Desperate measures

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Assessment has become a political game, says Michael Pettavel

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I’ve always been a bit slow on the uptake – my mum always referred to me as a ‘late developer’, which in hindsight was probably true. For me, then, the gloomy dawn of the Reception Baseline has only just peeked over the hill of ‘Bold Beginnings’, now looking a bit smaller after the levelling it got from the early years sector (thank goodness we still have some influential friends – thank you, Michael Rosen et al).

The tender document is remarkably brief for a contract near on £10m, but that’s OK – it’s not as if schools are short of money, is it? Not as if speech and language therapy services are needed, not as if… well, you get my drift.

The most striking element is that the tender requirements state: ‘The reception baseline assessment is not intended to provide ongoing formative information for practitioners.’
Excuse me while I scream here. What real use is it, then? I know the accountability stakes are high, but if (as described in the tender) the sole aim is to measure accountability from Reception to Year 6, that’s pretty expensive – and not counting the add-on costs to authorities and schools for training, moderation, schemes, etc.

You know what’s going to happen. Children will not ‘do well’ in Reception and need rescuing. Again, resources will be stripped out of the early years and pushed further up the school to increase outputs, sorry – I mean outcomes. Reception becomes the problem, where really it is the only solution.

I can’t think of any situation where I would comfortably predict the reliability of anything seven years down the line. Even in the cold, scientific world of production (within which this model sits), most things come with a guarantee that only lasts for a year, and that’s where the external factors can be managed. Here we are talking about children and families in the context of huge economic instability (although conveniently, the Government’s own statistics are ‘always wrong’, according to Steve Baker MP).

I am becoming so sick of this dependence on statistical information to determine value. We can all make data dance to the tune we wish to play, but it always becomes a political game either locally or nationally. Assessment helps you teach – isn’t that the point?

All views in Michael’s column are his own

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