Baseline assessment for reception pupils looks like going beyond the three Rs, report Linda Blackburne and Diane Hofkins. Headteacher Janice Schofield thinks a national scheme of baseline assessment makes more sense than a national framework with a myriad of local schemes.
We have a national curriculum, so why not have a national baseline assessment scheme, she asks. But she accepts that this view is unlikely to please her counterparts elsewhere. If a local scheme works, most schools want to keep it.
At Parsons Down Infant and Nursery School in Thatcham, Berkshire, she and her fellow teachers have just completed assessing the latest intake of reception children.
This is the fourth term that Berkshire primary schools have been using a guide on baseline assessment devised by Surrey County Council. Timetabled tightly, the tests take about a week. Berkshire chose this scheme partly because it did not take up as much teachers' time as others.
"The Surrey scheme has just enough - any more than that would drive us to distraction. But good teachers assess children all the time," says Mrs Schofield. "My worry is we spend so long assessing we run out of time to teach the children anything."
She is also worried about whether the assessments should lean more heavily towards the so-called desirable outcomes - the Government's targets for five-year-olds - or towards key stage 1 of the national curriculum.
The Surrey scheme tests language, posture, walking, drawing a figure, behaviour, early literacy and maths. The child is marked for each activity and adjustments are made according to how long pupils have been at school.
The scores are sent to Berkshire County Council and turned into graphs showing three bands - average, and above or below average - so teachers and parents can discuss an individual's strengths and weaknesses.
Mrs Schofield, however, says she and her colleagues would be concerned if the scores were used to compare children nationally. The individual profiles are there for the parents, the teachers and the children - no-one else."I get a little bit anxious when you know you have worked very hard with a child and you're not getting much further, and it looks as if you have not done much with them," she says.
League tables and "value-added" measures are worrying because they cannot take into account the child whose parents may be indifferent and who misses half a year's schooling.
The teacher may have worked very hard with the child, but the end results are poor because so many lessons have been missed. There is also the phenomenon of the low-achieving year group - children who, for some reason, do not do as well as the pupils of later or previous years.
Mrs Schofield is aware that assessments can be precarious for reticent children. Assessments should be open to change, she says, and they should respect a child's character. They are not meant to label children; merely test their abilities at one moment in time, so that teachers can meet their educational needs.
What the final tests are likely to consist of:
Curriculum advisers are piloting several versions of baseline tests this term. The final model, which will be optional, looks likely to cover eight items at four levels. Here are some examples of skills being assessed: Reading
1 Recognises own name 2 Recognises initial sounds in words 3 (Level of government targets for five-year-olds) Recognises letters by their shape and sound 4 (Level 1 of the national curriculum) Knows all 26 names and sounds of letters of the alphabet
1 Distinguishes between print and pictures in own work 2 Writes letter-type shapes 3 Independently writes own name spelt correctly 4 Writes words
Speaking and listening
1 Recounts events or experiences 2 Asks questions to find out things and listens to the answers 3 Makes up a story and tells it 4 Makes up and tells story with details to small group, and listens to others' stories
1 Recites numbers 1 to 5 2 Matches sets with same number by counting 3 Recognises numbers to 10 and writes 1-10 4 Counts backwards
Personal and social
1 Conveys needs with familiar adults 2 Attitude coming to school: independent and keen to contribute 3 Tries something new alone