The end of baseline could mean two new sets of tests

15th April 2016 at 00:00
Heads warn divided government that assessment plans would be ‘the final straw’

The government is looking at bringing in two new sets of national assessments for primary pupils following last week’s decision to scrap the controversial baseline measure for infants, TES can reveal.

Teachers were celebrating last week after the Department for Education performed a major U-turn by dropping its baseline assessment for four-year-olds as an accountability measure.

But heads’ leaders are warning that the replacement assessments could hit them “like a ton of bricks”. Ministers are anxious to find new ways of holding schools to account and measuring the progress of pupils.

As TES revealed last week, DfE officials have told test providers that they intend to introduce a new “school readiness indicator” for children in Reception.

But it is understood that parallel proposals for new tests at key stage 1 are also on the table. A well-placed source told TES that the introduction of national tests for seven-year-olds was “definitely going to happen…it is just a matter of when.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads’ union the NAHT, warned that introducing two separate tests would be “strongly opposed by his members as well as parents”.

“It would go down like a ton of bricks, to be honest,” he said. “It would be a massive increase in the amount of high stakes testing for very young children.”

But Tim Oates, an assessment expert who led the national curriculum review and has worked closely with schools minister Nick Gibb, said that there needed to be more assessment in UK schools, not less.

“When people say that we’re among the most tested school systems in the world, they are wrong,” Mr Oates, head of assessment research at Cambridge Assessment, said.

“We also need a lot more testing of an entirely different kind. In Singapore, young children are very carefully triaged into those that will adapt easily to the school environment, and those that will need very intensive additional support. We ought to be doing all of that far more.”

Parents back boycott

The disclosure comes as thousands of parents signed a petition pledging to remove their children from school for a day next month to support teachers and schools who want to boycott Sats (

It is understood that there is deep division at the heart of the government about what should happen next for primary assessment.

Officials within Number 10 heavily favour the test for Reception-aged children, while ministers at the DfE are thought to prefer re-introducing national tests at key stage 1.

Mr Hobby warned that a compromise that resulted in the introduction of both “could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back”. “I think they have some troubles on this one,” he said.

The government’s decision to pull the plug on baseline assessments as accountability measures came after a DfE-commissioned study found that the three different versions of baseline used by primary schools were not comparable.

But DfE officials are concerned that without any replacement, it will be impossible to measure pupil progress or implement a new school funding formula, which will use pupil prior attainment as a factor in deciding where funding should be allocated.

Any introduction of national tests at key stage 1 is unlikely to happen imminently, however, as the government is poised for a series of upcoming battles over its plans for a fully academised school system and the new national funding formula.

DfE officials are expected to meet assessment experts next week to discuss how best to move forward with testing at primary level.

Sources close to education secretary Nicky Morgan said they were “not ruling anything out” when it came to primary assessment, in terms of tests at both key stage 1 and Reception.


‘Three tests wouldn’t raise standards’

Andrew Truby, executive headteacher and director of the Learning Unlimited Teaching School Alliance in Yorkshire, is strongly opposed to any idea of new key stage 1 tests. “Having all three [baseline, KS1 and KS2 tests] wouldn’t achieve the intended outcomes of raising standards,” he said. “I encourage and welcome accountability. I think it’s really important because I have been in schools where things aren’t good. But to have an end of KS1 assessment point, I question the purpose of it. If it’s to measure progress across KS2, then why not just measure progress across primary school from entry to exit?”

‘It’s sad that 11-year-olds have to revise in their holidays’

A growing trend of primaries holding holiday-time revision classes to prepare pupils for Sats has been condemned by heads’ leaders as a symbol of “all that is wrong with assessment”.

In a snap poll conducted by TES on Twitter, asking primary teachers how they had prepared for the new, tougher Sats, 15 per cent of respondents said that they had put on extra lessons during the holidays or weekends. Some 64 per cent also reported that the curriculum in their school had been reduced because of the tests.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said: “The idea of 10- and 11-year-olds doing extra revision classes for their Sats is a particularly good example of all that is wrong with the assessment system at the moment. We have to be careful not to do the government’s dirty work for them. If they have made mistakes in the design and implementation of these tests, which I think they have, then schools and children shouldn’t suffer for that.”

The DfE believes that the number of revision classes is a matter for schools to decide.

But Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said: “Eleven-year-old children missing out on Easter holidays and going to revision classes for tests for which the government is not able to define what the pass mark will be shows what chaos we’re in.

“It’s sad that children have missed out on their holidays.”

Helen Ward

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