Assessment and accountability

Deborah Lawson
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

While there is recognition in the sector of a need for a fair and transparent accountability system to measure attainment and progress, the introduction of a baseline assessment is not the answer.

Following consultation in June and July, the Department for Education (DfE) outlined far-reaching plans for primary assessment and accountability. There were some attempts to make the announcement attractive to teachers and school and academy leaders, if less so for early years and childcare stakeholders.

The DfE has been investigating teacher workload for the past two years and the document makes it clear that workload management is still very much on its agenda – something that teachers will be pleased to hear, even if in that time they have not seen a significant, if any, reduction in their workload.

The good news, warmly welcomed by the profession, is that there will be no more statutory assessments at Key Stage 1 from 2023; no more SATs, and Key Stage 2 teachers will no longer have to submit reading and maths assessment data.

This is good news, not least because, as Voice submitted in evidence, the SATs had reached a point where school leaders, teachers, support staff, and parents, no longer valued them or placed importance on their results.

So, it is good that the government listened to this and other similar evidence, and recognised and acted on what the profession was saying and took heed of the SATs debacle of recent years.

However, much as we may welcome the demise of SATs, there is a trade-off in the ugly form of the reintroduction of baseline assessment. The previous attempt to pilot and introduce baseline assessment failed spectacularly; it was widely denigrated by early years staff and numerous early years pressure groups and organisations as putting too much pressure on the youngest of school children.

Voice has repeatedly raised concerns about reception baseline assessments, citing issues of reliability and consistency, as well as the anxiety this would cause among young children.

The concerns of Voice and other early years stakeholders include that a testing culture is not healthy, children are set up to fail, and the process does not promote lifelong learning. This, according to the government’s response to the consultation, is a minority view, with greater support for moving baseline assessment to reception.

From 2020, there will be ‘teacher mediated’ baseline assessment introduced in the reception year. This will be developed and tested in the next few years. It is essential, therefore, that assessment prioritises what is good for pupils.

More welcome is the news that the Early Years Foundation Profile will remain, in a revised form. It is the government’s intention to review, with the aim of reducing, the number of early learning goals (ELGs) to three primary areas of learning. With the refinement of the early learning goals comes an attempt to align them more closely with Key Stage 1.

This will inevitably mean an increased focus on literacy and numeracy, rather than an expansion of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum into Key Stage 1, as proposed by Voice in our consultation response.

While the document makes clear that there is no intention to narrow the foundation stage curriculum, in the future, the three Prime areas (Communication and language development; Physical development; and Personal, social and emotional development), and the specific areas of mathematics and literacy could be the only areas assessed.

While confirmation of baseline assessment in reception is not universally welcomed, there is recognition of a need for a fair and transparent accountability system to measure attainment and progress.

There is no doubt that such systems are used to demonstrate value for money, but if we are to ensure that any system understands and meets the development and learning needs and mental wellbeing of children, it is incumbent upon all stakeholders to ensure that, over the next two years, any pilot baseline assessment is as sensitive and unremarkable as possible, and to ensure that pupil needs, rather than high-stakes data collection, continue to be at the heart of the foundation stage. eye

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