Williamson: Great teachers back baseline by 'instinct'

DfE says new baseline assessment is 'accurate starting point to measure pupils’ progress' – contradicting NEU findings

Dave Speck and Amy Gibbons

Gavin Williamson

All "great teachers" back the new baseline test for four- and five-year-olds "by instinct and nature", according to the education secretary.

Speaking at a Department for Education briefing this morning, Gavin Williamson also said the Reception baseline assessment – which will be introduced in all schools from September this year – would help "to remove further workload away from teachers in terms of taking away those key stage 1 tests in 2023".

Outlining the rationale for the controversial baseline test for four- and five-year-olds, he said: "All teachers that I have been speaking to as I have gone around schools – and, of course, we have had 9,000 schools trialling the Reception baseline, which is a pretty significant and hefty proportion of it – most teachers have said to me by instinct and by nature it is the first thing they…that all great teachers are doing.

“We have listened to teachers and schools and it is a logical and sensible thing.”

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The DfE will be releasing new research on the RBA later today, which it says suggests the test "provides an accurate starting point to measure pupils’ progress".

The study concludes that the assessment is "representative of a range of literacy, communication, language and mathematics skills and knowledge appropriate to the age and development of children at the start of Reception", according to the Department.

But its effectiveness has been brought into question by the NEU teaching union, which surveyed teachers involved in the 2019 baseline pilot, and today revealed that eight out of 10 respondents felt the baseline tests did not assess pupils' current levels of attainment accurately, while 85 per cent said their school's own on-entry assessment of pupils gave them better information than the baseline test.

The DfE said its research on the baseline test showed:

  • The assessment is representative of a range of literacy, communication, language and mathematics skills and knowledge appropriate to the age and development of children at the start of Reception.
  • Assessment results provide a fair and accurate measure of pupil performance – including for those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
  • Pupil performance is comparable within and across schools.
  • Evidence from the pilot shows we expect over 90 per cent of assessments to be completed within 20 minutes.

School standards minister Nick Gibb said: "It’s hugely important that we understand how much progress primary schools help their pupils make.

"This new teacher-led check will replace the Sats taken at the end of Year 2 to give a better understanding of a child’s starting point when they arrive at school and reduce the number of assessments in primary schools overall."

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders' union, said: "NAHT has long argued that it makes little sense to take a baseline measure for progress midway through the primary years, as is the case now, effectively ignoring the incredible work and progress made in those critical first few years of school.

“The introduction of a reliable and workable baseline assessment to replace Year 2 Sats has the potential to be a fairer way of measuring progress and means we should finally start to see the reduction in the volume of high-stakes testing in primary that NAHT has long called for.”

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Dave Speck and Amy Gibbons

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