The government has made a "final decision" to green light the controversial new baseline assessment for four- and five-year-olds to start in September this year, despite the disruption caused by the Covid crisis.
In a letter to MPs, seen by Tes, schools minister Nick Gibb said the tests would become statutory in the autumn term, with the relevant legislation laid before Parliament today, 31 March. Their planned introduction in September 2020 was postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Gibb said the government believes it is "best" to proceed with both the new Reception baseline assessment and the early years foundation stage (EYFS) reforms in 2021-22, "given the policy goals of the department and the momentum built up in the sector".
"We also believe it is right to take and communicate a final decision now, in order to give much needed certainty and ensure early years settings and schools prepare for statutory implementation," he said.
Mr Gibb reassured MPs that the department will "ensure overall workload demands are managed".
This will include "inputting to wider discussions on burden on schools and early years settings in 2021-22 to ensure the department accounts for the introduction of these reforms", he said.
Alongside his letter to MPs, Mr Gibb included a factsheet on the new baseline assessment, intended to "clear some common misconceptions".
In response to concerns it may be "wrong" to introduce the tests in 2021, "given the disruption schools have experienced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic", he wrote: "The purpose of the assessment is to act as the starting point to enable the department to measure the progress primary schools make with their pupils.
"It is not a measure of attainment, rather a means to assess all children on-entry, accounting for any impact on their experiences up to this point and comparing their prior attainment to other pupils nationally in 2021.
"This is important so that we can acknowledge and give credit to schools that do well to address lost time in education."
Kevin Courtney, joint-general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: "In yet another end-of-term announcement, the government is confronting schools with new, unnecessary and harmful policies.
"The answer to the challenges of educational recovery is not more testing, but this is a lesson that the government is finding it hard to learn.
"Research into baseline pilots has suggested that it will disrupt children's settling-in period in their new school and that it will provide no useful information to teachers. Its main function will be to hold schools to account for their test results.
"Like the rest of the panoply of statutory assessment in primary schools it will work to damage the quality of educational experience, in the name of principles which most educators see as irrelevant to their current priorities."
He added: "This year of all years is a terrible time to introduce a statutory requirement to introduce a baseline test which is designed not to give information to either teachers or parents."
A spokesperson for the More Than A Score campaign, which has called for the baseline tests to be scrapped, said: "This is a terrible decision for teachers, schools and, most importantly, four-year-olds starting school for the first time. Adding another test in primary schools is not the answer to the challenges of educational recovery."