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MPs urge Government to investigate 'potentially harmful' impact of testing four-year-olds

Article By: Sue Learner

MPs have called on the Government to conduct a ‘thorough evaluation of potentially harmful consequences’ of introducing testing for four-year-olds.

The Department for Education wants to ditch SATs for seven-year-olds and instead assess children in their first few weeks of starting school.

The idea is to have a baseline measure in order to track the child’s progress through the school. However teaching unions have opposed the policy ever since it was first mooted in 2014.

In a report on primary school assessment, a cross-party group of MPs from the Education Select Committee said the Government ‘must conduct a thorough evaluation of potentially harmful consequences of introducing any baseline measure, involving early years experts and practitioners, including impacts on pupil wellbeing and teaching and learning’.

They also stated that the ‘primary purpose of a measure of children at age 4 should be a diagnostic tool to help early years practitioners identify individual needs of pupils and should only be carried out through teacher assessment’.

Government pledges baseline data will not be used for school league tables

The Government has promised that data from a baseline assessment will not be used to rank individual pupils or schools.

The Pre-School Learning Alliance welcomed the Education Select Committee report for raising concerns about baseline testing, with its chief executive, Neil Leitch, saying “as the report clearly identifies the failures of testing at Key Stage 1, it would be incredibly short-sighted if the Government did not learn from these mistakes and instead chose to revisit them on a younger age group.

“Aside from being an unreliable and limited method of assessment, baseline testing puts unnecessary pressure on children at the beginning of their formal educational journey.”

When the Government launched its consultation on its latest proposal for bringing in baseline assessment in Reception, Better Without Baseline, a coalition of early years organisations, again warned of added teacher workload, the risk of damaging children’s confidence and a potential narrowing of the curriculum.

They also highlighted a study by the UCL Institute of Education which found only seven per cent of the teachers piloting the scheme who were surveyed, felt that Baseline Assessment was an accurate and fair way of assessing children and 85 per cent believed that it was unnecessary and had increased their workload.

'Our children are not guinea pigs'

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said: “The introduction of reception baseline assessment in 2015 was a failure; the Government was forced to abandon the policy.”

She added: “Our children are not guinea pigs, they should not be subject to further experimental tests.”

The MPs in the Education Select Committee report also critised the Key Stage 2 SATs for Year 6 pupils, with Neil Carmichael, chair of the Education Committee, saying: “The resulting high-stakes system has led to a narrowing of the curriculum with a focus on English and maths at the expense of other subjects like science, humanities and the arts.

“It is right that schools are held to account for their performance but the Government should act to lower the stakes and help teachers to deliver a broad, balanced, and fulfilling curriculum for primary school children.”

The Committee also expressed concern about the emphasis on technical aspects of writing and the diminished focus on composition and creativity at primary school.


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