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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 20-Jan-15 16:36:50

Guest post: Baseline assessments - 'it's wrong to test four-year-olds like this'

Baseline assessments for Reception children will be trialled in schools this September - here, chief executive of Early Education Beatrice Merrick argues that four-year-olds should not be subjected to 'check-list' tests, and urges the government to rethink

Beatrice Merrick

Chief xecutive, Early Education

Posted on: Tue 20-Jan-15 16:36:50

(54 comments )

Lead photo

'How would you feel if, just weeks after your child starts school, you are told that they have been assessed as "failing"?'

Will your child be starting Reception in September 2015? If so, did you know that they may find themselves facing the government's new baseline assessments just a few weeks after they start?

The government are asking primary schools to introduce the new tests, which will be available from a choice of private companies, to measure how well schools "add value" from the start of Reception to the end of Year 6. Trouble is, these assessments will do nothing to benefit individual children. Rather, they're a mechanism for monitoring schools’ performance – and they’re likely to do your children more harm than good.

Of course, assessments for four and five-year-olds aren't necessarily a bad thing - teachers already do them as part of getting to know their children and planning their learning. The difference is that, at the moment, they do it in a holistic way: they get to know the children and they observe them as they settle into school. They find out what they can already do and what they need more support with. Teachers also get reports from the nursery or preschool if they've been to one, and vitally, they talk to parents and carers (who know their children better than anyone else) about what the child knows and can do.

Children settle into school at different rates, and some take longer than others to gain the confidence to show their capabilities in a new environment. Their development is not linear, and so there isn't a simple check-list for monitoring their progress. That’s exactly why the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) – the curriculum for nought to five-year-olds in England – is based on age-appropriate principles, with the emphasis on observing what children can do over a period of time, rather ‘marking them down’ because they haven't reached some notional benchmark on a particular day.

Some children take longer than others to gain the confidence to show their capabilities in a new environment. Their development is not linear, and so there isn't a simple check-list for monitoring their progress.


These new baseline assessments won’t rely on parents’ and teachers’ careful observations of their charges, or follow the developmentally appropriate practice of the EYFS. Instead, the tests will be designed by an external body, because the government believes this will be more objective than teachers’ observations. But standardised external tests just aren't a valid or effective way of assessing a 4-year-old's knowledge and abilities - as any parent knows, young children don't perform on demand in an unfamiliar environment.

Moreover, the assessments won't be age-adjusted, so a child aged 4 years and a day will be judged on the same criteria as one aged 4 years 11 months. Summer born children, boys, children with special educational needs and children whose first language is not English, amongst others, will all be disadvantaged. They will also take up a significant chunk of teachers’ precious time - at least 30 minutes per assessment – time that could be used to help kids settle in.

The government also wants the tests to focus on its priority areas of literacy and numeracy – but performing at these kinds of tests aged 4 isn't a good predictor of children’s later progress. There's plenty of evidence that children who learn to read later do as well as their peers who start younger, and often better, because they retain a greater enthusiasm for it. If you want to know how well children will do later in life, it’s far better to look at children more holistically: are they self-motivated, resilient, curious and keen to learn? A narrowly focused baseline assessment won’t measure these characteristics.

Then there's the question of what will happen to the results. It's hard to imagine that schools won't share them with parents. But how would you feel if, just weeks after your child starts school, you are told that they have been assessed as "failing"? This can only be demoralising for children at a stage when building self-confidence is vital, and stigmatising for parents who may feel they are being blamed. It will be a barrier to building strong relationships between parents and teachers, and probably in cases where it’s particularly important for families and children to be supported by schools.

It seems like the government is going backwards. How can they endorse the EYFS, a (very sensible) approach to the curriculum, on the one hand, and, on the other, request a blanket ability assessment within weeks of starting school? Because of this, and for all the reasons above, we, on behalf of a coalition of Early Years organisations, are urging the government to rethink, before it's too late.

You can find out more information and view the petition here.

By Beatrice Merrick

Twitter: @b_merrick

Bonsoir Tue 20-Jan-15 17:26:07

I agree with the post. It is utterly wrong to benchmark such young DC, with a 12 month age range and highly varied previous experience of life, to a single standard.

My DD has been at the same school since she was 2.10 and I have seen her grow up in a large and varied group of peers. The "high performers" at age 10 could not have been predicted with any reliability 6 years ago.

And the differences are very far from being attributable to school/teachers alone!

TheWildRumpyPumpus Tue 20-Jan-15 17:32:12

DS2 started reception this year and had a formal baseline assessment. I don't really see any reason to be bothered by it - at that age the children are unaware that they are being 'judged' and it provides a way of monitoring progress.

DS is July born btw, and probably at the lower end of the class when it comes to things like reading and numbers. The complete opposite to how DS1 was (September born).

How is it a problem identifying where there are gaps in knowledge at the start?

Sparkle9 Tue 20-Jan-15 17:59:57

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

howtodrainyourflagon Tue 20-Jan-15 18:14:07

Op is scaremongering and precious. No one is going to be labelling children as failures under the new system any more than the old.

HeyMicky Tue 20-Jan-15 19:12:45

Isn't this about seeing how the school adds value? Across 7 years of schooling?

So it could help identify the successful tactics for children with disabilities etc.

And summer-borns will still be the youngest in the class at the end of year 6.

It's not replacing ongoing assessment. It's a benchmark. By definition this should happen at the beginning, before any intervention, to gauge a level.

I don't understand how, if it's an ongoing process to assess the impact the school has on its pupils, regardless of background, any child will be disadvantaged

Ubik1 Tue 20-Jan-15 19:19:34

All my children in Scotland have had a baseline assessment in the first few weeks of starting school.

It hasn't mentally scarred them or affected their progress.
I suppose it's useful to flag up any issues/support required as early as possible.

Bilberry Tue 20-Jan-15 19:25:00

My ds had a bench mark assessment in nursery (already occurs in Scotland) and I suspect the OP would say he 'failed', though it might be more accurate to say the test failed as it didn't give an accurate measure of his ability. Either way, what it did do was flag up that he had difficulties which needed to be properly assessed by an educational psychologist and a support program put in place. I am not sure why this should be considered a problem rather than helpful.

Messygirl Tue 20-Jan-15 19:58:48

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

BackforGood Tue 20-Jan-15 20:08:15

Agree with the opinion that the OP is trying to sensationalise and make a story where there isn't one.
Reception teachers, Nursery Teachers, Nursery staff in day care - EVERYONE in education has always assessed where a child is on entry. It's how you plan their work. You don't "assume" everyone is starting as some blank canvas waiting to be filled, you find out what they know and go from there - as teachers have done probably for decades (I personally can only go back to the 1980s). The EYFS is all about the "Unique child" - so all schools should be finding out what the children can/can't do or do/don't know or what they like / don't like or how they learn best / don't learn well in the early days of them being at whatever setting they are in.

Now, if you wanted a separate debate about what the Government - and the media - do with the information collated, then you'd have me on board with any protests, but the collating of the information in the first place isn't a bad thing.

WD41 Tue 20-Jan-15 20:11:23

DD starts reception in Sep and I don't have a problem with her being tested. It's not as if they are going to be streamed based on the results and end up in a lower ability group because they weren't concentrating that day. It won't effect how they're taught, so what harm can it possibly do?

Personally I would prefer to be told early on if DD wasn't at the expected standard for literacy or numeracy - it would give me the opportunity to know what to focus on at home with her. I'm not talking about hothousing, but just knowing whether playing more counting games or whatever would be beneficial to her.

Messygirl Tue 20-Jan-15 20:15:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Ubik1 Tue 20-Jan-15 20:40:10

Our teachers don't share the baseline assessment results with parents.

It's done and then never mentioned again.

tinfoilhat Tue 20-Jan-15 23:03:15

SATS were introduced as being for the school/LA's information only and not to affect the children, nor were the results to be discussed with parents/children. Look at the stress they now cause.

I think the op is right. Yet again, another box-ticking exercise to create more paperwork and take funds away from where they are needed. Doesn't anyone care that education is no longer about the individual child?

Medoc Wed 21-Jan-15 00:17:33

Surely secondary aged children at present have already been 'baselined' in the form of Signposts or PIPs?

This is nothing new.

And I disagree with bonsoir. Those that got the highest scores in the old signposts/Foundation Stage Profile did attain most at GCSE. (LA sized sample of 14,000 children)

Italiangreyhound Wed 21-Jan-15 02:04:26

I agree with the OP. I think it is all very worrying. It will waste a lot of time, energy etc.

How do we know it will not be used to stream students? How do we know what this information will be used for?

Just for the record the OP says How would you feel if, just weeks after your child starts school, you are told that they have been assessed as "failing"?

This is what happened to my dd six years ago. She has dyslexia and really struggled at school. From very early on I was told very negative things about her ability, and not told anything good about her abilities until year one and then it not from the class teacher but from a trainee teacher. I can't believe my dd did not pick up these negative messages. I was told they would not diagnose dyslexia until she was 7 nearly 8, I think, but at 4 and 11 months she was already being labelled as failing.

sandgrown Wed 21-Jan-15 06:41:54

I personally believe children should not even be in school at age 4. Children in some EU countries do not start until age 6 and still out perform our children. This will cause more pressure on teachers and alarm some parents. I do some work in schools and hear from the older children the stress they feel under from SATS and they are in year 6! Let the children just gently settle into school.

TheHoneyBadger Wed 21-Jan-15 08:09:04

i don't really see a problem with this (though i'm against sats). i was still getting progress reports telling me my son could 'now' do things that he'd started school being able to do in year 2 which kind of reinforced how little he was gaining on top of how burdensome it was becoming upon his character and curiousity and natural learning skills. he left school in term 2 of year 2.

TheVioletTinsel Wed 21-Jan-15 08:19:57

Tell us more about the privatisation issue, op.

Purpleflamingos Wed 21-Jan-15 08:36:16

I don't disagree with the theory of assessing students through observation.

I do strongly disagree with new assessment procedures after new assessment procedures, and time being taken away from actually teaching. There's far too much paperwork, assessment, planning etc.

As for the private agency involvement, bloody hell, can't they just subcontract to a volunteer board of current teachers/retired teachers who actually KNOW what they are looking for and talking about.

TheHoneyBadger Wed 21-Jan-15 08:45:19

the thing is this is about value added - i don't see why parents worry about value added this is the one thing we should be assessing for. this checks that schools actually know your child and their abilities and are working to improve them. it's about assessing how well a school is doing by how much a child has learnt compared to how much they already could do as opposed to comparing them to other children in their class or worse yet other children in a class halfway across the country.

they had no clue of what my son was capable of at school. hence me getting reports proudly announcing he knew number bonds to ten when he knew those before he started school and i knew he knew them way past ten by that point. they were literally adding no value and that particular school was cruising on it's reputation from years gone by and it's nice village location and it's ok outcomes (which were based on parental input and demographics not actual teaching and management or value adding). shortly after i removed my son from this everyone thought it was wonderful school it finally failed an ofsted for all of the obviously reasons it should have got a kick up the bum years ago.

value added tbf is probably the ONLY assessments we should be doing and it should be about assessing the quality of the teaching and the school and their capacity to know and monitor the children entrusted to them. if we get value added monitoring and assessing in place correctly we could scrap a whole lot of other testing and make it all much more simple and streamlined and league tables and the like would only show value added rather than misleading info about NC levels at various stages which are meaningless without a clear understanding of demographics and various other factors.

FannyFanakapan Wed 21-Jan-15 08:47:09

Surely baseline assessments have been here forever? The're just changing them, as they did a couple of years ago when Gove first took the reigns.

Our school finds these baseline assessments very very useful in terms of planning future intervention needs and setting budgets accordingly. FOr example, many of our kids come in with very low scores for speech and language. The school have already prioritised spend in the budget for 2015/16 for a bought-in speech and language therapist to oversee development for these children (the LA SALT team are overstretched). Local children also seem to have serious issues around PSED - a trend with has been seen throughout all the schools in the area over the last couple of years.

The school is also able to identify children who are likely to need extra help in the classroom (and therefore can look at extra TA time), as well as gaining an insight into the children that might benefit from reading recovery and math intervention in Y1 and 2. All local schools are looking at how to improve PSED scores and are working closely with nursery provision and with the childrens centres.

baseline tracking allow syou to monitor a childs progress term on term and see if they are making the progress they aught to be making. WHen they don't make the progress, the school can put interventions in place to accelerate the child's reading/writing/math, to stop them falling behind.

Wordsmith Wed 21-Jan-15 12:20:01

"Trouble is, these assessments will do nothing to benefit individual children. Rather, they're a mechanism for monitoring schools’ performance – and they’re likely to do your children more harm than good."

You could say that about SATs tests throughout primary.

skinnyamericano Wed 21-Jan-15 12:39:00

If the school wants to do these assessments, without my child's knowledge , then fine. I have no interest in the results, but if teachers can find them useful, I don't see why not.

I declined a meeting to go through my daughter's assessment at pre-school when she turned 3. All I care about at this age is that they are happy, making friends and not being mean to anyone. I couldn't care less if they can identify letters and hold a pen correctly. I also think it is a waste of the EYFS' staff's time.

When googling KS1 SATs results once, I found documents predicting A-Level results based on what a 6/7 year old child achieves in year 2. That again I find sad and frightening.

Viviennemary Wed 21-Jan-15 13:46:16

I think it's a good idea. Then any problems can be spotted early and appropriate help/support given. It isn't a question of passing or failing.

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