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DfE Announces That Baseline Assessments Won’t Be Used As Accountability Measure

Study finds reception baseline assessments from three providers to be 'Not sufficiently comparable'

  • DfE Announces That Baseline Assessments Won’t Be Used As Accountability Measure

The Department for Education has confirmed that reception baseline assessments will no longer be used to hold schools accountable for children’s progress between Reception and Y6.

The government’s original plan with baseline assessments would have seen observation- or computer-based assessment used to assign children entering Reception a single score. This would then be measured against a subsequent score at the end of Y6 to gauge the progress each child had made throughout primary school, serving as the only officially recognised means by which schools could demonstrate ‘value added’.

The announcement follows publication of a Reception baseline comparability study by the Standards and Testing Agency, which examined whether the three baseline assessments offered by a trio of approved providers (Early Excellence, CEM and NFER) were comparable enough to serve as a starting point for measuring children’s subsequent progress.

Based on a sample of 4690 pupils spread across 122 schools, the study concludes that, “There is insufficient comparability between the 3 reception baseline assessments to enable them to be used in the accountability system.”

The study’s findings prompted the DfE to confirm yesterday that, “As a result, the results cannot be used as the baseline for progress measures, as it would be inappropriate and unfair to schools.”

The baseline assessments will not be scrapped completely, however . Yesterday’s announcement went on to explain that, “Schools will have the option to continue to use the baseline assessments in the 2016 to 2017 academic year, should they wish to sign up for reception baseline as part of their on-entry assessment of pupils,” but was careful to note that, “The outcomes from the assessments will not be used for accountability.”

The move to introduce of baseline assessments as a formal accountancy measure had encountered some considerable opposition in recent months – not least from the NUT and ATL unions, which in February published the results of a joint research project that characterised baseline assessments as ‘Problematic at best, and potentially damaging at worst’.

Responding to news of the climbdown, ATL’s assistant general secretary (policy), Nansi Ellis, commented, “We welcome the news that reception baseline assessment will not be used as a starting point to measure pupil progress following a comparability study… ATL believes the reception baseline assessment is a waste of money, a waste of time, and tells reception teachers nothing useful about the children in their class.

And as the outcomes cannot be used for accountability, we see no reason why schools would choose to undertake baseline assessment in September. We look forward to being properly consulted as the Government considers future options.”

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates, meanwhile, commented, “This is a significant development, as the use of baseline assessment was a core element of the DfE’s proposed reforms to the school accountability regime in the primary sector. The Government has been forced to recognise that the three tests schools were permitted to use do not produce comparable results and, therefore, cannot be used to form valid and reliable baselines of progress.

“It is another example of the DfE failing to listen to teachers and school leaders in the development of policy.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Liz Bayram, CEO of the professional childcare association PACEY: “We are delighted to learn that baseline assessments are no longer to be used in schools as a measure of pupil progress. PACEY has long supported the Better without Baseline campaign, because we believe schools need a rounded assessment of the children entering their reception classes.

“There is strong evidence that a snapshot of a child’s development within six weeks of starting school provides limited information and can distract teachers from the important job of settling children into full time education.”

NFER, one of three baseline assessment providers, has since issued an official response to the DfE’s announcement which reads as follows:

“While the assessment will not be used by the DfE as a starting point to measure pupils’ progress, NFER believes that assessment is an integral part of effective teaching and learning.

“The NFER Reception Baseline Assessment is a robust assessment thoroughly tested with 500 schools and 3000 pupils and feedback from 2015 users has been extremely positive. The task-based approach was found to be child-friendly, manageable and particularly useful for identifying individual pupil strengths and weaknesses and for informing planning.”

Catherine Kirkup, Research Director at NFER’s Centre for Assessment, has further commented: “We firmly believe that NFER’s task-based approach is the most appropriate choice for schools. Our Reception Baseline Assessment is easy to use and provides accurate and consistent outcomes. It provides a snapshot of children’s starting points at the beginning of Reception and enables teachers to tailor support to each child’s needs.”

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