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'Misguided' DfE scraps SATs for seven-year-olds to test four-year-olds instead

Article By: Angeline Albert

New Reception-year baseline tests for four-year-olds will be introduced from 2020, while SATs for seven-year-olds are to be scrapped from 2023.

Steve Heaps/Shutterstock

Children’s progress is currently measured between the end of KS1 and the end of KS2 but the Department for Education (DfE) has decided to introduce a baseline assessment for children when they enter Reception to assess their progress between the start of school and the end of KS2. The decision has sparked criticism and frustration from the early years sector which has described the move as ‘misguided’.

Announcing the decision on 14 September, Education Secretary Justine Greening said: “A good primary education lays the foundations for success at secondary school and beyond. This year’s KS2 results showed our curriculum reforms are starting to raise standards and it is vital we have an assessment system that supports that.

“These changes will free up teachers to educate and inspire young children while holding schools to account in a proportionate and effective way.”

The Government has said the main focus of the new Reception-year assessments, which will take place in the first half-term of the autumn term, will be on skills which can be reliably assessed and which correlate with attainment in English and mathematics at the end of KS2, most notably early literacy and mathematics. A pilot and evaluation of the new assessment will be conducted in the academic year 2019/20.

The DfE’s announcement follows a consultation with teachers and other stakeholders, launched last March.

’Shifting stress and anxiety onto youngest children’

The early years sector and parents have repeatedly expressed concern about using a Reception baseline measure arguing it risks damaging children’s self-confidence, does not predict their future attainment and can disrupt the settling-in period.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, said: “It is incredibly disappointing that the Government has chosen to ignore the very valid concerns of the education sector, and reintroduce the fundamentally-flawed baseline assessment policy.

No one is arguing against the value of early assessments – but narrow, reductive baseline testing is not the solution. Such tests not only often produce unreliable results, they also risk placing undue pressure on young children at the very start of their educational journeys.”

He added: “The frustrating thing is that we already know the dangers of implementing assessments that focus on school accountability over and above supporting learning and development. How much stress and anxiety have we seen in primary classrooms recently as a result of KS1 testing? The idea that this could be simply shifted onto some of our youngest children is simply unacceptable.”

Only one supplier for new baseline this time

The Government’s announcement follows an earlier attempt to introduce a baseline assessment, which was scrapped in April 2016. A 2016 study by UCL Institute of Education revealed that schools and children had been negatively impacted by the introduction of the previous scheme with only seven per cent of the teachers surveyed believing the baseline assessment was an accurate and fair way of assessing children and 85 per cent believing it was unnecessary and had increased their workload.

The DfE has confirmed that the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) is preparing to engage a commercial partner to design and deliver the assessment. Unlike the previous failed attempt to introduce baseline assessment, only one supplier will be appointed this time.

‘Disappointed’ by ‘misguided’ attempts

The Better Without the Baseline coalition, has campaigned against previous plans to introduce a Reception-year baseline assessment.

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education a charity for early years practitioners and parents which campaigns for better children’s education, voiced her disappointment, saying: “We are disappointed that Government has not listened to the views of early years practitioners and researchers and seems set to repeat its costly and misguided attempts to reintroduce a commercially run baseline assessment scheme in reception. Early labelling of children based on flawed data is deeply damaging to children's progress.

‘Dodgy data’

"Headteachers should be concerned that they will be held to account with dodgy data - the Government has not provided satisfactory evidence that a reliable and valid baseline measure can be conducted with four-year-olds that will show progress achieved with KS2 results."

NAHT: ‘Right thing to do’

Despite criticism from the early years sector, Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT welcomed the move.

He said: “The decision to make SATs for seven year olds non-statutory in favour of a new reception baseline assessment may well be met with trepidation by some, but it is absolutely the right thing to do. Under current accountability arrangements, the hard work and success of schools during those critical first years is largely ignored. If designed properly, these new assessments can provide useful information for schools to help inform teaching and learning whilst avoiding unnecessary burdens on teachers or anxiety for young children.”

The Government’s consultation response confirmed the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile will remain. However, the Government has said it will look at reducing the number of early learning goals (ELGs) that EYFS Profile assesses by limiting it to the three prime areas of learning, plus just two specific areas: numeracy and literacy.

The DfE has announced it will:

• Introduce a new teacher-mediated assessment in the reception year from 2020 to provide a baseline measure to track pupils’ progress during primary school.

• Improve the early years foundation stage profile – a check on a child’s school readiness at the end of their early years education. This includes reviewing supporting guidance to reduce burdens for teachers.

• Make KS1 tests and assessments non-statutory from 2023 and remove the requirement for schools to submit teacher assessment data to the Government for reading and maths at the end of KS2.

• Introduce a multiplication tables check to aid children’s fluency in mathematics from 2019-20.

• Improve teacher assessment of English writing by giving teachers greater scope to use their professional judgement when assessing pupils at the end of KS1 and KS2 from the current academic year (2017-18).


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