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Reception baseline assessment: NAHT’s position and DfE’s proposals

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The Department for Education (DfE) has announced that the successful bidder for the reception baseline's design and delivery is the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). The baseline assessment in reception is due to be rolled out across schools from the autumn of 2020.

NFER will be undertaking a trial of the new baseline in September 2018, and they are writing to a number of schools this week to ask them to take part. If you receive an invitation, NAHT would urge you to take part as we believe that the approach of working with the DfE, STA and NFER on the development and piloting of the assessment is in the best interests of school staff, parents and children, to ensure that the baseline assessment is well designed and properly implemented.

The DfE have provided some more detail about their emerging thinking on the baseline, and it is intended that the baseline will:

  • Take around 20 minutes to deliver
  • Be a simple activity-based assessment
  • Assess children's communication, language, literacy and early mathematics skills
  • Be age-appropriate for reception year children
  • Replace the statutory tests at the end of key stage one.

The DfE has also made it clear that the assessment will not be used as an accountability measure for early years, nor to judge, label or track individual pupils.

NAHT has developed its policy through our structures and taking into account what members have told us so far. We support the use of progress measures for accountability purposes, as a better indicator of school effectiveness than attainment figures alone, and we cannot create these measures without some form of baseline.

The baseline to measure primary progress currently takes place at the end of KS1. Whilst a reception baseline presents a number of challenges, we believe, in principle, it is better to measure progress from the start of school rather than the end of KS1. It makes little sense to take a baseline measure for progress midway through the primary years at the end of year two, effectively ignoring the important work and progress made in those critical first few years of school.

However, we have made it clear to the DfE throughout our discussions that the proposed reception baseline should be a low stakes assessment of a child's starting point when they begin school. The DfE's stated intention is that it should be used as a starting point for what comes next, not a measure of what has come before. If this is the case, we see no reason why a baseline assessment in reception should change early years practice either prior to children starting school or in the reception year.

And this would mean statutory assessment at the end of KS1 would become redundant; remove SATs at the end of year two, and we should finally start to see the reduction in the volume of high stakes testing in primary that NAHT has long called for.

We know there are many challenges to developing a reliable and workable baseline assessment, and the ongoing support of NAHT for the roll-out of the baseline will be dependent on the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) and the DfE to address the concerns we have raised with them. We are insistent with them that: 

  • The design should aim to minimise any workload implications
  • The assessment must not take on the high-stakes nature of KS1 and KS2 SATs
  • The experience of children completing the assessment must be considered in its design and development
  • We accept that the skills which correlate with KS2 tests need to be assessed, but we are also making the case for aspects of self-regulation to be included too
  • The validity and reliability of any data could be affected by a range of factors, including the age of the children, and this needs careful consideration by government in the design of the assessment
  • Pupil mobility during the primary phase can be significant for many schools; this issue currently exists with the current KS1 to KS2 measure and needs to be considered in the baseline design.

Based on these principles, we are working to influence the Standards and Testing Agency and the DfE on the development and piloting of a new baseline assessment, with a clear objective to develop a baseline that will work for both early year's pupils and schools.  

First published 29 May 2018