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Lifting the lid on Baseline Assessment

Against the recommendations of experts and early years organisations alike, the Government is introducing baseline testing for children in England starting Reception this year. The current Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) which builds a rounded profile of each child’s abilities, based on observation over time, will become optional from September 2016.

PACEY has long opposed the introduction of these assessments, supporting the Better without Baseline campaign by writing an open letter in opposition to the tests, signing the petition for the government to reverse its decision and providing much needed clarity on why testing 4 year olds is not a good idea.

In our latest survey, we found that more than three quarters of parents are unaware of the Baseline Assessment. An ongoing thread on Netmums, the UK’s fastest-growing online parent community, highlights both the low-levels of awareness and confusion around the impacts of these tests, which will take place within weeks of children first joining primary school.

In response to the obvious need for more information on the imminent implementation of baseline assessments, PACEY have worked with their colleagues in the Early Years Alliance to compile answers to the questions being raised.

Baseline Assessment FAQs

These are also available at www.betterwithoutbaseline.org.uk

1. What are baseline assessments?

If you have a child starting Reception this September, they are likely to have a ‘baseline assessment’ within the first six weeks of starting school. These are new assessments that are being introduced as pilots for the first time this year. Data from the assessments will provide a national picture of children’s starting point when they start school, so that the government judge schools by how much progress children make by the end of Year 6. Baseline assessment has been met with disapproval by many educational experts and early years organisations, but as they will be in use in around two-thirds of schools from September, we hope you will find the following information helpful.

2. How will my child be assessed?

It will be up to the school to choose from three different assessment schemes. The most popular scheme is the Early Excellence Baseline Assessment (EExBA), which is based on the teacher’s observations of children during the course of normal class activities, so there is no ‘test’ element to the assessment. 

By contrast, the CEM baseline assessment is a computer-based test, with the child being asked to point to an answer on-screen, or reply to a question relating to the on-screen task.  The third provider, NFER, offers a mixture of observation-based data and children sitting with a teacher to carry out a short series of tasks using pictures and observation.

Ask your school which method they are using so you know what to expect for your child.

3. Sounds a good idea to me so what’s all the fuss? Why do all the experts think this is such a problem?

Education experts believe there are a number of problems with baseline assessment.  They say that they will take up a lot of teachers’ time at a crucial point when they need to focus on helping children settle in to school. They also argue that whilst a single number score may be helpful to government, it won’t be particularly useful to parents and teachers – and most importantly, not to children.  Education experts also argue that the assessments focus too heavily on children’s early literacy and numeracy skills, which don’t actually provide a reliable indicator of later academic performance, instead of focusing on broader skills, such as getting along with other people, perseverance and self-control, which are more reliable indicators.  Since teachers already use a range of ways to get to know about individual children’s learning, baseline assessment can be seen as a waste of large amounts of public money that could be better spent.

4. Is there anything I should be doing to prepare my child for these assessments?

There is no need to prepare your child for the assessments.  Most schools will be using the assessments alongside other ways of getting to know your child so that they can plan their teaching around your child’s needs. 

PACEY has produced a range of resources to help you prepare for the start of school.

5. Will I be told the result of the test?

It will depend on your child’s school. Two of the test providers (NFER and CEM) may make individual reports available to parents, but it will be up to your school to decide whether they want to share the results.  The third provider, Early Excellence, will not – although it expects that the ‘teacher will use baseline assessment data to inform their on-going records and discussions with parents’.

6. Will my school use this information to ‘stream’ the children in the class?

Although it is not expected that the assessments will be used to separate children out into ‘streams’,  education experts are worried about the potential harmful effects of limiting expectations and labelling children by providing a measure of their academic achievement at the start of their school life. Teachers use the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum to tailor a programme of learning suited to your child’s particular needs. The concern with baseline assessment is that this will use up valuable time that teachers should be spending to get to know each child and understand their individual needs. Do share any concerns you have with your child’s teacher at an early stage – arranging a time that is convenient to talk, or waiting to the end of the day is often better than at the beginning of the day which can be frantic.

7. I haven’t done much reading with my child up until now as he has not shown much of an interest and I have not wanted to put him off reading – should I be worried that he won’t do well in the test?

Don’t worry. There is no need to prepare your child for the baseline assessments. There will be a strong focus on reading and appreciating books in the first term at school, and throughout Reception. Do consider reading regularly with your child as research shows that just 10 minutes every day reading with your child can have a huge impact.

PACEY has put together some great ideas for fun ways of helping your child develop a love of books.

8. My daughter will be 4 and 2 days when she starts school. I am worried that she won’t do as well as her older peers at the test and this may count against her. What should I do?

The baseline assessment scores take no account of the relative age of the child in relation to the rest of the class, so her score may be lower.  But that should not count against her as the scores should only be used together to assess the whole school, not as a mechanism for judging individual children.  Reception teachers should understand the enormous difference between a child who has just turned 4 and one who is nearly 5, and recognise that all children develop at different rates and in different ways.  This is integral to good teaching in the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum.

Find out more about the Early Years Foundation Stage.

9. What can I do if I don’t want my child to be tested?

Baseline Assessment of this sort is a new issue for schools.  No-one knows whether it is here to stay, or whether – in response to the criticisms of educators and parents – it will be withdrawn.  If you feel strongly, you may want to ask that your child is not assessed. You may also want to add your voice to the Better without Baseline campaign. Your views and experiences could make a real difference.