Government U-turns on testing of four-year-olds

By Neil Puffett

| 08 April 2016

The government has ditched plans to use controversial tests for four-year-olds as a starting point for measuring pupil progress.

The government has ditched controversial plans to use testing of four-year-olds as a base to measure pupil progress. Picture: Department for Education

Reception baseline assessments were introduced in primary schools in England last year. Although they were not mandatory, the government encouraged schools to use them, and planned to use the results to track pupils' progress.

However, a government-commissioned study has found that the three different tests available for schools to use “are not sufficiently comparable to create a fair starting point from which to measure pupils’ progress”.

The baseline tests will still be available for schools to use, but the DfE said it has dropped plans to use the results to track progress.

“The results cannot be used as the baseline for progress measures, as it would be inappropriate and unfair to schools,” a statement from the Department for Education (DfE) said.

The early years sector has welcomed the U-turn, although the National Union of Teachers criticised the government for spending “millions” establishing a “flawed” system.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, said: “We warmly welcome the news that schools will no longer be pressured into using baseline assessments at the start of reception.

“We have long warned that, not only would these tests place unnecessary pressure on children at the start of their schooling experience and risk wrongly labelling them as failing, they are also an incredibly unreliable and restrictive method of assessment.

“While it’s disappointing that mass cross-sector opposition to this proposal was not enough to prompt this decision earlier, we are nevertheless incredibly pleased that the government has seen sense, and abandoned these flawed plans.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the flaws in the scheme’s design were well known to early years educators, and were pointed out to the DfE when it first consulted on the scheme.

“The attempt to make baseline work has cost millions, has prevented children from settling into their school and increased the workload of their teachers,” she said.
“It is disingenuous for the DfE to describe the scheme as ‘optional’. It pulled out all the stops to get schools to sign up, and, now without a word of self-criticism for the months of disruption it brought to schools, it has pulled the plug.”

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