Baseline assessments dropped as accountability measures in major DfE U-turn

Today's decision made in light of a study showing that the three official baseline assessments are not comparable

Helen Ward

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Controversial baseline assessments of four-year-olds will no longer be used to measure progress and hold primary schools accountable, the government has announced today.

The decision comes after a study found that the three different methods were not comparable. The U-turn over the controversial infant assessments means pupils’ progress will now only be measured from age 7 to 11.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, welcomed the change of heart but blamed the "chaos" in primary assessment on a government failure to consult teachers.

"There is still merit in measuring primary progress from the start of school, rather than halfway through, which neglects some of the most important years of a child's education," he said.

"The government has approached this in the wrong way. Next time: listen properly when constructive critics are telling you about the problems you will face. Government have wasted time and money once again." 

The government said that the baseline assessments, which are not mandatory, can continue to be used in schools. 

But the main incentive for using them was their use as a progress measure. It is not clear how many schools will want to use them now that incentive has gone.

The baseline assessments are designed to be used in the first six weeks of reception class, to assess children's communication, literacy and numeracy skills. All of the assessments also measure personal, social and emotional development.

Critics said that they had led to children being grouped by ability at a young age and added to teachers’ workload while giving them little useful information.

Protests from teachers

Last month the NUT teaching union called for a potential ballot for a boycott of new baseline tests for four and five-year-olds “at the most appropriate time”.

There are three approved baseline assessments: a computer-based test from the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University; an assessment using a mixture of tasks and observation from the National Foundation for Educational Research; and the observation-only assessment from Early Excellence.

When schools signed up, they were told that from September 2016: "primary schools will only be able to use reception baseline to key stage 2 results to measure progress.”

More than 11,000 schools signed up to use the observation-based Early Excellence assessment in September 2015, and almost 3,000 heads did not take part in September 2015 – meaning the remaining 2,000 or so primaries signed up for either the Durham or NfER assessments.

But the heavy uptake for the Early Excellence baseline was seen as problematic by ministers because it meant that schools were “loading up” on two sets of teacher-assessed data, in reception and at key stage 1, rather than tests. And in November 2015, education secretary Nicky Morgan confirmed the government  would now consider more “rigorous” assessments for seven-year-olds.

The change was hinted at in the White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere which made no mention of baseline, but did say that: “At primary, a new floor standard will be introduced from 2016, including a new measure of the progress made by pupils from age 7 to the end of primary school. A school will be above the floor if at least 65 per cent of pupils achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics or its pupils make sufficient progress in reading, writing and mathematics.”

Russell Hobby, NAHT general secretary, said: "This outcome is symptomatic of the general chaos on assessment in the primary phase, with poor planning and a lack of consultation with the people who know what will actually work. 

"We welcome the government's promise to work with the profession to consider its next steps but we are clear that a piecemeal approach to individual tests will not work. It's what got us into this mess in the first place. We need a coherent approach to assessment from start to finish across all ages, methods and subjects."

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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