schools following children’s completion of Key Stage 2 tests at the end of primary school, ‘preventing labelling or grouping of pupils’.

School standards minister Nick Gibb said, ‘Just like checking a child’s teeth or their eyesight, the Reception Baseline Assessment is a quick check of a child's early language and ability to count when they start school. It will provide the baseline of primary school progress, which is an important check of our school system, providing important information on schools’ performance to make sure all children reach their potential.

‘The pilot is an opportunity for schools to familiarise themselves with the format and help us make sure it works for both children and teachers - that’s why it’s so significant that almost 10,000 schools have registered to take part.

‘The assessment will lighten the load for schools, which will no longer have to carry out whole-class assessments at the end of year 2 or deal with the test papers and administration that comes with that, while also being stress-free for children.’ 

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said, ‘If a baseline assessment is to be a success, it is absolutely critical that it is done right, which is why it’s encouraging that so many schools have signed up for the pilot. This will mean that the assessments can be trialled across the full range of provision. This is important because it will tell us whether the assessment which has been developed works for teachers and children, and what the next steps should be.’

Sector reaction

According to the National Education Union (NEU), the number of schools that have registered to take part in the pilot is down from the number that took part in the previous pilot last year. In 2018, 16,766 primary schools piloted the assessment.

Joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said, 'This is a significant setback for the Government’s test-driven approach to primary education.

'There is evidently a widespread scepticism in primary schools about the value of baseline, and a concern for its impact on pupils and on the early years curriculum. Educators do not want new tests in primary schools - they want an end to the current system of primary assessment.'

Nancy Stewart from the More Than A Score campaign group and TACTYC-the Association for Professional Development in Early Years, said the numbers signed up to the pilot represent just over half of primary schools, meaning over 7,000 schools 'said no'.

She explained, 'The number of participants is embarrassingly low for the Government and demonstrates the level of opposition to the scheme among heads and teachers. 

'We know that schools have signed up to ensure that feedback represents the views of all those across the sector, or to get advance sight of what they will have to deal with in 2020. In other cases, heads have signed up to the baseline pilot against the better judgement of the reception teacher. So the DfE should not in any way see this as an indication of numbers of schools supporting the scheme.

'It’s worth remembering that the majority of primary schools participated in the last failed attempt to introduce this plan just four years ago. They discovered its fundamental flaws and this must have contributed to the low take-up of participants in the pilot. 

'Such a huge change in education policy needs consensus and support from those who will be implementing it. That’s clearly missing here.

'We’re confident that schools participating this time around will also very quickly become aware of how unreliable, unfair and useless such a scheme will be.'

Labour's shadow early years minister Tracy Brabin MP said, 'Our pupils are some of the most tested in the world, but there is no evidence that the current high-stakes testing regime improves teaching and learning. Teachers do not want yet another new set of tests imposed, yet the Government is wasting millions of taxpayers’ money forcing through an ideological experiment to test children as young as four – for no discernible benefit.'

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