Students with disability
More than one in ten students with a disability are being refused enrolment. Source: Pan Xiaozhen/Unsplash

At the tender ages of four and five, should children be thinking about assessments, or should they be more concerned with colouring tools and a cuddly toys?

That’s the question headteachers and parents are currently asking in response to a new start-of-school ‘Baseline’ assessment proposal in the UK.

With plans to chart the progress of pupils from entry level (ages 4-5) to key stage two (ages 10-11), the government promises that this 20-minute assessment will be stress-free and will provide enough informative data to see how much progress each student has made since starting primary school.

Are parents in the UK supporting these plans for reception class entry? Source: Alexander Dummer/Unsplash

According to UK Minister for School Standards, Nick Gibb, “Just like checking a child’s teeth or their eyesight, the reception baseline assessment is a quick check of a child’s early language and ability to count when they start school. It will provide the baseline of primary school progress, which is an important check of our school system, providing important information on schools’ performance to make sure all children reach their potential.”

Actively being tried and tested by selected primary schools in the UK from this week, the pilot enables schools to familiarise themselves with the assessment before providing feedback to the UK Department for Education ahead of the proposed implementation in 2020.

“The assessment will lighten the load for schools, which will no longer have to carry out whole-class assessments at the end of year 2 or deal with the test papers and administration that comes with that, while also being stress-free for children,” adds Gibb.

In contrast to Gibb’s opinion, Dr Alice Bradbury from the UCL Institute of Education, University College London, carried out a survey between March and June 2019, named The Headteachers’ Verdict on Baseline Assessment.

Researching into headteachers’ views on primary assessment, the findings were based on 288 survey responses on primary assessment and 20 in-depth interviews with primary school headteachers and executive headteachers.

Below are a handful of published comments from the survey, voiced by miscellaneous UK headteachers:

“Baseline of some sort is essential in order to measure progress. But this is measuring progress from one curriculum to a different one. It doesn’t work and shouldn’t be made to.”

“Who really believes that assessing 4 and 5-year olds and using that as a benchmark for 7 years of progress is a good idea? Less than 20% of my pupils are at my school for their entire primary education. What will this assessment tell me about my school?”

“’I think this is inappropriate. In a time when children should be building their sense of belonging in a new school, they should be spending time with all their new friends and teachers, not 20 minutes on a test.”

With comments like these being made by headteachers in the UK, there are valid grounds for this assessment to be set aside and for parents and educators to express their views before a potential 2020 implementation.

At the very start of their school venture, it’s possible for a child to feel stressed in their new learning environment and distracted from what matters most; settling into a routine and feeling secure amongst fellow learners.

Despite only lasting 20 minutes, this assessment could overshadow their study flow at the start of every year and may cause unnecessary panic or fear – especially if the results are for personal reflection only.

On the other hand, the ‘Baseline’ assessment could be useful for teachers to track progress and for students to set themselves an academic target for the next year.

Only time will tell if this assessment is permitted or denied in UK primary schools after the pilot tests…

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