The NUT believes that teachers should be allowed to exercise their professional judgement in how best to support the children they teach.Teachers should be able to establish the capabilities and development needs of children in a way that is appropriate for that individual child, rather than labelling children as failing or below expected levels from the start.
Researchers claim that it is likely a baseline check will be unreliable and statistically invalid due to the age of the children and the fact they will be in a new and unfamiliar setting. There are also concerns the check will be damaging to children’s wellbeing, engagement and attitudes to learning. A 1:1 test will be time consuming and impact on the time school staff can spend settling children, most of whom will still only be four, into their new environment and routine.
Early years settings will need to resist the pressure to narrow their focus in order to prepare children for the test, and families may face anxiety and confusion if their child is found to be ‘failing’. The union believes that teachers need to protect reception children starting school from the stress and potential damage to their wellbeing, engagement and attitudes to learning of having to undergo formal testing.
The research involved an online survey of over 1,000 ATL and NUT members and interviews with staff and parents from five primary schools in England, and was carried out in the autumn of 2015.
The key findings are:
- 60% of teachers do not think baseline assessment scores give an accurate reflection of children’s attainment;
- Only 8% of teachers think baseline assessment is a fair and accurate way to assess children;
- 59% say baseline assessment had disrupted children’s start at school
- 54% do not think baseline assessment has helped teachers to get to know their pupils;
- 71% do not think baseline assessment has helped teachers identify the needs of SEN pupils; and
- 68% do not think it has helped identify the needs of EAL children;
- 31% say baseline assessment has damaged the relationship between pupils and teachers
- Only 7% think baseline assessment is a good way to assess how well primary schools perform.
Sixty per cent of teachers and school leaders do not think the baseline assessments, introduced in primary schools in England in September 2015, accurately reflect children’s attainment. They felt four-year-olds are too young for testing, particularly in their first six weeks of school when children are getting used to new routines and getting to know new adults. Only 8% think baseline assessment is a fair and accurate way to assess children.
In addition, only 7% think baseline assessment is a good way to measure a school’s performance because of the problems of accurately assessing four-year-olds and the variability of children’s patterns of progress and development (in primary school).
Fifty-nine per cent of teachers say baseline assessment had disrupted children’s start at school. Some schools found it took a lot of children’s class time, some schools did activities relating to the assessment, while others stopped teaching the children involved during the assessment weeks.
Teachers have mixed feelings about the impact of baseline assessment on building relationships with their pupils during this critical settling-in time which is some children’s first experience of formal education. Fifty-four per cent of teachers felt baseline assessment did not help them get to know their pupils. Many feel baseline assessment has a limited role in helping to identify children with special needs and those who may need more help, such as those for whom English is an additional language and summer born children.
Teachers do say that baseline assessment is having a significant impact on their workloads. Eighty-two per cent say baseline assessment has increased teachers’ workload in the classroom and 84% says it has increased their workload outside classes. It has generated extra work including training, time to make judgements, discussions with colleagues and inputting data. Seventy-five per cent say baseline assessment is an additional burden on reception teachers, which is a serious problem when teachers are already struggling with excessive workloads.
Respondent quote: “It took much too long for each child to complete the assessment and they often became tired and irritable, and it took a lot of time out of class for teachers.”
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, (ATL), said: “The Government would be wrong to push ahead with baseline assessments in the light of this research. It is questionable how far any form of assessment can accurately show the knowledge and skills of a four-year-old. Children are not robots and do not develop at a regular rate, so we have grave concerns about the reliability of measuring their progress from age four to 11.”
Dr Alice Bradbury, UCL Institute of Education, said: “The study found that baseline assessment is seen by teachers as ineffective and potentially damaging because it is time-consuming, distracts from the important settling in period in reception and does not provide any additional useful information. There are serious doubts about the accuracy of baseline as an assessment, particularly given the age of the children, and as a result there are real questions over its value in education.”
Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes, UCL Institute of Education, said: "Reception teachers already carry out thorough and meaningful baseline assessments in authentic and meaningful play based contexts. They use these detailed and careful observational assessments for tracking and development. So, reception teachers are frustrated that their professional expertise in assessing young children is not respected by this new baseline. They also resent having to pay private companies for accountability training and analysis."
Heather Stewart, Chair of the Association of Child Psychotherapists, in expressing her concern regarding the proposed testing of four and five- year-olds, said: "Child psychotherapists' training is steeped in close observation of babies and infants. They understand the importance of play, imagination and loving relationships in promoting healthy development. Testing and reducing children to a number at such an early stage of their lives seems not only misguided but wrong. There is no evidence that testing will help learning. It could however have a much more damaging impact on a child's sense of self and his or her own value.
"ACP members are mental health experts and our members would not support the added stress caused to children by testing when they are only just beginning to adjust to school and coping with a new environment."
An ACP spokesperson suppported the ACP Chair. "Measuring children so young, when the evidence clearly points to the fact that all children develop at their own pace, will show us little. Some children will naturally progress later, it would be diffcult to see how this would be related to teaching or the quality of the school environment. Encouraging children to learn by being curious and through discovery, with a trusted adult, would have a much more significant effect of capacity to learn and thrive."
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