Schools question need for the
Many teachers remain opposed to the Reception Baseline Assessment, which became a started school this September. By Catherine Gaunt
Children starting school are first to take the Reception Baseline Assessment since it became statutory DfE insists the Baseline is
‘not a test’, but many heads and teachers are opposed
Thousands of four-year-olds who started school this term are among the first cohort legally required to take the Government’s new Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) in their first few weeks of joining. The controversial RBA had been due to come into force last September but was postponed by the Department for Education to autumn 2021, due to the ‘challenging circumstances’ schools faced with the Covid pandemic. While ministers expect the Baseline to be carried out with each child in the first six weeks of starting school in September, in practice many children will have taken it in their very first week because schools are not allowed to teach children before they take the assessment. This contrasts with the way teachers typically assess Reception children during their first term in school, which is using ongoing ‘formative assessment’ to observe children, rather than the RBA’s specific one-to-one test in English and maths with a teacher using a computer. The Government plans to use the information collected from the Baseline – which it states is not a test – to measure progress when children leave primary school in seven years’ time. The DfE states that ‘no numerical score will be shared and the data will only be used at the end of Year 6 to form the school-level progress measure. However, teachers will receive a series of short, narrative statements that tell them how
Baseline tests are handled ‘sensitively’ at Highlands Primary their pupils performed in the assessment. These can be used to inform teaching within the first term.’
All schools with Reception classes were invited to take part as ‘early adopters’. DfE statistics show that 2,731 carried out assessments in the second half of the autumn term last year. Data gathered from last year will not be used to create a progress measure.
Schools we spoke to are continuing to use their own assessments, as well as the RBA, which they say is increasing their workload during a time when they remain under pressure from Covid, including through staff and pupil absence.
Many heads, teachers, educators and parents have waged a long campaign against the introduction of the Baseline, with the latest a petition, organised by More Than A Score, containing 112,000 signatures, delivered to Downing Street on 23 September.
Campaigners calculate that at least 300,000 teaching hours (or 60,000 school days) will be used to administer the assessment.
Teaching unions are divided, with the National Education Union continuing to call for the scrapping of the Baseline, while the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT)’s backing of the RBA is dependent on the Government’s plan for it to replace Key Stage 1 SATs from 2022.
Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, told Nursery World, ‘NAHT continues to offer cautious support for a baseline assessment at the start of school as an alternative to the current baseline for progress that takes place at the end of KS1. This support remains entirely contingent on KS1 statutory assessment being removed in order to reduce the volume of high-stakes testing in primary that NAHT has long called for.
‘It is important to reiterate that we remain committed to the principle that performance data alone should never be used to determine school effectiveness. We are also clear that there should be no attempts to set targets or make assumptions about pupil progress based on initial assessments.’
A DfE spokesperson said, ‘It is vital that children do not miss out on building important vocabulary and reading skills in their early education, despite the challenges the pandemic has presented.
‘The Reception Baseline Assessment is not a test and there is not a pass mark. It is important to see the progress children make in primary school, and the measures enable the department to understand how well schools are supporting their progress.’ HEADS’ RESPONSE Nursery World spoke to two head teachers about their experiences of the RBA. Both have on-site nurseries. Dr Victoria Carr, head, Woodlands Primary, Cheshire I think it’s utterly foolish of the Government to [be] going back to normal assessments as they were pre-Covid on the back of two disrupted years. They are being told there is continued disruption with children and staff being ill and they are choosing to ignore that and to plough on regardless. The efficacy and usefulness of the assessment data they will collect I would say is negligible.
In terms of early years, I definitely think it’s ridiculous to introduce a new baseline assessment now, that schools will be judged on in seven years’ time – again, on the back of some children never having been inside a school building or not having attended nursery in the last two years – it’s futile. Again, the data will be skewed. What we should be spending our money on right now is good-quality support and good-quality interventions which are not being prioritised by the Government at all. They are prioritising a testing regime with absolutely no thought or care about the impact of that on children or on schools.
Schools all do their own baseline assessment in any case – they’ve worked perfectly well for years: ongoing formative assessment. We don’t wait until the children are in Year 6 to test them to see how we can judge the school against that, we’re constantly assessing children for progress.
Staff have been assessing as
6 | NurseryWorld | October 2021