Article 12 out of 18

Should there be more formal testing of young children?


Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Ofsted

Dr Richard House, senior lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, University of Winchester

Poll: Should there be more formal testing of young children?



To view the results of the poll, you need to vote!


Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, would like to see more nurseries carrying out regular assessments of children as he believes the most effective nurseries are those which regularly assess children and set high expectations.

He said: “When children arrive in the nursery or reception class, the best schools quickly assess each child in terms of key skills such as language and grasp of numbers. They use this baseline to inform teaching and support for each child. They link frequent assessments of each child’s progress to the professional development and performance management of their staff.

“Children in these schools make excellent progress, whatever their background. In such schools, only children with substantial learning difficulties or other barriers fail to achieve the benchmark level 4 in English and mathematics by the end of the primary stage.”

He would like to see “this good practice” being applied nationally.

He added: “Effective nursery and primary schools set high expectations right from the very start. In these schools, children are introduced from the first day to structures and behaviours that help their learning. Clear routines bring order and security into their lives and help build self-assurance as well as awareness of the needs of others.

“These schools and nurseries also go out of their way to engage with parents who may themselves have had a bad experience of education. They make strong use of family support and social workers, and routinely make pre-school visits to the home to get to know the children. They also ensure that parents are engaged from the start in their children’s education.

“Most importantly, in the best nursery and primary schools there is a systematic, rigorous and consistent approach to assessment, right from the very start.”

The success of regular assessment has led Sir Michael to recommend that the Government assess children as soon as they start school instead of at the end of Reception.


Dr Richard House sees Sir Michael’s push for more testing of young children as “the creeping ‘schoolification’ of early childhood in England” and questions Sir Michael’s evidence for the “best nursery and primary schools”, asking on “what criteria he bases his 'best' label”.

“If he is right about the correlation between making assessment quickly and quality of outcomes (which is open to severe doubt), it doesn’t at all necessarily follow that it is early and relentless assessment that has ‘caused’ the good outcome (there may be other associated variables that play more of a causal function).”

He added: “There is a whole host of reasons why increasing formalised assessment in early childhood is a fundamentally wrong idea.

“Sir Michael Wilshaw’s recent pronouncements on early childhood assessment are underpinned by a host of erroneous assumptions and politicised agendas. Perhaps the most compelling arguments are that, again, these proposals are entirely driven by the existing madness that is England’s school starting age; and the negative unintended side-effects of this crude bludgeon in this delicate phase of early childhood would be catastrophic.

“As of 2013, nearly nine in 10 of the world’s 205 countries have a school starting age of six or seven, and hardly any countries in the world have the effective school starting age of four that we have in England.”

He added: “England’s much mooted ‘long tail of under-achievement’ is a direct consequence of England’s inappropriate school starting age; and yet Wilshaw is proposing to ‘solve’ this and other ‘problems’ by ratcheting up the incursion of ‘schoolifying’ practices into early childhood, rather than withdrawing and deferring them.

“These changes would be catastrophic for our children’s development and well-being.”

Dr House concluded that “this proposed new schoolifying assessment measure seems to mark something that we have always feared since the Open EYE campaign was founded in 2007 – i.e. that the National Curriculum would start to first invade, and then drive, practice in the early years”.


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Ruchi Soin

Ruchi Soin

05 Apr 2014 1:05 PM

"NO for formal testing".... We need best for our children at such a young age but not through just testing or assessments!!!

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Margaret Simms

13 Aug 2013 12:06 PM

'Best schools', 'quickly assess', frequent assessment, systematic, rigorous, structures, behaviours, language and grasp of numbers', links to 'professional development and performance management of staff'. Do you really want your little ones in this kind of regimented environment or would you rather they played their way to learning, enjoying every new discovery and interaction.

Early Years Teachers, Early Years Professionals and all who work with young children in nursery schools: Will your pay be performance related? If so, wouldn't you rather be rated for your excellent playful learning skills and your understanding protecting and supporting the well-being of the children you serve?

Kathy Batten

Kathy Batten

28 Jul 2013 10:12 AM

Sign this please! We can't have more formal testing of such young children- vote NO

Chris Forbes

Chris Forbes

22 Jul 2013 12:45 PM

Perhaps the words Formal and testing are the stumbling blocks in this instance. Rigorous and consistent are words that appear to be good applied to wanting the best in so many situations. However when applied to assessing our children, especially the very young, Care should be taken that its rigors and consistency include child development. Maybe Sir Michael has some understanding but just how much is questionable. By suggesting formal testing it must ask the question How and What does this constitute? Is it such as found in medical situations? This model works on physical aspects but those working with the very young often urge awareness of the range of expected developmental processes within certain age ranges.

All carers of the very young want many of the things mentioned by Sir Michael. There is structure and routines in all establishments dealing with the young. The day would not function without these being known by all who work there. The children know the routines and expected behaviour and when old enough will tell Sir Michael how each is expected to behave and perhaps show him visual aids as to when things happen.

Surely visiting many early years establishments has enabled Sir Michael to form opinions as to what settings he feels give the best opporunities to children. Asking staff and observing methods of assessment should demonstrate a very complex understanding of the children in their care is taking place. Many County Councils encourage good practice by visiting, supporting and training settings.

Do not bring the Formal Testing models to the very young. The reception classes are given assessment when entering the formal school system and most teachers and early educationalists will plan experiences that develop and extend learning of each individual. Dr House is right in the concerns for educating our children formally at such early ages when Nursery education is the basis of many other countrys throughout the civilized world.

Julie Dervey

Julie Dervey

21 Jul 2013 3:18 PM

Surely, the Ministers have had children and must realise that from one hour to the next their moods and capabilities can vary enormously. So exactly what will testing at this early age achieve? I suspect that we will find that the results will demonstrate that the entire exercise is futile and that the results cannot be deemed reliable or give a fair representation of each unique child - Nor can they be ethically performed with such young children!

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11 Jul 2013 9:36 AM

The ‘best’ nurseries use a variety of different approaches to support the children in their care, not just testing or assessing. The Eppe Report and the REPEY study demonstrate that children need a balance of adult-led and child-led learning activities; furthermore, when the curriculum is closely matched to the child in terms of ability and challenge, learning will be more effective. Most parents want the best for their child but there is a big difference in how parents interpret this and in the provision of learning experiences within the home. Parents’ socio-economic status and levels of education are closely linked to child attainment, yet we do not have Sir Michael Wilshaw suggesting that parental income should be raised or that parents should be encouraged to increase their own qualifications as a ‘quick fix’ to improve child outcomes. Dr Richard House is right to query the early ‘schoolification’ of children. With one school entry a year in our area, a child may enter Reception class aged just 4 years-old, while her peers may be up to 11 months older. A year makes a huge difference in physical, mental, social and emotional terms at this age and testing will only reinforce this. Children develop and mature in different ways at different ages and assessment/testing cannot allow for developmental differences. Our child of just four may only be just managing to get through the school day without a ‘nap’ whereas the child who is just five may be bouncing with energy as she emerges through the school gates. While no-one would deny that teachers need to evaluate the learning, emotional, and communication needs of children in order to support their progress, do we really need another level of formalised testing in the classroom? As one old man in our village said ‘You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it’ (not that I am in any way suggesting that our children are piglets!).

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Margaret Simms

13 Aug 2013 12:07 PM

@ WLV CeDARE 11 Jul 2013 9:36 AM

I love that comment! ‘You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it’.

Stefan Richter

Stefan Richter

08 Jul 2013 10:12 AM

"...there is a systematic, rigorous and consistent approach to assessment, right from the very start."

Ironic that this is in the 'Yes' section, isn't it? When you consider that children regularly start school at 4 - some barely 4 - one must ask if the education system in England is missing a trick. As parent of 3 I ask myself what use reading, writing and math skills are to a 4 year old, let alone assess them on it. Children need creative play, time to explore, in short enjoy childhood. They should not be institutionalised into good test takers, but lifelong leaners. Fractions for 5 year olds? 12 times tables for 9 year olds? Please can we have some people in charge of education who actually have a clue about educating children!

Jo Dance

Jo Dance

05 Jul 2013 3:08 PM

This isn't rocket science people, and look at the poll results! Richard House always talks sense and does fantastic work, shame the same can't be said about the Government! Let's allow our kids their childhood and let them play, they don't need testing at this age, this is pure madness!