More than a score
A growing army of early years professionals, academics and parents are protesting against the introduction of baseline testing in reception. Over 20,000 people have signed the More than a Score online petition over the past week.
Elaine Bennett, founder of the Facebook Group, Keeping Early Years Unique has been actively campaigning against the introduction of baseline testing, which is currently set for the trial phase in September, with full implementation due in 2020. Elaine gave a rousing speech at the NUT conference earlier this year which called for early years practitioners, parents and other professionals to stand up for what they believe and campaign against the introduction of the test.
The idea behind the baseline is that it can predict the outcome of the KS2 SATs at 11 years but how a 20-minute test of a 4-year-old can do that, is beyond me!
Most schools use some sort of baseline to determine levels of development on entry to school, however, this is usually completed through observations of child-initiated play and play-based activities as children, at this point in the year, are still settling into school routines and developing relationships with practitioners.
Reception teachers also take into account views from parents, carers and pre-school settings, in order to present a more rounded view of the child as an individual rather than using an, out of context, tick box approach which, dependent on the mood of the child at the time of assessment, may not be a true reflection of their capabilities.
Add children who have English as an additional language, children with special educational needs, boys and summer born children into the mix and you have a recipe for a baseline that is fundamentally flawed, as by not giving children time to settle and develop positive relationships they will be most unlikely to perform at their actual developmental level. What about the children for whom entering reception is a traumatic and stressful experience and who may take some time just to separate from their parents or carers? Asking these children to take a test, will likely cause even greater anxiety.
Most schools also baseline the prime areas of learning as these underpin the specific areas, such as reading, writing and maths. Children are unlikely to do well if their early needs are not met in the prime areas and if formal learning is introduced too soon.
It would seem that learning through play is already on the way out in some schools, as formal teaching is being introduced earlier and earlier. A recent Ofsted report, Bold Beginnings, which despite being based on a tiny minority of schools, advocates a top-down approach within a narrow curriculum, in order for children in reception to be ‘school ready’ for the beginning of the National Curriculum in Year One. As many heads are under pressure to raise standards, it is likely that some will follow the recommendations based on the small number of good and outstanding schools in the report.
The education system is driven by data and so it would be naive not to believe that some sort of measure is needed. Performance related pay means that we do, after all, have to show how much progress children have made over time. Practitioners do this, however, with the needs of their children uppermost in mind. There is a window of opportunity, at the beginning of the school year, to establish routines and expectations as well as support children in accessing materials and resources for themselves. Focusing on testing at this crucial time of the year does little to support the settling in process, which is vital if children are to form good relationships with adults and their peers and become confident and independent learners.
The baseline introduced in 2015 failed dismally yet here we are again with Baseline 2.0! Interestingly CEM, one of the previous baseline providers, opted out of tendering for the current version as they believe their views are incompatible with that of the government, stating “…we also believe that the central focus of any baseline assessment should be to give teachers reliable information from which they can learn more about the children in their care and adapt their approaches to learning accordingly. We are not convinced that the government share this vision for the assessment and our understanding is that reporting pupil information back to teachers and schools will be very limited.” I think this says it all!
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again but expecting different results. When is the government going to stop and think about what they are doing to our children and start to look at education systems in other countries around the world, where children start school much later and yet do just as well and in many cases, such as Finland, measurably better?