We'll assess our four-year-olds, but we'll do it our way

22nd May 2015 at 01:00
Most primaries choose teacher observation over formal tests

Thousands of primary schools have opted to assess fouryear-olds purely on the basis of teacher observations rather than through tests, it has emerged.

In a move that appears to show the strength of feeling against testing in the early years, the majority of primaries have opted for the only version of the new baseline assessment that does not use computers or paper-based testing, TES has learned.

The news comes days after former Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo branded the controversial tests - which are to be taken by students within their first six weeks of starting school - "completely absurd".

The assessments, which focus on literacy and numeracy, have been designed to enable tracking of pupil progress between the ages of 4 and 11. The majority of schools will start using them this autumn, with more expected in 2016.

The assessment is not compulsory, but schools that do not sign up from next year will be judged only on their 11-year-olds' attainment, not their progress, from 2023 onwards.

Unpopular assessment

Ministers claim the move will help to ensure that children leave primary school having reached a good standard in reading, writing and maths. But it has proved unpopular within the profession, with the NAHT headteachers' union passing a motion at its annual conference opposing excessive testing in primaries.

The NUT teaching union went a step further, with delegates at its conference unanimously agreeing to "work towards a boycott of baseline assessment, as part of a strategy to undermine testing in primary schools".

Six versions of the test have been approved for use, but only the one produced by Early Excellence is based entirely on teacher observations of children's abilities.

Jan Dubiel, national development manager of Early Excellence, told TES that out of about 17,000 primaries in England, more than 11,000 had signed up for the organisation's version so far.

"The weight of numbers is because people want to do this type of assessment," he said. "It's not testing, it's not taking people out of the classroom. It's based on the early years foundation stage."

The news could signal the withdrawal of some of the other five suppliers providing alternative versions of the assessment. The government has said that any provider that had not signed up 10 per cent of schools by the end of April would have to withdraw, and any schools that had signed up with that provider would be asked to find a new supplier. The Department for Education has said that it will inform schools at the beginning of June.

Jen Pickup, early years leader at Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire, said her school had opted for the Early Excellence assessment as it was "best suited" to the culture there.

But Andrew Carter, headteacher of South Farnham School in Surrey, said he had chosen the version from GL Assessment as it was based around alternative methods of assessing pupil performance.

"I want teachers to have a range of information," he added. "They will have some hard evidence around testing as well as their professional assessments and they will put them together to make a judgement."

`Best suited to us'

Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire is one of 11,000 schools to have signed up to use Early Excellence's version of the baseline assessment.

Early years leader Jen Pickup says: "We opted for Early Excellence because we felt it was best suited to our practice. We did look at a computer-based assessment but we didn't feel that we learned anything from it.

"We would still have to do our own assessments as well. We also didn't like the children being on the laptop for that time."

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