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NUT considers boycotting testing of four-year-olds

23-Apr-14
Article By: Sue Learner, News Editor

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) is considering a boycott of the new reception baseline assessment tests, which are to be introduced in all state schools in England in September 2016.

At its annual conference, teachers voted in favour of investigating ‘the possibility of a mass campaign of principled non compliance with any policies that erode children’s right to play in the early years’.

When the new baseline assessments come into effect, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Profile will no longer be compulsory, however the EYFS itself will still be statutory.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, is against the idea of baseline testing of children in their first few weeks of school. She said: “The emphasis on formal learning and assessment is putting undue pressure on our youngest pupils. Children and young people do not develop at the same rate and this approach takes no account of either summer born children or those with special educational needs. A play based curriculum is what is needed — not unnecessary tests, which children in their earliest years of education might ‘fail’, giving them a negative message in the earliest years of schooling.”

The tests will introduce a baseline when children start reception so their progress can be tracked from the very beginning. Currently the baseline is when children sit tests in Year 2.

Department of Education calls it 'a simple check'

The Department for Education describes it as ‘a simple check at the start of reception, to be used as a baseline to measure progress and to inform schools about each pupil’s strengths and weaknesses on entry. Schools often assess what pupils can and cannot do when they begin school. The baseline check will be administered by a teacher within two to six weeks of each pupil entering reception and would be subject to external monitoring similar to that used at Key Stage 1.’

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg claims that these tests need to be introduced as “for children to achieve their potential we need to raise the bar – in terms of tests, pass marks and minimum standards”.

The idea of testing young children is now being mooted for pre-school children as well and Ms Blower added: “This is all too much testing too soon with little regard to the importance of emotional and social development of small children. We cannot start labelling children as young as two years old as failing.

“Many European countries do not begin formal education until the age of seven. The difference of course is, that, particularly in Scandinavian countries, there is high quality pre-school provision using a play based curriculum as an entitlement which does prepare children well for more formal learning later. The educational outcomes for these countries are in no way negatively impacted. In fact they are often held up as an example of excellence by Michael Gove.

NUT says we need to be inspire young children not make them afraid

“We need to be inspiring young children not making them afraid or bored through a task orientated curriculum which simply stultifies the learning process.

“Being confident, independent and curious is as important as cognitive and academic skills and must be defined in the light of children’s diverse abilities.”

Dr Richard House, senior lecturer in Early Childhood at the University of Winchester, said the NUT's decision to challenge the plans for the baseline assessment of England’s four-year-olds could be “a defining moment in the recent history of the early years in England”.

He added: “This unprecedented development is a sign that teachers will no longer acquiesce in meekly accepting the statutory imposition of ideologically driven policies that they know will harm the very children whose development they have a professional responsibility to support and enhance.

“All professionals – and perhaps especially those working with very young children – have a grave ethical responsibility not to enact pedagogical practices that they know will harm their children. And with the NUT now enthusiastically joining with the Too Much Too Soon campaign, any opening to take the Government to judicial review on these matters suddenly becomes a distinct possibility.”

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, also welcomed the stance being taken by the NUT and said: “We are very pleased to hear that the NUT shares our concerns about the introduction of reception baseline testing.

“The Government has made it clear that the purpose of these assessments is not to help ensure practitioners and teachers are able to provide the best individual support and care for young children, but rather, to provide a mechanism through which schools themselves can be ranked and compared – once again, the needs of the child have been disregarded.

“The fact that the NUT feels it may have no other choice but to boycott these assessments shows what little faith there is in the Government’s ability to engage with and listen to the views of sector professionals – let’s not forget that only a third of those who responded to the consultation on these plans actually supported them.”

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Jan Harkins

10 May 2014 7:25 AM

No child should be in five in the first place. It has been medically proved that bones in boys hands do not fuse together before the age of five . Therefore they cannot write or form letters neatly. And the synapsis in young children do not fuse until age seven. Schools jumped on the band wagon of free funding we want it. Nie they are reaping the price of their greed but don,t want the extra work. Nurseries curriculum is already play based, better ratios and we are open fifty one weeks of the year, so parents and children have the option of an extra thirteen weeks learning per year. This is all politics, voting money and greed. For god sake think of the children and leave them will the professionals in the early years sector.