NEU-commissioned research shows lack of trust in baseline tests

New research commissioned by the National Education Union and carried out by University College London (attd.), has exposed the problems of the government’s new Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) for assessing four-year-olds on entry to their primary schools

Research into the 2019 Pilot of Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA), which combines a survey of teachers’ views with case studies of schools involved in the September 2019 pilot of baseline, found that:

  • Nearly 50% of teachers believe that baseline has a negative impact on children – some children showed signs of anxiety and discomfort; they were ‘scared of getting it wrong’. One teacher from a case study school commented, “I would worry about those children who are going to struggle. And how quickly do you stop the test? Do you actually go through with it or do you just click ‘no’, ‘no’, ‘no’, because you know they can’t do it or they can’t concentrate?”
  • 80% of teachers do not think that the baseline test, which is intended to last for 20 minutes, provides an accurate picture of children’s current attainment.
  • 85% say their school’s own on-entry assessment of children provides them with better information than baseline.
  • 77% do not think baseline gave them useful information about their pupils which they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Many commented it was a ‘tick-box’ exercise which devalued teachers’ professional judgment about children and their learning needs. As one teacher said, “It just seems like a monumental waste of a week of a practitioner’s time.”
  • 69% say baseline has not helped to develop positive relationships with pupils. They said that the government presents the test as brief and ‘light touch’, but in reality it consumes teacher time and interferes with the settling-in period so important to children’s first experience of school. “Settling new children is a fine art,” said one teacher. “And is not a time that can be disrupted by unnecessary tests.”
  • 83% say carrying out baseline increased their workload. In order not to interfere with early experience of reception class, some teachers administered the baseline test in their own time. “Having to use all of my PPA time to complete the baseline as I cannot leave the other 29 new children with one TA [teaching assistant]. This means the work I would have completed in PPA time is being done at lunchtime or after school. After completing the baseline I will still have to do our usual on-entry assessments.”
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Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: ‘The government wants to introduce yet another test to primary schools. It is not doing this to support children’s learning but to produce a score by which it claims it will be possible to measure the quality of education. It ignores the evidence which is stacking up against baseline. The experts of the British Educational Research Association have said that it is not possible to test four-year-olds and get reliable data. Now, in this report, teachers’ lack of trust in baseline is all too clear. The government persists in spending millions on assessment systems for which there is no evidence of value, when teachers and parents are crying out for serious investment in early years education.”

Researcher Guy Roberts-Holmes, commented on the classroom environment created by baseline: “Baseline assessment is at odds with what we know about child development. Instead of building confidence and trusting relationships through active play, children are forced to sit still for up to half an hour to complete an inappropriate screen-based, tightly-scripted literacy and numeracy test. For some four-year-olds, trying to settle into their first experience of school, it creates inappropriate stress, emotional upset and uncertainty. Contrary to claims that children don’t know they’re being tested, we found that children are well aware that they are taking a scripted computer test, and that they have a sense of whether they’ve performed well or badly. There is a danger that they will then label themselves as good or bad learners. There are strong grounds here for parents to be concerned.”

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