The recent publication of Ofsted’s early years annual report signifies yet more doubt being cast on the government’s new baseline assessments for four year old school children. Whilst the measures have been subject to scrutiny from education providers for some time, this latest report brings a new angle to potential issues that could arise with their initial trial introduction in September of this year.
In many ways the concept of the baseline assessment is not a new one. A similar measure was introduced to schools in the late 1990s, but was shelved only a few years later as a result of a lack of effectiveness. These new baseline measures are rooted in the white paper ‘The importance of teaching’, published in 2010. This set out the new government’s vision for creating greater accountability for schools and the education they provide. This was then expanded upon with the announcement in March 214 that specific assessments were being introduced for primary schools, with the intention that such measures would be brought into force in 2016.
The idea behind the primary school baseline assessment was to create a fairer system by which to judge a school’s progress. However, since the announcement of the new assessment there has been no shortage of doubts cast upon the idea by a number of different individuals and organisations. Notably, the National Union of Teachers called for a boycott of the tests at the start of this year, whilst school leaders at the National Association of Head Teachers conference believed such tests could undermine the learning environment from the outset. Indeed the consultation done by the government on the matter found that 57% of 1,063 respondents questioned were opposed to the new measures.
Whilst the baseline assessments will not be a compulsory measure for primary schools, the fact that Ofsted will be using them in order to assess schools means that it is only a small minority of schools that have stated they will be declining to use the new form of assessment. However, the fact that the baseline assessments will be used by Ofsted makes the findings of their annual report into early education and their potential impact on different groups of pupils.
This latest report on the baseline assessments criticizes them from a new angle, namely the potential hindrances they could pose to young children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Ofsted has found that whilst the outcomes for disadvantaged children are rising in line with their peers, the problem is that the existing gap between the two groups shows no sign of narrowing at the present time. Baseline assessments are not seen as helping to solve this existing problem, as:
Inspectors take account of the school’s assessment of children’s development on entry to Reception, there is a perverse incentive for schools to only begin to intervene once children have joined the school.
This creates a problem as Ofsted feel that this is not the right mind set for primary educational institutions to adopt and they should instead be more heavily invested in the welfare and background of the children before the baseline assessment is taken.
Whether the new baseline assessments are the right way forward for primary school education remains to be seen after their introduction happens, but there is an ever growing chorus of doubt from several sources. The impact of the tests will no doubt be closely followed by all of the parties involved, and their viability, or lack of, will soon be evident.