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Why it's time to rethink baseline tests for 4-year-olds

From September next year, the Government is planning to introduce “baseline assessments” for all children which will take place within weeks of children first joining primary school. PACEY is against the introduction of these baseline assessments and has added its voice to a growing number of early years organisations and education experts to protest about these tests.

You may have seen our Facebook post above that provoked some interesting debate - here's why we think they aren't a good idea... 

At PACEY, we recognise how important it is to assess young children’s learning throughout reception. This process of assessment currently happens very effectively in schools throughout England.

It starts with the vital information that you as childcare professionals provide to teachers in the transition reports you prepare and continues throughout the child’s reception year by the teacher carefully observing and interacting with the child.

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Profile, which the teacher puts together at the end of Reception, gives a full and rounded picture of the child’s skills and abilities, based on continuous observation and assessment throughout the year.

We believe the new proposals pose a real risk to children’s early experience of school and will not help schools to effectively track children’s progress.

What’s wrong with these baseline tests? We believe the Government should rethink because:

1. Baseline testing didn’t work last time

We’ve been here before: a baseline test for children was introduced by the Government in 1997 and abandoned in 2002 because it didn’t support individual children’s learning and development or give a measure of school effectiveness.

2. The results will be invalid

As all parents, primary teachers and early years professionals know, starting school is a time of great change and different children react differently to it. These tests are based on a narrow checklist of skills and knowledge and will not be an accurate measure of children’s starting points. They do not take into account differences in age (how can a test fairly assess a child who is just over four as well as a child who is almost five?) or attitudes to learning. Also, the computer-based, yes/no format of the tests isn’t suitable for the types of skills measured.

3. The tests would pressurise and unfairly label children

The Government’s plan is for schools to share the results of these tests with parents. We feel strongly that labelling children with a ‘score’ so early on in their school life could have a harmful effect on both the attitude of the teacher and the expectations of parents.

More directly, the pressure placed on the teacher in having to deliver these tests would detract them from the vitally important process of helping children settling in their first weeks of school.

4. They only measure a small part of the picture

Baseline testing would mean focusing on scoring a child’s maths, literacy and communication abilities rather than social and emotional skills like sharing, taking turns and confidence in their own abilities, which research shows is so important for a successful start to school and in later life.

5. They will create the wrong priorities

Using these tests to demonstrate the ‘value’ schools add risks taking focus away from the child’s early experience of school in favour of a requirement for management and accountability. The sole focus on academic skills, and pressures on teachers to “teach to the test” in those vital first few weeks would also be at the expense of support for children’s social and emotional development.

The most surprising element of these plans is that a more meaningful and effective measure of children’s starting points, the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, is already in place.

 The Government is therefore planning to drop the requirement for this Profile, as well as the useful national data it generates, in favour of a flawed and unreliable assessment system that poses a major threat to children’s experience of early education.

Sign the petition

We hope you will join PACEY, alongside our partner organisations as part of the Too Much Too Soon campaign, to protest against these tests. Further information is available here. We encourage you to get your colleagues, parents and friends involved too. You can sign up to the petition to protest against the tests here.

You can also write to your MP and let him/her know your concerns. Find who your local MP is here.