What next after the end of Baseline assessment?

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

The government’s admission that Baseline assessment cannot be used to fairly measure pupil progress has caused exasperation and anger – and suspicions remain over what will happen next. Pete Henshaw reports

Question marks continue to hang over just how the government intends to move forward with its ambition of measuring the progress of pupils from Reception onwards.

Last month, the Department for Education (DfE) admitted that going ahead with plans to assess Reception pupils under the Baseline assessment policy would be “inappropriate and unfair”.

The introduction of Baseline assessment was announced in March 2014 and began last year in many schools, with three assessment products being approved by the DfE (from Early Excellence, Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, and the National Foundation for Educational Research).

However, last month ministers released the findings of a study of the three Baseline products, which revealed that they are “not sufficiently comparable”. It means they cannot provide a measure of progress that can be compared between schools because they cannot be used “to create a fair starting point from which to measure pupils’ progress”.

A short DfE statement announcing the reversal said: “The results (of the three assessments) cannot be used as the baseline for progress measures, as it would be inappropriate and unfair to schools.”

Because of the amount of time and effort that has gone into preparing for and implementing Baseline assessments, teachers and headteachers responded angrily to the curt nature of the announcement.

The National Association of Head Teachers said: “It is hard to avoid saying ‘we told you so’. The government has outsmarted itself by choosing multiple providers of these assessments – none of which compare to each other.”

The National Union of Teachers added: “The flaws in the scheme’s design were well known to early years educators and 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.

“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.”

School leaders are now waiting to hear what the DfE will do next, with ministers clear that their ambition to measure progress from Reception remains.

For now, key stage 1 will continue to be used as the starting point from which to measure this year’s Reception pupils’ progress to key stage 2, the DfE confirmed.

However, it added: “We remain committed to measuring the progress of pupils through primary school and will continue to look at the best way to assess pupils in the early years.

“Over the coming months we will be considering options for improving assessment arrangements in Reception beyond 2016 to 2017 and will make an announcement in due course.”

The NAHT said there was “still merit” in measuring primary progress from the start of school but warned ministers that “a piecemeal approach to individual tests will not work”. It continued: “The government has approached this in the wrong way. Next time: listen properly when constructive critics are telling you about the problems you will face. The government has wasted time and money once again.”

The NUT meanwhile, urged the DfE to focus on building on the existing Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, which it said was a “well-proven method of assessing young children’s development”.

For their part, the Baseline providers were quick to emphasise the value they say schools have seen in continuing to use their products – especially as the DfE confirmed that funding will be continued in 2016/17 for Baseline tests (although the Baseline assessment outcomes “will not be used for accountability”).

However, the NUT advised against this: “The private companies which sold baseline assessment systems to schools will now be trying to persuade teachers to carry on using their tests and observation schedules, on a voluntary basis. There is no good reason for schools to do this.”

The NUT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) pointed to research carried out by the two unions showing that only 6.7 per cent of teachers felt that baseline is “a good way to assess how primary schools perform”.

An ATL statement said: “We believe the Reception Baseline assessment is a waste of money, a waste of time, and tells reception teachers nothing useful about the children in their class. And as the outcomes cannot be used for accountability, we see no reason why schools would choose to undertake Baseline assessment in September. We look forward to being properly consulted as the government considers future options.”

Further information

The comparability study – Reception Baseline Comparability Study: Results of the 2015 study – can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/23L9Bhz


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