Case for scrapping Reception Baseline steps up with new evidence-based report

Kathy Oxtoby
Thursday, April 29, 2021

Experts, educationalists and parents say the Reception Baseline Assessment is ‘misguided’ and that these tests should not go ahead this September.

Experts urge for tests to be dropped and well-being to be placed 'at the heart' of a recovery programme
Experts urge for tests to be dropped and well-being to be placed 'at the heart' of a recovery programme

Hundreds of head teachers, academics, writers and parents have called for plans to introduce the Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) in September to be scrapped.

Tests in literacy and maths for four-year-olds when they start school, as well as SATS in years 1, 2, 4 and 6 should be dropped as part of a recovery plan for schools. Instead, child well-being should be at the heart of recovery, the More Than A Score coalition asserts in its new evidence-based report.

‘Drop SATs For Good: The Case For Recovery Without High-Stakes Assessment’ is calling for an independent, profession-led review into primary assessment to be set up.

Hugely time-consuming’

In the report, Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education and Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at Early Years Alliance, say that introducing RBA will be ‘hugely time-consuming’ for teachers when they should be spending their time directly supporting children. They argue that it goes against the reforms to the EYFS, which are ‘all about cutting teachers’ workloads’. 

The case to introduce RBA at all is ‘extraordinarily weak’, but considering the introduction of such measures during a pandemic is ‘even more extraordinary and misguided’, they say.

New research on RBA carried out by YouGov for the report found:

  • Just 16 per cent of heads and school leaders surveyed considered it would be a good use of teaching time.
  • More than half (64 per cent) thought the tests should not go ahead in September.
  • More than half (63 per cent) believed the data produced would not be useful as a baseline measure.
  • Only 6 per cent of parents surveyed thought that it was important for children to be formally tested in maths and English when starting primary school.

Parents and school leaders are also closely aligned on their views of SATs, the research found:

  • Just 15 per cent of parents with children aged four to 11-years-old and 4 per cent of primary school leaders surveyed by YouGov believe spending time preparing for SATs should be included in a ‘catch-up’ programme.
  • More than half (67 per cent) of parents would prefer a recovery programme to include children taking part in activities not available during lockdown, and they want teachers to take the time to individually assess children’s needs (64 per cent).
  • Understanding of, and support for pupils’ well-being is the most popular answer for heads and other school leaders surveyed (84 per cent). 

‘The pandemic has taken children out of nurseries and schools for long periods and, equally critically, robbed them of normal childhood experiences, such as going to the park or supermarket and interacting with family, friends and the wider community,’ the report says.

‘It has created huge stresses for children, families and teachers. The priority should be to give back to children as much time as possible to experience normal life, not to subject them to pointless testing.’

The report suggests that there has never been a better time to reform the current system for the benefit of schools and pupils. It shows widespread agreement among teachers, parents and education experts that children’s well-being must be ‘at the heart’ of a recovery programme, as well as the chance to address any learning gaps created by lockdown. 

The report is signed by a cross-party group of MPs and peers, writers including Michael Rosen and Jamila Gavin, and headteachers, academics and education experts, including representatives from the British Educational Research Association, the National Association for Primary Education and the UK Literacy Association.

Statements of support for broad reform of the system from the general secretaries of the three main unions, representing heads and teachers, are also included in the report.

Commenting, Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: ‘There is no justification for pushing ahead with the introduction of the Reception Baseline Assessment, particularly at a time when Government claims it is trying to reduce workloads for educators.

‘This is a test which does nothing to help either teachers or young children, and has been shown to be far too unreliable to do the one thing it is intended to do, which is measure school performance. It is also needlessly disruptive during the 'settling-in' period, which is so crucial to helping young children transition into a new environment.

‘We know that supporting the personal, social and emotional development of under-fives is vital. Given that these are the skills that early years professionals tell us have been the most impacted by the pandemic, the rollout of an assessment that instead focuses on the narrow skills of literacy and mathematics seems particularly short-sighted.

‘It is telling that so few parents have raised any concerns about the suspension of primary testing during the pandemic.

‘We urge the Government to take this opportunity to completely rethink its approach to early assessment, cancel this pointless test and focus instead on helping educators ensure that each individual child gets the support they need.’

The DfE stressed that the RBA is not a test, and there is no ‘pass’ mark.

A DfE spokesperson said: 'Assessments are designed to enable teachers to track pupils’ progress, helping to make sure they stay on track to fulfil their potential throughout school.

'Our reforms are helping to ensure children leave primary school with a secure grasp of reading, writing and mathematics, as part of a broad and balanced curriculum.

'We have already invested £1.7 billion in ambitious catch-up activity, and are working with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long-term plan to make sure all pupils have the chance to recover from the impact of the pandemic as quickly and comprehensively as possible.'




Keep up to date with Early Years!

Sign up for our newsletter and keep up to date with Early Years education, process and events! We promise we won't spam you!