Dear madam: letters to the editor 2/7/19

In this week's postbag of letters to the editor, Tes readers discuss baseline assessment and Ofsted's focus on curriculum

Tes Reporter

Tes letters to the editor

We can't support flawed baseline assessment

We the undersigned organisations welcome any steps by government to engage early years experts to inform the development and implementation of policy. We frequently provide our advice and expertise to the Department for Education for free through discussions with officials and written submissions, and we take on paid contracts to support the delivery of key government policies where we feel we can do so in keeping with our organisations’ missions and values. 

However, we note that the DfE has recently issued an invitation to tender (ITT) to acquire early years experts on the Reception Baseline Assessment to be developed within the Standards Testing Agency, and on this occasion we felt it important to make a public statement as to why we will not be tendering for this piece of work.

The DfE is asking for early years expertise after having set the parameters of the Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) in a way that is simply not compatible with children’s best interests and good early years pedagogy. We would not wish to be associated with this flawed policy or to suggest that it can be acceptably mitigated by minor tweaks to the assessment items or other aspects of delivery.

The RBA, which will be administered to four-year-olds in the first few weeks of Reception, is a tool for accountability so that schools can demonstrate “value added” between Reception and Year 6. The assessment is not a tool for informing and developing quality pedagogy, nor will it provide reliable data that is to benefit children. It offers no formative data that will aid teachers in their pedagogical practice. The tests may also be damaging, being undertaken at a crucial time when children should be settling into their new learning environment.

We support quality early years education for all children and offer support to practitioners in developing effective teaching and learning practices that will support children’s holistic development. This includes formative assessment based on observations of children that enable teachers to get to know and understand the children they work with in order to inform how to support children’s effective early learning.

We will continue to give expert advice to our members and the wider early years community in support of quality pedagogy. However, we are unable to offer our expertise to government to support an assessment that is ultimately flawed and in tension with these core objectives.

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive, Early Education
Verity Campbell-Barr, chair of trustees, Early Education
Jan Georgeson, chair, TACTYC
Liz Bayram, chief executive, PACEY
Neil Leitch, chief executive, Early Years Alliance
Carolyn Silberfeld, chair/director, Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network
Isabel Davis, national rep for early years on the Teaching School Council
Anna Ephgrave and Elaine Bennett, Keep Early Years Unique
Robin Duckett, director, Sightlines Initiative

'Curriculum intent' is an opportunity

I read about the new "curriculum intent" phenomenon and agree wholeheartedly that there have been a flurry of intents going up on school websites that fail to do much more than use a few buzzwords and tick a paperwork box ("The troubling rise of 'curriculum intent statements'").

This saddens me, as our school has used the curriculum intent motion to delve into why we are doing what we are doing and eliminate practice that had little impact.

We started by looking at our children’s specific barriers to learning. What precisely were the reasons why children, in our school explicitly, failed to succeed? This wasn’t a “capturing all” process with sweeping "aiming high" statements, this was a clinical look at the children we knew best – ours.

First, we identified lack of vocabulary, limited life experiences and a need to improve social skills as the biggest barriers to our children’s success. Then we looked at what we did within our curriculum to address this. It also started the process of looking for improvements that would address our obstacles. It created a stronger focus for CPD and school improvement and made us look at the wider life of school as another way to address our children’s weaknesses.

Although I am against doing paperwork for paperwork’s sake and definitely opposed to doing something just on Ofsted’s say-so, we have seen this curriculum intent as a fantastic opportunity to streamline our thinking around school improvement to make it a highly individual process to address our children’s needs.

Ruby Grey
Headteacher, Woodland View Primary School in Nottinghamshire

Don't write off the Chartered College

The Chartered College of Teaching deserves to have a future ("Does the Chartered College have a future?").

It has produced a wealth of interesting initiatives, though possibly too many for them all to be successful in such a short space of time. It has succeeded in getting practitioners to contribute to its valuable, if somewhat overhyped, quarterly journal. It attempts with some success to be “research-based”, though it hasn’t debated sufficiently the limitations of the research it celebrates. Its contributions to discussion of educational policy have been limited and predictably timorous --unsurprising given its reliance on the Department for Education for a substantial part of its finding.

It has helped to raise teacher morale but needs now to move on from lauding “the best job in the world” to being more critical of the rhetoric it has espoused. Its leadership has been inspirational but not sufficiently aware of the danger of the cult of personality. It hasn’t been – and isn’t – perfect, but then nothing in education ever is. I am pleased to be one of its professional affiliates and will do what little I can to ensure that it has a future.

It is far too early (and unfair) to write off this fascinating and hopeful initiative.

Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria


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