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New baseline assessment to start 2020

Tuesday, 3 October 2017
Baseline assessments are to be reintroduced in 2020 and it looks like the national testing system will be narrow in the skills assessed, concentrating on numeracy and literacy. It will be completed in the first few weeks of children starting in Reception classes. In addition to the new baseline testing, teachers will still be required to complete the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile. What a welcome to school! 
The governement have responded to the primary assessment consultation earlier this year. It seems that the majority were in favour of measuring progress in primary schools from the start of school and not from the end of KS1. 

Content and form of the new baseline assessment

The new baseline assessment will be administered early in Reception by the class teacher or a TA.  It is not expected to be observational over time, but the report states that neither should it feel like a test. The final form that the assessment will take is yet to be decided by the Standards and Testing Agency and a commercial partner. A large-scale pilot and evaluation is planned for 2019/20.
It will assess a narrow set of skills, including counting, basic number operations and simple 2D shapes in mathematics and phonological awareness and comprehension in English language and writing. It will cover material that children are already expected to be familiar with at this stage.
 “The prime focus of the new assessment will be on skills which can be reliably assessed and which correlate with attainment in English and mathematics at the end of key stage 2, most notably early literacy and numeracy.”  [Primary assessment in England government  consultation response, Page 14]
It is made clear that the purpose of the baseline assessment is to establish attainment at the earliest starting point so that progress in primary school can be calculated at the end of KS2 and therefore the data will only be used at this time, seven years later.

Changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile

Teachers will still be required to complete the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile, in addition to the new baseline assessment. This seems to be a recognition that there is purpose and value in the EYFSP for both teaching and learning throughout Reception and into Year 1 as it provides accurate information about individual progress and development.  The report also confirms that, as now, the EYFSP results will only be used to provide national data and will not be used to hold schools to account for their performance.
However, if you are thinking at least something will stay the same, there will be changes, but hopefully these will be improvements. The number of early learning goals in the EYFSP will be reduced by limiting it to three prime areas of learning and having two specific areas, numeracy and literacy. At the same time ELGs will be made clearer and brought into line with KS1, especially for numeracy and literacy. These changes should address some of the issues raised by teachers with the current system.

My own thoughts are that assessment with the sole purpose of gaining data rather than supporting the development and learning outcomes of the child cannot be justified.
Starting this testing at such a young age with such little educational benefit must be scrutinised to see if it is really the best way forward. 
Timeline of baseline assessment implementation
Baseline assessments were first planned to be implemented in September 2016. Many schools had made their choice and training was underway by January 2016; time and money had been spent.
Feb 2016        The pilot - ‘unreliable and disruptive’
Apr 2016         Baseline assessment  dropped
Aug 2016        EYFSP to remain as statutory
Oct 2016         Primary assessment inquiry
Apr 2017         Primary assessment report published
May 2017        Statutory Assessment Consultation
Sep 2017        Report on the consultation.

So, anything to be positive about?

•  There will be a large-scale pilot in 2019/20, however there was a pilot before… and the concerns raised were ignored until plans to continue with the full roll-out of the assessment were well underway. So hopefully after full evaluation of the pilot study any concerns and criticisms will be considered and action taken to amend the testing or abandon it to meet the recommendations.

The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile remains, it was recognised as a well-established, valued assessment and with a holistic view of child development. It is good that it has not been replaced by the more narrow new assessment. However, this means two statutory assessments are needed to meet two very different purposes, one to assist teaching and learning and the other to measure the progress of schools through comparing attainment in Reception to Year 6. Many schools and teachers may feel apprehensive of this much assessment for children so young in their first few weeks of formal school. It can be difficult to make statutory testing, with guidelines on how to administer it, seem like an ordinary part of an everyday lesson.
There will be a single commercial partner delivering and designing the assessment. This will better than the choice schools had last time between quite different assessment systems from multi-suppliers.
However, having been involved with publishers as a maths writer, I think it is a shame to only have one approved partner. Publishers will put a great deal of work and money into designing an assessment program, but there will be the risk of it being a complete waste of time if there is a ‘winner takes all’ situation. The ‘winners’ can spend more money on developing the assessment, however with no competitors there may be the temptation to produce the most economical test rather than the best test educationally.
The end of KS1 statutory assessments will be removed from 2023, once the new baseline assessment is fully implemented. However many schools may choose to continue with these and there will be a requirement for schools to report to parents in more detail at the end of KS1. As for infant, junior and middle schools there seemed no simple solution and this will be considered further, with details given by January 2018.

Further reading

11th report - Primary Assessment, published 1 May 2017
Parliamentary Education Select Committee findings

Primary Assessment in England, published September 2017
Government consulation response
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