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'Welcome to education, little ones – the baseline tests were just the start of your time as education guinea pigs'

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While you were knocking up another gin and tonic, or tucking in to the last of those Creme Eggs that you meant to give to the children, the DfE was quietly at work over Easter publishing documents that were of only minor interest. You know, technical details like the three panel reports into teacher workload, or the complete abandonment of a central crux of government accountability policy.

Yes, in among plenty of other minor changes on the GOV.UK website over the past fortnight, was the small matter of the Reception baseline policy. It turns out – despite all the thorough planning and detailed thought that clearly went into the policy – that it’s quite hard to have different private suppliers come up with comparable test results.

Now, I’m no early years expert, but even I felt qualified enough to weigh in a couple of years ago and suggest that perhaps this whole open-market idea wasn’t the best plan. And here we are, two years later, several hundreds of thousands of pounds in the coffers of various suppliers, and no closer to a reliable, useful baseline. Who could have predicted that? Or perhaps, more accurately, who failed to predict it?

Not all is as it seems

But as ever, the devil is in the detail. For the department did not announce the scrapping of the entire policy. They didn’t even announce the scrapping of the assessments. In fact, all we have been told is that this year’s results won’t be used for accountability purposes in 2022.

What a fitting welcome for our newest intakes to state education. A huge majority of them tested in the first few weeks of their school life against unreliable frameworks as part of a broken system of accountability.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s Reception cohort aren’t also the first to face externally-marked tests at key stage 1, as well as being the last to be assessed against the foundation stage profile.

It used to be that major changes to education were tested on the odd year group every now and then. Now? Welcome to education, little ones – where every cohort are the guinea pigs!

Michael Tidd is deputy head of Edgewood primary in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. He writes weekly for TES.

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