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

multicolored abacus photography
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

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!

 

The Great British Spring Clean

The Great British Spring Clean

GBSC20Facebook20Feed20Master202160x1080

I came across the Great British Spring Clean on Facebook recently and decided to sign the family up. I was really  disappointed at how few clean ups are registered in my local area with none seemingly from schools or early years settings. Hopefully, as the date draws closer, more will join.

Environmental awareness has been in the news a lot lately with children, from around the country, missing school to demand that the government takes action on  climate change.  It also was recently reported that the earth has just 12 short years before it reaches tipping point.

Extinction level events in the animal kingdom have already begun, with one of the most devastating being the rapid decline in the insect world.  Insects form a vital part of the food chain and deterioration in their numbers will affect the mass production of fruits and vegetables. I’ve noticed a huge decline in the number of bee’s, and other insects, visiting my garden over the past 2 years, despite consciously planting species that attract insects and providing for different habitats.

In their rush to prepare children earlier and earlier for testing, schools are missing out on a vital element of the curriculum which will empower the next generation to learn about and look after the environment.  Ecological awareness and sustainability covers all areas of the curriculum and enables children to develop a greater understanding of how our actions impact on the environment and how, by changing our behaviour this can be mitigated.

But what can we, as early years practitioners, do to ensure that our youngest people are involved in this?  As with all things, we need to start with day to day practices and routines in our settings.   Children imitate what they see and if we model behaviour that has a positive impact on the environment then they will follow suit.

If we pass these values onto the young children in our care then we are raising the next generation with the knowledge and enthusiasm to effect real change. After all, they are the generation that will inherit the world that we, by our behaviour, are changing today!

Start simple by providing recycling bins – one for fruit/veg scraps, which can be composted, one for recycling and one for rubbish.  Get the children to take the food scraps to the compost heap or bin and let them see, first hand, how food scraps, leaves and cuttings all break down to make compost, which they can then use to enrich the soil.  Discuss the importance of recycling, with children in context, as and when the opportunity arises and these attitudes will soon be embedded in your setting.

Young children have limited experience of the world but I have always found Come Outside, a BBC children’s programme, really useful for providing my reception aged children with information on things outside their immediate experience, in a simple and accessible way.   The episode about Rubbish gives a great insight into how their rubbish bag from home is just one of many.  Children can find out what happens to their rubbish after it is taken away and how recycling changes what they see as rubbish, into new and useable everyday objects such as bottles.

THREATS TO COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS

For settings on the coast, or those who operate Beach Schools, why not focus your efforts on collecting plastic nurdles.  These are tiny, nugget sized pieces of plastic used by industry as a raw material to make a range of plastic products and are often released into the environment accidentally or through mishandling.

Nurdle_Infographic_fb.jpg_750_532_70

Image courtesy of https://www.aquarium.co.za

It is thought that there are millions of nurdles in the seas, around our shores, which are washed onto many of our beaches with the tide.  Nurdles attract and absorb other pollutants and over time breakdown into smaller and smaller pieces that enter the food chain when they are swallowed by fish and other creatures.  Approximately 127,500 pellets were collected on just a 100 metre stretch of beach in Widemouth Bay, earlier this year.

Why not organise a group to search for these damaging pollutants on a beach near you?You can use the Nurdle Map to help identify beaches near you that have been found to contain nurdles.

LINKS TO THE CURRICULUM

Teaching children about the positive impact they can have on the environment can’t start too early.  After all, we expect them to tidy up after themselves, dont we?  This isn’t that different, just on a wider scale but the benefits are so much greater, for them and for everyone else.

There are some great ideas online, such as the examples below, for linking The Great British Spring Clean to the curriculum.

These can be found on the eco school website (which has an EYFS as well as primary pathway).

  • English – write an instructional text about how to safely conduct a litter pick: ‘Litter-acy’
  • Maths – record the different litter items found during a litter pick in a graph or chart
  • Art – use ‘clean’ litter to create artworks and sculptures

There are many other ways of linking this to the curriculum for example, children can create posters or invitations for friends and family prior to the event. Alternatively, on completion of the litter pick, they can weigh each bag then combine the totals to find the total weight of litter collected.

FOREST SCHOOL AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Fire in tree

‘Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints’ is a saying that is often heard in connection with forest school. However this saying isn’t strictly true as it’s common practice for forest schoolers to act as guardians of their local environment and take home with them any litter that they find.  Environmental awareness and sustainability is one of the key principles of Forest School and settings that follow this approach have this embedded into their way of working.

Whilst undertaking my forest school training,  I took reception aged children into the local woodland every week and they very quickly came to understand that they could have a say and effect real change in looking after the woodland. They viewed the walk in and out of the woods as an opportunity to collect any litter as well as document any damage to the woodland, such as a fire set at the base of trees, or fly tipping,  which I then would report the relevant department at the local authority .

Why not take a bag to collect litter when going on your next nature walk? This is a great way to develop children’s understanding of the amount of litter  that is needlessly thrown away.  On your return, sort the litter with the children to demonstrate how much is actual rubbish and how much can be recycled, as this will provide children with a more concrete understanding of the impact they can have on their locality.

JOIN UP

Participating in events such as The Great British Spring Clean, promotes and develops community involvement and enables children to better understand environmental issues impacting their local area and discover what they can do to address this.

Schools can register for the event and will be automatically entered into a competition, with a prize of £1,000 for school equipment.  This shouldn’t deter nurseries from participating however, why not contact local schools to find out who is joining the Great British Spring Clean and join in with them?  This is a great way of forging links with other settings too!

Last year 126,000 children and young people participated. Along with the 244,000 other volunteers, across the country, they collected 630,000 bags of litter but more importantly, they hopefully gained a greater insight into the small life changes that they can make to make their local environment a better place to live for them, their families and local wildlife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why you need to get your babies outside!

Why you need to get your babies outside!

adorable autumn baby blur
Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

We all know the benefits of getting children outside but how often do the youngest children in our care get this opportunity?  Being outside is vital for young babies and even the very youngest will respond to the change of environment as the sights, smells and sounds outside will interest and intrigue them.

Making the most of the white stuff!

Making the most of the white stuff!

person holding ice shard
Photo by Nelly Aran on Pexels.com

A belated happy new year to you all.  I took some extended time off before and after Christmas, which seems such a long time ago now, so it’s been a while since my last post.

Time to get back in the swing of things, starting with my favourite type of weather – SNOW!   I think this is my favourite because it brings so many learning opportunities with it and generates a sense of excitement within children that is rarely found with any other type of weather.  This is probably because, in the south of England at least, we get so little of it and what we do get, has gone in a few days.

To sticker or not to sticker…. that is the question?

To sticker or not to sticker…. that is the question?

Picture

I have long been against the use of stickers in the classroom and have had many debates with colleagues over this. For many years, schools have relied on extrinsic rewards, such as stickers or, certificates to elicit particular behaviours such as ‘good listening’.

We are bombarded with extrinsic motivation all the time from reward points for shopping at a particular store to bonuses for achieving set targets at work. External rewards can be good motivators but create a you do something for me – I’ll do something for you, culture.

I used reward systems early in my career but found that, after a while, many children expected a reward for doing the most basic of tasks. I found rewards worked, in some circumstances, in the short term but long term did little to improve either behaviour or attitudes to learning.  In addition, I felt it was a waste of time creating certificates, many of which never made their way out of the child’s school bag.

I heard of a teacher recently who started a new behaviour initiative with his class. When a child reaches 10 points they can choose a prize from the box and each time they achieve a multiple of 10 points, thereafter.

I have taught in schools who use Class Dojo, which is a similar, electronic, system but with rewards in the form of certificates, not prizes.  With so many categories, all pupils could find some success nevertheless, total scores are still displayed by each child’s name and on show for all to see, when on the interactive white board.

I have some issues with these types of scoring systems, particularly with giving of presents as rewards.  What about the children who will find it incredibly challenging to get to 10 points due to special educational needs (identified or not), or children who may not be receiving the right support or who may be in a class that is not geared to their way of learning? They are likely to be way behind their peers in the scoring system which, if on show, is there for all to see and judge.  What will this do to their self-esteem and how upsetting for their parents when they see their children at the bottom of the score board.

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Wayne Dyer

We need to think carefully about the message we are sending when giving out rewards. For example, how is it perceived by children who get them frequently and, more importantly, by those who rarely get them.  Could the reward system be contributing to some of the negative behaviours in class as children are individuals, and all unique, and often whole class reward systems don’t meet the needs of them all.

Children live up to the expectations of adults, negative as well as positive. Attitudes we exude and the way in which we interact with, and reward children, can set them up to either behave and work hard or possibly, misbehave and disengage from learning.   I have heard teachers speak about ‘good’ children in the class who always do as they are told and work hard and then, complain about the ‘naughty’ children who get all the attention, even though they disrupt the class.  If all behaviour is a form of communication what are these children telling us and how are they perceiving our interactions with them?

All practitioners in the early years sector are great advocates for intrinsic motivation as they have chosen this career path not because it has a great salary, many opportunities for promotion or any other benefits but because it is a vocation and internally satisfying. They do it because they find fulfilment in their work and monetary rewards are secondary.

But how can we ensure that we are supporting children to develop intrinsic motivation in the classroom or in an early years setting?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Enable children to be independent and have a say in what they are learning and how. So much of children’s lives is planned for them but if you want them to be autonomous then give them a voice, so they become co-constructors of the learning rather than passive recipients. Planning in the moment, a pedagogy that is gathering momentum, enables this beautifully as it is led by the child and so children are more likely to be intrinsically motivated if their needs and interests are being met and followed. I always followed children’s interests, in addition to the planning required by the school, as learning objectives can be delivered in so many ways, it doesn’t all have to be through the current topic or theme.
  2. Praise attitudes to learning as opposed to personal praise. ‘I can see you really had to work hard to solve that problem. Well done for persevering.”  Building Learning Powers is a great way to do this and support children in learning how to learn.  Making explicit learning capacities such as ‘noticing’ (observing), ‘managing distractions’ (not losing focus due to distractions from others) or ‘collaboration’ (working together as a team) enables children to understand that the focus is on the effort made and that learning is in the process and not defined by the end product.
  3. Time and space to allow for deep level learning. Children need time if they are to become deeply involved and work to their full capabilities.  Children who have ample opportunity to do this regularly have no need of stickers, as they are following their own interests and inner drives.  Even better if they are allowed the opportunity to return to their creations later in the day. There is nothing more exasperating for children to see constructions they have meticulously created, tidied away at the end of the session.  If you can, provide an area for children to leave their models to come back to later. For larger constructions, try using builder’s tape and asking children to write a Do Not Touch sign, particularly important if you are to leave things overnight.  Look at daily timetables to establish when children have periods of uninterrupted play. My inputs were at the beginning, and end, of the morning and afternoon sessions. The rest of the time children were able to free flow, inside and out, and could follow their interests for much of the time, if not working with an adult, so there was lots of time for them to become deeply involved.
  4. Allow children to have an input into the rules and routines of the setting. If children understand the why behind the rules, they will have a better understanding and are more likely to follow them. Children are often given far less credit than they deserve. Take risk management for example, more often than not when asked, children will be able to say what is worrying the adult, about a particular type of activity, and are able to say how they can mitigate this.  They are quite adept at setting their own rules and boundaries it just needs discussion. Encourage children to see the classroom as a community and discuss ways in which they can work together for the benefit of all.
  5. Create an enabling environment. Loris Malaguzzi spoke of the learning environment as the third teacher as, when set up properly, it provides for everything the children need to be independent and allows for creativity to flourish.  Look at the learning environment. Is it set up to allow for independence? Can children find what they need? Do they have space to create on a large and small scale? Is the outdoor learning environment accessible throughout the day? Do they have access to a range of open-ended, loose materials to create with?  Are children encouraged to work with others as well as working by themselves?  Are there plentiful opportunities for problem solving to aid the development of critical thinking? How do the adults interact with, support and extend the children?  If you are not sure, why not audit the learning environment and find out.
  6. Teach children how to manage conflict from the very beginning. It is common to see class rules displayed in settings such as ‘we share with our friends’. What if a child doesn’t want to share? What if they haven’t finished playing with a particular resource?  Giving a 5 minute timer, which I did earlier in my career to support turn taking, does little to allow for deep level learning to take place. It is better to speak to both children, when there is a disagreement, and allow them to hear the other’s point of view then listen to the adult modelling the language appropriate for the situation, which they can then repeat. Before long, children will be doing this themselves without the need for adult intervention. I have seen how quickly the impact of giving children the vocabulary to manage conflict, had on their behaviour towards one another.

Don’t throw out the stickers straight away. All change starts with discussion and reflection on current practice, to develop a shared vision going forwards.