Reception baseline assessment to be developed by NFER

The NFER will be expected to run the trial and pilot phases of the assessment, and the first two years of statutory delivery

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The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has been chosen as the preferred supplier to design and deliver the controversial Reception baseline assessment, the Department for Education announced today.

The NFER will be expected to run the trial and pilot phases of the assessment, as well as the first two years of statutory delivery.

Once the baseline is established, the existing key stage 1 assessments will be made non statutory; the earliest point that this could happen is the 2022-23 school year.

The DfE also confirmed today that it would make KS1 assessments non-statutory for first and infant schools, at the same time that they are made non-statutory for all-through primaries.

There had been concern that the future of infant schools could be jeopardised if the government insisted they had to administer KS1 tests while all-through primaries did not. 

The Reception baseline development contract, worth an estimated £9.8 million, went out to tender last term.

The DfE said it wanted the assessment to cover communication, literacy, maths and possibly self-regulation. The information will be used to measure children's progress between starting and leaving primary school in Year 6.

And it confirmed it did not want the assessment to be based on teacher observations – the basis of Early Excellence's baseline assessment, which was the most popular baseline assessment chosen by teachers in 2015-16.

Early Excellence later announced that it would not bid for the contract, saying that the proposals were unworkable.

The company was not the only refuser. Robert Coe, director of the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) at Durham University – which also ran a government-approved baseline in 2015-16 – said it would not bid because the current proposals did not make sense.

Today, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: "The simple fact is that no test-condition assessment can be designed well enough to reflect the complexities and variation of a child in Reception.

"A baseline test, conducted on a tablet and before a teacher has had a chance to develop a relationship with the child, won’t tell teachers anything about the children they work with and won’t be of any use to parents. Instead, what it will do is pile pressure on to our very youngest children: from those forced to sit an exam at the tender age of four to those in settings under pressure to get preschoolers 'test ready'."

But headteachers' union the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) supports the move. Julie McCulloch, interim director of policy at ASCL, said that the union supported a "light-touch assessment near the beginning of Reception", but stressed the need for trials.

"It is essential that any Reception assessment is thoroughly trialled before it is rolled out, to ensure it is as valid and reliable as possible, and does not put pressure on very young children. We will be encouraging our members to participate in the trials, to help shape the new assessment and ensure it is fit for purpose," she said.

School standards minister Nick Gibb said: "A good primary education lays the foundations for success at secondary school and beyond, so it is right that we help make sure every child reaches their potential from the moment they start their education.

"This quick, simple assessment will help us to capture the progress that children make throughout primary school and provides a fairer measure for school accountability. I would encourage teachers and headteachers to work with us through the trials and pilot to make sure we get the assessment and measures right."

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