The planned introduction of the controversial new baseline tests for four- and five-year-olds should be delayed until January next year to alleviate teacher workload, peers have argued.
Giving schools the "flexibility" to deliver the Reception baseline assessment (RBA) a term later than planned would also allow them to pay "special attention" to children who were unable to develop their language skills during the Covid crisis, according to a new House of Lords report.
Peers scrutinising the legislation to introduce the assessment in the next academic year said they were "concerned" about plans to hold the tests in the autumn term, when teacher workload "will be significant".
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Instead, they recommended delaying the start date to January 2022, to allow schools time to focus on reopening after the summer.
The RBA is part of a new accountability measure for primary schools. It is designed to provide a baseline for the Department for Education in tracking children's progress between their first weeks in school and their final Sats results in Year 6.
Reception baseline assessment 'should be postponed'
The House of Lords' secondary legislation scrutiny committee, which produced the report, said it had asked the DfE "whether it had considered a further delay" to the introduction of the RBA.
In response, the department said that teachers would be supplied with the assessment materials and guidance "in good time", and the baseline itself would "provide valuable one-to-one time with each child, particularly during those important first weeks".
However, the peers have proceeded to push for the tests to be postponed.
"While we note that RBA assessment materials, guidance and access to the training materials will be available to schools before the summer holidays, we are concerned about the introduction of the RBA in September, at a time when the workload of teachers will be significant, and schools will be focused on reopening," the report says.
"Special attention will need to be paid to those children who were unable to develop their language skills because of social isolation during the pandemic.
"We believe that it would be helpful, therefore, to provide schools with flexibility and enable them to implement the RBA for the cohort of children starting Reception this year in January 2022."
The committee also asked the department whether the assessment would take into account the fact that pupils starting Reception in September "may not have been in nursery over the last year because of the pandemic and may find it difficult to adapt to a school environment".
To this, the DfE said "the attendance rates of nursery pupils do not impact on the RBA as an assessment".
"The assessment will assess all children on entry, accounting for any impact on their education up to this point. This is important so that we can acknowledge and give credit to schools that do well to address lost time in education," the department said.
"The progress measure ensures schools are recognised for the work they do with their pupils, in particular for those with a challenging intake and those who have been significantly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic."
And asked by the committee how "robust" the 20-minute assessment would be as a baseline for judging seven years of schooling, the DfE said it would ensure the data collected was "valid and reliable for the purpose of creating a value-added progress measure".
It added: "We have always made it clear that data is just the starting point for a conversation about schools' performance – and why we provide additional background information about schools alongside performance data."
A spokesperson for campaign group More Than A Score told Tes: "The House of Lords committee has rightly raised many of the questions which surround the introduction of baseline in September.
"It's the wrong time to introduce any new statutory test, let alone one for children who have just started school. We are calling for baseline, and all other primary assessments, to be paused in 2021-22 to give schools and pupils the time and opportunity to fully recover any lost learning.
"In their responses to the committee, the DfE has also – once again – failed to provide any detail about how the results of a "snapshot" test taken at the age of 4 can be compared to four days of tests taken under exam conditions at the age of 11, and how this will be a reliable measure of school progress.
"With the planned introduction of baseline only months away, this is a question which must be addressed."
It was originally intended that the RBA would become mandatory in September 2020.
However, the introduction of the assessment was postponed for a year owing to the Covid crisis.
Schools were instead given the option to sign up for an "early adopter year" in 2020-21, to "familiarise themselves with assessment materials".
The DfE has been approached for comment.