Exclusive: Scrap 'damaging and pointless' primary baseline test, say academics

More than 700 academics, early years experts and teachers sign open letter opposing new national test for four-year-olds

John Roberts

John Roberts

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Hundreds of academics are among those who are signing an open letter urging the government to scrap plans to create a baseline assessment test of four- and five-year-olds, which they say will be both pointless and damaging to pupils.

It warns that children will suffer from being labelled at a young age, and says the results that the test produces will be unreliable.

The government plans to spend £10 million on testing the literacy and numeracy skills of four- and five-year-olds to establish a starting point, which will be used to measure their progress in primary school.

The Department for Education is expected to make an announcement in the near future about the plan – set to be piloted in 2019 and rolled out nationally the following year.

Now the More than a Score campaign has issued a letter with more than 700 signatories, including academics, early years specialists and headteachers, calling for the idea to be abandoned.

The letter warns that the test will disadvantage the most vulnerable children – those with special needs, those suffering the effects of poverty, the summer-born and those whose first language is not English.

Baseline: 'A punitive system of accountability'

The signatories acknowledge that assessment of children’s learning is essential to good teaching, but add: “There are better alternatives for ensuring the quality of schools without subjecting young children to a punitive system of school accountability.” 

The backers of the letter include more than 200 academics and educationalists, such as Professor Sir Tim Brighouse, Professor Cathy Nutbrown, and Professor Mick Waters.

“If  so-called baseline assessment goes ahead in 2020, every four-year-old will be tested in their first six weeks in school, using a 20-minute one-to-one test," the letter says.

"The results will inevitably be unreliable, as two previous expensive and abandoned trials proved. The results cannot provide an accurate picture of young children’s ability and potential. 

"Yet seven years later, children’s scores will be compared with their scores in key stage 2 tests... Schools will then be judged against each other on this basis. “

The letter adds: “The tests risk children’s wellbeing and confidence by interrupting the crucial early period when they are forming relationships and settling into school. And many schools will teach to the test, so that early years education will become more narrow and formal. This is not good for children. 

“Children deserve an education that places them at the centre. Children are more than a score.”

Earlier this week, at its conference, the NUT section of the NEU teaching union voted to explore ways of disrupting and stopping the government’s plans to introduce the baseline assessment for children in Reception.

The new baseline assessments for primary school pupils will cost up to £10 million to develop.  The Department for Education revealed last year that it did not want the assessment to be based on teacher observations – the basis of the most popular baseline assessment chosen by teachers in 2015-16.

A previous attempt to introduce a Reception baseline fell through when the three approved assessments were found to be incomparable

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