The Department for Education is planning to bring the delivery of its controversial Reception baseline in-house, Tes can reveal.
The transition is to be paid for from a budget of nearly £2 million, which has been set aside for the future of the assessment.
Last year the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) was awarded a contract worth £9.8 million, running from April 2018 until August 2022, to oversee the trial and pilot phases of the assessment, as well as the first two years of statutory delivery.
At the time, the DfE said it may extend the contract for one further academic year until August 2023.
Now the department has revealed that it intends to bring both delivery and development of the assessment in-house. It told Tes this decision had been made "to keep costs down".
Need to know: Reception baseline assessment Q&A
A freedom of information request revealed that the amount the DfE has set aside for the baseline assessment, to be spent between January 2018 and April 2022, is £11,652,133.
Reception baseline assessment costs
This is £1,852,133 more than the £9.8 million it budgeted for in the NFER contract, which was supposed to cover both development and delivery of the assessments between April 2018 and August 2022.
When asked what the extra money was for, the DfE said: “[The FOI] showed that we have a budget for future development plans. These plans include bringing the development of the assessments in-house in line with our usual practice of cost-saving wherever possible."
Asked when this would happen, Tes was told there was "no particular deadline".
A spokesperson for the DfE later added: “It is standard practice to develop new versions of assessments on an annual basis, and wherever possible we do this in-house, to keep costs down.”
The change would mean baseline being managed differently to both Sats and the phonics screening check.
In July 2018, it was announced that Capita had been awarded a six-year, £109 million contract by the DfE's Standards and Testing Agency (STA) to deliver primary school assessments in England, including Sats and phonics.
Capita is responsible for printing, distributing and collating more than 9 million test papers every year for KS1 and KS2 Sats, as well as the phonics screening check, and administering the marking of 4 million KS2 papers each year.
However, the DfE remains responsible for developing the content of the tests in-house.
The difference with the Reception baseline is that the whole process associated with the assessment will be managed by the DfE – including both development and delivery.
A DfE spokesperson clarified: "The goal is to bring it all in-house".
In September 2018, official auditors found "significant weaknesses" in the government’s preparedness to oversee the Capita contract.
The auditors reached their conclusions only two years after the STA was told it had insufficient expertise in contract management, following problems with the previous Sats contract.
'It feels a bit premature'
Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, criticised the government for a lack of transparency in budgeting for baseline.
"Apart from anything, they haven't even done the pilot yet – so it seems a bit premature to be bringing something in-house," she said.
"I think the sector's frustrated enough that there is £9.8 million being spent on something that the sector has no confidence in. Then to find there is another £2 million on top being sort of less transparently spent on it does raises questions."
She added: "I can understand it in a hypothetical sense, [but] to be planning for some of the money when it is something that hasn't even got off the blocks as a statutory assessment yet is a bit premature."
A spokesperson from campaign group More Than A Score said: "It's time for the government to stop ploughing money into this pointless and damaging experiment, especially when schools across the country are struggling with cuts to their budgets. Heads, teacher, parents and experts all agree: testing 4-year-olds makes no sense."
The DfE said it was confident that baseline would lighten the load for schools, as they will no longer have to carry out whole-class assessments at the end of Year 2 or deal with the associated test papers and administration.