Nearly three quarters of headteachers feel ‘negative’ about return of Reception Baseline Assessment

Olivia Rook
Tuesday, September 3, 2019

It is feared the Assessment will put unnecessary pressure on children at too young an age.

Official figures state Baseline will cost £10m and many believe it will be a waste of money.
Official figures state Baseline will cost £10m and many believe it will be a waste of money.

Headteachers have branded the new Reception Baselines Assessment, set to be introduced to schools in 2020, as ‘inappropriate, unnecessary, unhelpful’.

The Baseline was first introduced in 1997 and has twice been withdrawn in favour of alternative methods. The Assessment takes about 20 minutes to complete and is designed to provide a snapshot of children’s abilities when they start school, enabling teachers to measure their progress by the end of year 6.

About half of all primary schools in England will trial the test this week before a full rollout next year.

A survey commissioned by More Than A Score and carried out by Dr Alice Bradbury, from the UCL Institute of Education at University College London, found that 73 per cent of 160 headteachers feel negative about the return of the Baseline Assessment.

One of their biggest criticisms is that the test is unnecessary as teachers have established informal ways of assessing children when they join a school. With official figures stating Baseline will cost £10m, and more if teachers’ additional time is included, many believe it will be a waste of money in a sector already feeling the strain of Government cuts.

One headteacher said: ‘Ridiculous! There is nothing wrong with the way in which Early Years staff assess the children on entry in the Reception class at the moment. They don’t need a ‘formalised’ way of doing this.’

The Baseline has also been criticised as a poor way of assessing children’s future attainment as it puts unnecessary and premature pressure on children at too young an age.  

Another headteacher commented its ‘a terrible idea! It seems to completely ignore the fact that when we make any assessment high stakes, it de-voids it of validity and creates perverse pressures which then distort the education system.

‘I suggest trust and dialogue! Will we assume that there are children who at five years old are less intelligent/capable/able than others and we can measure that reliably in some way? It doesn’t sound plausible. If this is not the case, what is the thinking behind the assessments?’

Dr Bradbury said: ‘There was some very negative language used in relation to this policy which suggests that some headteachers feel very strongly that this policy will not benefit schools or children.’

Some headteachers have even suggested the potential for schools to deliberately downplay children’s scores in order to maximise their progress in later years.

Nancy Stewart, for More Than A Score, commented: ‘Heads agree with education experts and parents: this scheme is a waste of everyone’s time and a waste of £10 million. It has no basis in academic theory or even simple logic. It is simply another way for the government to judge schools, using unreliable and unfair testing methods. A batch of reception pupils will be used as guinea pigs when they should be settling into school and the government still can’t tell us how they’ll use the data which will be extracted from these four-year-olds.

‘It’s time for the Department for Education to admit failure and halt the roll-out of this pointless and damaging experiment.’

Some positive feedback
A small number – a total of 13 comments – responded positively to the return of the Baseline Assessment.

These headteachers believe Baseline will help to provide recognition of the work they do and a fairer assessment of schools as it is often felt SATs do not take into account a child’s background before starting school. Baseline would put a greater emphasis on children’s progress.

One headteacher said: ‘For schools like ours, that has to fight for every single ounce of positivity, it’s really hard here as a headteacher. Because you do get clobbered all the time when your results aren’t good enough, your exclusions are too high, your attendance is low. What are you doing?

‘We never get positive praise from anybody, despite us doing a really good job. Our attendance rate’s improving, our standards are improving. It’s never good enough. So for us to say, “Well actually, look, we take these kids from rock bottom and we put them out at this level,” that’d be really valuable.’



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