Exclusive: DfE slammed for refusing to publish baseline trial results

More than 300 schools and 3,000 pupils took part in trials last term – but results will not be published

Helen Ward

The Department for Education is under fire for not publishing the results of trials of its Reception baseline assessment

Early years experts have called for the results of the trials of the new Reception baseline assessment to be published.

Trials were carried out in more than 300 schools last term, but the Department for Education has not shared the findings and says it has no plans to do so.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "This is a second go at this policy after the DfE admitted defeat three years ago. You would think that when the DfE is having a second go at this area they would want to be squeaky clean and publish the information before the pilot.

"And if they are not releasing it, why not? The suspicion, if they are not open and transparent, will be that the trial didn't go very well."

Sue Cowley, teacher educator and author, said the information should be made public. "This is £10 million of taxpayers' money being used to develop a compulsory test for a non-statutory phase of education," she said. "The public has a right to know what the trial data shows."

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of early years association Early Education, said: "Transparency would be a good thing. There should be an expectation that the DfE will publish the trial results."

Baseline assessment controversy

The controversial assessment is due to be piloted in September and is being developed by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), under a £9.8 million contract.

Quick read: Plans to broaden baseline between maths and literacy dropped

Quick read: Baseline assessment to be developed by NFER

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Last week, the Standards and Testing Agency, which oversees the statutory tests in England, published the Reception baseline assessment framework, a supporting document and video, which gives details on how the tests will work.

It says that the development process has included:

  • Expert review processes including consultation with early years practitioners;
  • Informal trialling in schools;
  • A large-scale trial involving more than 300 schools and 3,000 pupils and full analysis of the trialling data;
  • Practitioner feedback from a questionnaire sent to all schools involved in the trial.

The supporting document revealed that the trial data led to the decision not to include an assessment of “self-regulation” alongside maths and language, communication and literacy tests – partly because teachers were unsure of the purpose and it took longer to administer than other tasks.

The report also mentions that: “A greater number of tasks were trialled than would be included in the final assessment. Evidence from the qualitative and quantitative data from the trial was used to select the final assessment.”

Nick Gibb, the school standards minister, said last week that the assessment would be a “hugely important step forward in ensuring that we can fairly and accurately measure how effectively schools are helping children to progress”.

Carol Willis, chief executive of the NFER, told the Tes that she is “absolutely sure” that it will deliver a “robust assessment”.

The NFER was one of three approved providers of a Reception baseline assessment when the government last introduced the scheme in 2015.

Thousands of schools signed up for a baseline assessment, but the plan was scrapped in April 2016 when a report revealed that the three approved assessments were not comparable.

This time, the government has proposed just one national assessment, which will be statutory from September 2020.

The two other previously approved providers, Early Excellence and CEM, did not bid for the contract saying respectively that the plans were “unworkable” and that the assessment was not being used to support teaching and learning.

The DfE has said that it is not normal practice to publish trial results but it is planning to publish the results of the pilots.


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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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