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Where to put the baseline?;Opinion

Issues in the relationship between primary and secondary schools are about to be replicated in the earliest years. Baseline assessment measures (pages three and 17) will raise questions similar to those asked by teachers using the 5-14 programme and national tests. What is the purpose of assessment? Can it inform teachers of a child's previous progress and make subsequent teaching more effective? Can it be used to measure the effectiveness of schools or teachers relative to one another?

Optimistically, fewer primary teachers can complain that their secondary colleagues ignore information about the S1 intake. The 5-14 levels at least create a common language. But smoothing the transition has a long way to go, as HMI's report on S1 and S2 pointed out. Relationships between nurseries and primaries should also benefit now that there is a "national curriculum" that includes three-year-olds. But producing information to a common format may be alien in early years classes.

For baseline assessment to be most useful with universal pre-school provision imminent, children's achievements have to be measured and set down before they join P1. Most interest in the Government's plans has turned on assessment in the second term, but it should not be the first assessment of a child since deep-seated problems are evident much earlier.

There is a suspicion that the Government is too concerned with establishing a starting point for value-added measurements and not enough with individual children.

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