Government urged to ditch testing of four-year-olds

By Jess Brown

| 12 February 2016

Controversial baseline tests for four-year-olds could be damaging them and should be abandoned, it has been claimed.

A report by two teaching unions claims baseline assessments could be damaging for pupils. Picture: Becky Nixon

A joint report published by teaching unions the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) found that less than seven per cent of teachers think that baseline assessment is a good way to assess how schools perform.

A survey of more than 1,200 teachers, the findings of which are published in the report They Are Children… Not Robots, Not Machines, found significant opposition to the baseline assessment, which tests four-year-olds when they enter reception.

The assessments were introduced in primary schools in England in September 2015 as a pilot but have not been made mandatory, which led to several early years professional groups last year calling for schools to boycott the plans.

“For many teachers, baseline assessment has had a negative impact on their working lives without benefitting the children they teach," the report states.

“It goes against the principles of good teaching in early years, and at the same time does not assess accurately enough to form the basis of a school performance measure," the report states.

The unions found that 71 per cent of teachers think the assessment does not help to identify children who may have special educational needs (SEN), and 75 per cent said it was an additional burden for them.

The report said teachers and school leaders have “serious doubts” about the accuracy of the baseline assessment, with many stating that it offers no improvement to the informal on-entry assessments methods already available.

It goes on to say that it "may be impossible to produce any kind of assessment which provides this kind of baseline with children this age".

“We can conclude from this research project that baseline assessment is problematic at best, and potentially damaging at worst.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said the report highlights the assessment’s fundamental flaws.

"Baseline tests are not only an unreliable and restrictive method of assessment, they also place unnecessary stress on young children during the crucial settling-in period, and risk wrongly labeling them as ‘failing’ at the very start of their educational journeys.

"We support the report's call for the government to scrap this flawed proposal, and urge them to start working with the sector on building and improving upon the existing early assessment system, which places the needs of the child – not a desire to collect easy-to-process data – at its centre."

Liz Bayram, chief executive at the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (Pacey), said the “ill-advised” assessment does nothing to support children in their transition to full-time education.

“The transition from an early years settings to school can be an anxious time and teachers should be allowed to concentrate on settling children into full-time education rather than having their attention diverted by these tests.”

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, said that the report findings show that the government should have listened to the sector’s concerns around the assessment before it was introduced.

“All the issues raised by the research were clearly flagged, including the impact on children's settling-in period, on teachers' workloads and on children being labelled at an early age on the basis of a flawed and narrow assessment score.

“Since 2015/16 was a pilot year, government has an opportunity to reflect, take account of the evidence and think again. If a policy for accountability in schools is hindering children's learning, as this is, it needs to be scrapped now before another cohort of children are affected.”

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