Why you should SAY NO to the pilot of the Reception Baseline Assessment

Why you should SAY NO to the pilot of the Reception Baseline Assessment

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Letters have already been received at schools around the country, asking them to participate in the pilot of the Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA), due to start in September.  Here we go on the merry-go-round again! How many times are we going to have to go through this process before the government understands that this is a waste of time and a waste of the 10 million pounds paid to NFER to develop the baseline package.

The basic premise for the re-introduction of the baseline as advertised by the Standards and Testing Agency, in the video below, is that “there is no account of the work schools do with their pupils between Reception and Year 2.”   It states that ‘The baseline for current progress measures is taken from KS1 assessment.” 

This is misleading and completely untrue! There are in fact, two major assessments undertaken in both reception (Early Learning Goals) and year one (Phonics Screening Check), prior to the KS1 assessment.

The EYFS Profile Handbook (2019) p9, states that ” ….the EYFS profile provides an accurate national data set relating to levels of child development at the end of the EYFS. DfE uses this to monitor changes in levels of children’s development and their readiness for the next phase of their education, both nationally and locally.”

Baseline – a history 

This is not the first time that baseline assessment has been introduced.  It was first introduced by the Labour government in 1997.  I participated in this, during it’s final year, in 2001/02.  There was no requirement to test and we had 6 weeks to baseline children, in our case through observations, before sending the results off to the local authority.

The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile came into being in 2002.  It was designed to be a summative assessment at the end of the EYFS which provided “…a well rounded picture of a child’s knowledge, understanding and abilities, their progress against expected levels, and their readiness for Year 1.”  (EYFSP Handbook 2019  p 14) This information is shared with parents and enables a dialogue between reception and year one teachers which supports them in planning an effective curriculum to meet the needs of all children and provides a baseline on entry to the national curriculum.  

The  coalition government reintroduced the baseline in 2015  but instead of going with one provider allowed schools to choose from one of three.  More than 70% of schools used Early Excellence,  as this was more in keeping with the ethos of good early years practice, as assessment was formed through observation.

The baseline was abolished in 2016 when the government stated, what we knew all along, that it was impossible to standardise scores across 3 different systems.

The Conservative government announced its plans to restore baseline assessment in 2017. After putting this out to tender it was announced, in March 2018, that National Foundation for Education Research (NFER), one of the providers of the 2015 baseline, was successful in securing the tender.

Interestingly, the other two,  previous,  providers declined to bid.  A spokesman for CEM stated that their views were incompatible with that of the government as they believed  “…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.”

The pilot is due to start in September 2019 and there has been much debate on the pro’s and cons of participation, on social media.  Although the vast majority of early years practitioners are not in favour of testing, as a way of establishing a baseline, many are considering participating in the assessment so that they can provide feedback on the baseline with a hope to influencing the outcome.   Others are adamant that there is no point, as feedback will be ignored and they dont see the point of putting a cohort of children through testing unless they are made to.

The RBA becomes statutory in 2020/21 but it wont be until the academic year 2027/28, that we will know whether or not the governments claim that it can effectively measure pupil progress from Reception to Year 6, is true.

Outcomes from the Baseline Trials

Trialling of the test material has been completed in more than 300 schools, with 3,000 children however, the DfE has declined to publish the data.

There have been calls from early years teachers, academics and experts for the DfE to publish their findings.   Sue Cowley, early  years expert and author stated that “This is £10 million of taxpayers’ money being used to develop a compulsory test for a non-statutory phase of education,…… The public has a right to know what the trial data shows.”  (TES 8/3/19)

In addition self regulation, which has been shown to be a greater indicator of future success than academic testing and which was more warmly received by practitioners,  will be removed from the test as the trials showed that this took longer to administer. A spokesperson for the STA stated that  “The Department for Education has decided not to include self-regulation in the assessment to enable greater coverage and reliability of the other content areas in the time available.” 

The DfE said that it was not usual to publish results of trials but would publish the pilot results however, given the contentious nature of this assessment, publishing the results of the trials would ensure that concerns around transparency, were addressed and allow for some open and honest debate.

Baseline – the case against 

It is quite ludicrous that there will soon be a statutory test within a non-statutory part of education.  Children do not have to attend school until the term after their 5th birthday, meaning that parents can delay children starting in reception or, for summer born children, opt out of reception completely for them to start in year one.

All schools do some sort of baseline to ensure that the learning and development needs of children are catered for and to be able to show progress. However, this is usually through observation. The introduction of the RBA has nothing to do with informing practice or supporting children’s development (as the information is not going to be shared with schools), instead it will be used to hold schools to account several years later. 

The introduction of the RBA is completely at odds with current legislation and goes against current statutory guidance on assessment in early years.  The EYFS Profile Handbook 2019 (P10) states that:

Reliable and accurate assessment at the end of the EYFS is underpinned by the following principles:

assessment is based primarily on the practitioner’s knowledge of the childknowledge is gained predominantly from observation and interaction in a range of daily activities and events

responsible pedagogy must be in place so that the provision enables each child to demonstrate their learning and development fully

embedded learning is identified by assessing what a child can do consistently and independently in a range of everyday situations

As anyone who has worked with young children will tell you what children say or do one day, is often very different from the next.  This is acknowledged in the EYFSP Handbook which states that “…..practitioners should note the learning that a child demonstrates spontaneously, independently and consistently in a range of contexts.” (P6)

This is why over 70% of schools chose Early Excellence in the previous baseline, as observation has been proven to be the most accurate and effective method of assessing young children.

That said, how can a 20 minute test of a 4 year old, in their first few weeks of school,  possibly provide accurate information for baseline? And how can this information, which most likely will be flawed given the nature of interactions with young children, some who speak another language and others with additional needs, be used to hold schools to account several years later?

This is one of the main flaws of the RBA. If you are starting with flawed data you will end up with flawed data several years later.  This is looking more and more like an ill-considered, impetuous and very, very costly experiment.

It is also unclear how progress can be accurately assessed in schools where mobility is an issue.  Schools with high mobility, for example in areas where there is temporary housing, are likely to have a large number of children who completed the RBA, move school before Year 6.  It is also highly likely that they will also have a number of children starting school in year groups other than reception.   How is this going to be accounted for? Are the scores from the baseline to travel with children from school to school? These are questions that have not yet been answered.

There has already been a downward pressure in schools, post introduction of the Phonics Screening Check, for children being taught phonics earlier and earlier.  We have also all seen the damage caused by teaching to the test in Year 6, where the curriculum is reduced to a daily diet of reading, writing, SPAG and maths!  The introduction of the RBA may well influence provision in nurseries, many of which have, misguidedly, already started teaching phonics and writing. It could also subject young children to inappropriate hot housing by well meaning parents.

More importantly, the implementation of the test will impede practitioners from properly catering for the children in their care at a crucial time of transition.  The beginning of the year is a crucial time in reception as this is the time when rules and routines are established. There is a huge emphasis on personal, social and emotional development as practitioners support children in developing attributes such as collaboration and perseverance, which is crucial if they are to become independent and autonomous.  Taking one adult away for up to thirty, twenty minute tests will significantly impede this vital process.

What Now?

It is looking like this long term experiment will be going ahead and we shall have a long wait to see the outcome.   Please don’t subject the children in your care to testing just to see what it is like. It is not fair to them nor is it likely to give you any real contextualised information about them.    If you think that your views are going to be listened to then you are sadly mistaken.  Many highly qualified experts in the field have not been listened to and unfortunately the government is highly unlikely to listen to teachers, who they have shown, again and again, that they fail to trust!

Were I still in class I would be inclined to observe the children, as per usual then, wherever possible, complete the tablet assessments myself using my observations.  This would be a more accurate way of assessing what a child knows, over time and in a range of contexts, and is good early years practice as stated in the current early years statutory guidance.

More importantly, it would enable me to do what I needed to do in the first weeks of term, settling children, building relationships with them and introducing them to the new routines and ways in which they can work together, which is far more important for developing self regulation than a 20 minute test!

If you are committed to doing what you can to stop the RBA then you would be better joining More Than A Score and campaigning against it, rather than trialling it yourself!



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