'Ludicrous' and 'flawed' - why some schools are already boycotting baseline

Pilot of controversial Reception baseline assessment due to start in September

Helen Ward

early years, baseline

England's biggest teaching union may have just voted for a ballot over boycotting "all high stakes, summative testing" in primaries – including the Reception baseline assessment.

But at this stage, the prospect of the new baseline test for four-year-olds being stopped in its tracks remains unlikely. The legal hurdle needed by the NEU teaching union for a full national boycott is high and the NAHT headteachers' union – which represents many primary leaders – is backing the assessment. 

However, in some schools, the rebellion has already begun. While the NAHT is encouraging its members to participate in a baseline pilot beginning in September, there are primary heads who have decided not to go ahead with the dry run. They say they think it is “ludicrous” and “part of a flawed accountability system”.

The assessment will test the communication, literacy and maths skills of 4- and 5-year-olds in the first few weeks after they start school. It will consist of practical tasks carried out by the child, with the results recorded by teachers using an online scoring system.

But there will be no pass mark and teachers will not get a child’s score but a ‘narrative statement’ of how the child has done. The results will be kept and used later to calculate children’s progress between Reception year and Year 6.

The assessment is due to be made mandatory in 2020/21 and schools were invited to sign up for next year's pilot by April 5. 

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Rebecca Loader, head of Clare Community Primary in Suffolk, said that she was not going to be doing the pilot.

"The parents are wholly supportive,” she said. “I haven’t yet met one parent who is in favour of testing four-year-olds."

She added there were several reasons why she was unhappy with these tests including "the uncomfortableness for children who, just a few weeks into school, are being tested and having a judgement made about their academic ability".

"There is also the impact on teachers who will have to spend time away from children when they want to be getting them used to a routine," Ms Loader said.

“I and a lot of other professionals think it is ludicrous to be focusing on their ability at that stage when we really ought to be settling them in.”

She added that she was also concerned about the accuracy of the assessment. Teachers would need to interpret children’s responses and not only would this be then turned into a score but the score would feed into high-stakes progress measures.

Andy Richbell, head at St Nicolas CE primary in Brighton, has also decided not to take part in the pilot.

“We already do our own baseline and we’ll have to carry on with that because this won’t replace what we do," he said.

"Our baseline is diagnostic looking at how to support the child in school. The Reception baseline is not for the benefit of children or teachers, we don’t see the results. It is part of a flawed accountability system and that accountability system needs looking at.”

A petition against the baseline has been signed by 65,000 people. It is due to be delivered to Downing Street by a group of 4-year-olds later this month.

The Department for Education will not say how many schools have signed up to the pilot and how many have refused.

A department spokesperson said: “Schools should be accountable for the progress of all their pupils, throughout their time at primary school, and the Reception baseline will help to provide a starting point to measure how well the school supports children to succeed.

“There is no pass mark, it is a short, interactive assessment ‎that will help teachers understand how best to support children. Many schools already carry out assessments like this.

‎”We have invited schools who are interested to pilot the assessment and help us make sure it works for children and teachers before its full introduction in autumn 2020.”



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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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