Q. We think that teaching and learning in our primary school would benefit from the information that base-line assessment would provide. But how do we go about establishing it?
A. A base-line system, established even immediately, may not be long enough in place to provide the kind of evidence you hope for, unless your inspection comes much later in the OFSTED cycle. Profiles of children's work and other forms of assessment, standardised and teacher-centred, will afford wholly acceptable evidence of children's prog-ress and the steps taken to monitor it.
Base-line assessment is an attempt to obtain reliable, objective evidence, from the start of children's schooling, that will establish, especially, the extent of their cognitive development. Such assessment could also:
* enable teachers to be more confident that they are achieving a widely cherished intention of 'starting from where the children are'; * contribute valuably to the development of individual profiles; * identify, at an early stage, children's competence in literary and numeracy, regarded as reliable indicators of later attainment; * help to identify children's special and particular learning needs and possible future difficulties; * most importantly, support teachers in matching teaching, and learning provision to children's individual needs, development and capacity.
It is important that schools are clear about their purposes - as you obviously are - in establishing base-line evidence, since this will determine to some extent the approaches and materials they adopt and use.
Base-line assessment systems are largely designed to evaluate major elements of child development: language and literacy competence, skills and behaviour, ability to interact with, respond to and collaborate with others, general social competence and behaviour, number capacity and skills, motor skills, ability to respond to instructions, make decisions and solve problems, to communicate, represent and interpret.
Schools can construct such assessment schemes for themselves, and useful exemplars are available from a number of local education authorities. Home-grown schemes can benefit from the fact that they are designed by teachers to be compatible with a particular school framework and ethos, and to match the development and needs of children they know well.
If you decide to use commercial material such as the Buckinghamshire Observation Procedure, the Bury Early Infant Learning Check, or All About Me, then you will find it helpful to ask whether a range of sources of information is used, including structured assignments, tests and questioning, systematic classroom observation, interviews with children and parents, systematic accounts of children's abilities and behaviour?
Schools will find it helpful to ascertain whether their own education authority has done anything similar, or to obtain from their assessment experts guidance about good schemes and materials produced elsewhere.
Bill Laar is a registered inspector. Write to him co The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY