The Early Years Foundation Stage Baseline Test

kids The EYFS baseline assessment test piloted in the first half of the autumn term has caused considerable dissatisfaction amongst some.  A recent survey conducted by University of London (commissioned by the NUT and ATL) provides evidence of much concern amongst schools and EYFS staff about the whole point of the tests.  Although 31% of respondents felt that the test provided an accurate view of their children, others expressed serious concerns about the time it took and the distraction away from assessment through normal teaching.  However, Early Excellence themselves have conducted their own survey and this has shown a much more positive response which they put down to the fact that their ‘test’ is integrated in to the normal assessment type of activity that Reception staff engage in every autumn.

Incyte has consistently expressed a view about the new baseline assessment and promoted the Early Excellence baseline as the one that was most likely to fit with best assessment practice conducted by schools.  Our main concerns, therefore, are not with the actual baseline test itself, as we do believe in having national baseline assessment consistency which can be externally moderated to improve accuracy of assessment, but with how this information is going to be used.

When I was Chairman of Bench Marque Ltd in the 1990s I was directly involved in the last government attempt to create national baseline data.  The reason it failed is likely to be the reason for the failure of the current system. It is simply inappropriate to use Reception base-line data as an accurate measure to make an overall judgement about the standards on entry in to a school against which other ‘tests’ can be measured against.  What it can be used for, however, is to gain a deep understanding of where a child is on entry (utilising home assessment as part of this) and how to build on this so that children, especially those from deprived backgrounds, can make rapid progress and close the gaps, as early as possible, between themselves and those from more privileged backgrounds.  This is probably the most important impact that the education system can have on our children if we are to ensure greater equity of life-long opportunities within our society.

Here are some reasons why the government has got the use of this base-line data wrong:

  • Measuring performance on entry to Reception is unreliable as performance changes significantly in a short space of time when children are provided with high quality learning experiences.  The performance picture would therefore be very different at the end of each half-term in Reception.
  • A school could add a significant amount of value-added standards between the start and end of Reception.  If a school provides additional zero value-added between the end of Reception to the end of KS2 the school would still be seen as providing value-added outcomes by the end of KS2.
  • If a school has low comparative performance in the baseline assessment they could add value over the following six years.  However, the gaps between the school and that seen nationally may still not have closed significantly.  This is likely to reduce aspirations as progress performance could show positive value-added even when gaps are not closed enough.  In effect, this will have a negative impact on those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and will have an adverse effect on closing national gaps at the end of secondary schools.

If the government wants to provide equity within our society, it needs to measure success by analysing progress data that shows significant gaps closing within each key stage.  WE can’t wait until the end of KS2 to make judgements about how well schools have contributed to this.  Schools must be held to account for the progress all pupils make and the importance of this needs to be elevated so that inspectors and advisers can interrogate the personal data of all pupils and not just the rounded overall data it analyses.  They need to be encouraged to ask the question, why has this child not made the progress they should have, regardless of their ability?

Malcolm Greenhalgh
Director Incyte International Ltd. and MGA Education Ltd.

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