Early years 'snapshot' policy falls at first hurdle
As education initiatives go, it must rank as one of the most short-lived in the brief history of the Welsh government.
Launched in September to near universal criticism from teachers, the controversial child development assessment profile (CDAP) was meant to give a snapshot of each child's abilities as they start their schooling. But less than five months later, much to the relief of teachers, the policy has been scrapped after a hastily arranged review found "significant problems".
The policy required early-years teachers to monitor up to 114 types of behaviour deemed appropriate for three- to five-year-olds in the first six weeks of a child entering the play-led foundation phase. When it was first announced, teachers warned that it would be too complicated and unwieldy, and ridiculed several of the areas to be monitored, such as whether a child could stand on one leg for two seconds or draw a mark in the snow with a stick.
In December the government was forced into an embarrassing climbdown, announcing a full review and relaxing the reporting requirement to parents. And last week it announced that the policy would no longer be statutory.
A "rapid review" conducted by Iram Siraj-Blatchford, a professor of education specialising in early years at the University of London's Institute of Education, found "significant problems".
The government has promised to publish the full findings shortly, but education minister Leighton Andrews (pictured right) said: "It is clear that the CDAP in its current form does not adequately meet the needs of all practitioners and children.
"Work is already in hand to ensure that we move quickly to replace the CDAP with a tool that better supports children's early learning and development."
Classroom unions breathed a huge sigh of relief, especially heads' union NAHT Cymru, which was braced for clashes with members of the NASUWT, who had been told by union leaders to abandon the policy after the review was announced.
The focus will now turn to what will replace the CDAP. Mr Andrews said he remained committed to a "single, consistent assessment tool for use with children as they progress through the foundation phase", but he has not given any hint of what that may be.
Liberal Democrat education spokesman Aled Roberts said that practitioners must be involved in developing any new scheme. "The minister is keen to move quickly to a replacement, but we have no detail about what it is, how it will work or what contribution teachers and headteachers have made to the revised content," he said.
"The government must be prepared to learn lessons from past mistakes and move on, engaging fully with the teaching profession to develop an assessment tool which holds the confidence of teachers and parents alike."
Anna Brychan, director of NAHT Cymru, said: "Teachers and school leaders want a reliable way of recording the start of pupils' educational journey to make sure that their progress is properly supported. The CDAP did not offer a reliable method of doing that, nor was it consistently applied across Wales. We are looking forward to a proper examination of the issues around this."
Beth Davies, head of Alltwen Primary School in Neath Port Talbot and an executive member of NUT Cymru, said observation and interaction should be an integral part of any baseline assessment.
"The CDAP didn't give us a chance to do that," Ms Davies said. "We have used a baseline assessment before. It has not always been perfect, but it does give us a foundation from which to work. If we can, we will return to that in September."
Despite the relief, there are still unanswered questions. If, as the minister acknowledged, there were such serious concerns from practitioners from the outset, why was the scheme implemented at all? And why did it take five months for the government to finally listen to those concerns and act upon them?
June 2011: TES reveals initial concerns about the child development assessment profile (CDAP), including workload. The Cardiff Primary Headteachers' Conference says it is "not fit for purpose" and twice writes to education minister Leighton Andrews with its concerns.
September 2011: The CDAP policy becomes statutory for all maintained primary schools.
December 2011: Mr Andrews announces a full review of the policy amid growing concerns, and relaxes the reporting requirement to parents.
January 2012: NASUWT Cymru tells its members to stop using CDAP altogether. The government warns teachers they will be breaking the law if they do.
February 2012: Mr Andrews announces that CDAP will be withdrawn and replaced after a review finds "significant problems".