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The baseline assessment isn't perfect, but supporting it makes sense

Why the benefits of the new baseline assessment for Reception pupils far outweigh the costs

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Try as I might (and I have really tried), I struggle to understand why anyone (teachers, parents, anyone) would honestly object to the new baseline assessment.

The first, and possibly most important, point is that it really isn’t a test. The experience for the Tiny People will be as far removed from a GCSE exam, or a Sats test, as is conceivable. The National Foundation for Educational Research, which is writing and administering the process, has pretty much guaranteed that.

(On a related note, pretty much all primary schools already baseline children when they start Reception: it’s seen as best practice.)

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It is also worth highlighting the fact that the results of these tests will not be made available to teachers and will therefore not impact how individual children are taught, and they will not be used to judge the school (which would, of course, be madness).

Slightly less practical is the promise of what the baseline means for the rest of primary. Setting to one side Labour’s new policy of abolishing Sats altogether, the baseline is part of a strategy, largely written for the government by the NAHT headteachers' union, that would involve the abolition of key stage 1 tests. In recent years, despite being officially downgraded by ministers, there has been increased hothousing and teaching to the test around this stage, so the removal should be very, very welcome.

The idea is that these results of the new Reception assessment will be used as the “baseline” against which to measure pupil progress once the cohort sits KS2 Sats. This data would become the new accountability measure for primaries, just as Progress 8 is used in secondaries. In theory, at least, this is surely a good idea.

Misleading claims

Of course, there are those who object to any kind of assessment at all – and who vehemently loathe KS2 Sats – and they, perhaps, will never be satisfied by anything that looks like measurement at primary (this group presumably includes the organisers behind the so-called "March of the four-year-olds"). But their claims about what will happen around the baseline – and presenting the assessment as some kind of formal exam – is misleading at best.

Surely, something that looks like assessment and a measurement of progress is only sensible. Surely, we want to know how well our children and our schools are doing.

The strongest argument against the baseline is that it won’t work: that the data won’t be rigorous enough to be used as the starting point for this progress measure. Critics point out – and there is a lot to said for this – that it will be wholly unreliable both because of differing rates of development in the early years and because the performance of children in this age group might vary depending on the day. What happens when Little Jonny, who knows perfectly well that 2+2=4, insists the answer is DINOSAUR?

But at the very worst – if the baseline really doesn’t work – it’ll be no worse than now, given the existing reliability issues with primary accountability, and we’ll have got rid of KS1 testing as a byproduct. (Also, we will only know this in seven or eight years’ time, which is two political/policy cycles from now – and god knows what will happen in the meantime.)

There will be those who point to Jeremy Corbyn’s promises to send a wrecking ball through the entire construct of primary assessment, but until Labour wins a majority (and that remains a big “if”), accepting the baseline assessment seems like the sensible, pragmatic decision to me.

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