What is the baseline assessment?
The baseline check is a 1:1 formal assessment of children that will take place within a few weeks of them starting school in reception. It will focus on a child’s literacy and numeracy to generate a ‘baseline’ against which to measure progress to Key Stage One and Two. There will be more than one form of check and schools will have to choose a test from a range of approved providers.
The baseline check is due to be introduced from September 2015.
The check is, in theory, optional; however, from 2016 the baseline check will be the only method the DfE will use to measure the progress of children from reception to the end of Key Stage Two.
If a school chooses not to administer the check they will be considered ‘failing’ unless 85% of their pupils reach the expected level at the end of Key Stage Two, irrespective of their intake. The vast majority of schools do not currently meet this threshold.
The Union is opposing the introduction of the baseline assessment in England. A national baseline test in Wales was withdrawn after teacher opposition.
The Union is campaigning, alongside organisations including the Save Childhood Movement and Early Education, to prevent the planned implementation of the baseline check from September 2015.
Why does the Union oppose the baseline assessment?
The NUT believes that teachers should be allowed to exercise their professional judgement in how best to support the children they teach. Teachers should be able to establish the capabilities and development needs of children in a way that is appropriate for that child and that does not label children as failing or below expected levels from the start.
Researchers believe it is likely a baseline check will be unreliable and statistically invalid due to the age of the children and the fact they will be in a new and unfamiliar setting. There are also concerns the check will be damaging to children’s wellbeing, engagement and attitudes to learning.
A 1:1 test will be time consuming and impact on the time school staff can spend settling children, most of whom will still only be four, into their new environment and routine.
Early years settings will need to resist the pressure to narrow their focus in order to prepare children for the test, and families may face anxiety and confusion if their child is found to be ‘failing’.
The Union believes that teachers need to protect reception children starting school from the stress and potential damage to their wellbeing, engagement and attitudes to learning of having to undergo formal testing.
The NUT is hoping to encourage the Government to change this policy before it is introduced by showing the scale of opposition to the check from teachers, parents and early childhood education researchers.
Who is involved in opposing the baseline assessment?
Early Education has started a petition calling on Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to scrap baseline assessment. Over 2,500 people have signed the petition to voice their support for the campaign. You can read their comments and sign the petition here.
The Save Childhood Movement’s Too Much, Too Soon group have collated the evidence against the baseline check on their campaign page Say No to Baseline Assessment.
Writer and teacher trainer Sue Cowley has written an analysis of the flaws in the rationale behind baselines assessment and a critique of the tests approved by the DfE for use as baseline assessments.