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Teachers question accuracy of baseline assessment

12 February 2016

The test used to assess four-years old in reception class when they start school does not accurately reflect children’s ability at this age, according to research carried out by UCL for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the National Union of Teachers (NUT).

Reception class

Teachers believe that valuable information about their new pupils is not provided by the assessment and that it disrupts pupils’ start to school when many are in education for the first time.

The research, which was conducted by Dr Guy Robert-Holmes and Dr Alice Bradbury (UCL Institute of Education) in autumn 2015, involved an online survey of over 1,000 ATL and NUT members and interviews with staff and parents from five primary schools in England.

Research showed that 60% of teachers and school leaders did not think the baseline assessments, which were introduced into primary schools in England in September 2015, accurately reflect children’s attainment. They felt four-year-olds are too young for testing, particularly in their first six weeks of school when children are getting used to new routines and meeting new teachers. Only 8% thought baseline assessment is a fair and accurate way to assess children.

In addition, only 7% thought baseline assessment is a good way to measure a school’s performance because of the problems of accurately assessing four-year-olds and the variability of children’s patterns of progress and development.

59% of teachers said baseline assessment had disrupted children’s start at school. Some schools found it took up a lot of children’s class time, some schools did activities relating to the assessment, while others stopped teaching the children involved during the assessment weeks.

Teachers have mixed feelings about the impact of baseline assessment on building relationships with their pupils in this critical settling-in time, which is some children’s first experience of formal education. While 54% of teachers felt baseline assessment did not help them get to know their pupils, only 31% thought it had negatively affected the development of their relationship with their pupils.

Teachers also felt baseline assessment had a limited role in helping to identify children with special educational needs (SEN) and those who may need more help such as those for whom English is an Additional Language (EAL) and summer-born children. 71% said it did not help identify SEN pupils and 68% that it did not help identify EAL children.

Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes (UCL Institute of Education), said: "Reception teachers already carry out thorough and meaningful baseline assessments in authentic and meaningful play based contexts. They use these assessments for tracking and development. Reception teachers are frustrated that their professional expertise in assessing young children is not respected. They resent having to pay private companies for accountability training and analysis."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “The Government would be wrong to push ahead with baseline assessments in the light of this research. It is questionable how far any form of assessment can accurately show the knowledge and skills of a four-year-old. Children are not robots and do not develop at a regular rate, so we have grave concerns about the reliability of measuring their progress from age four to 11.”

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Rowan Walker

Tel: +44 (0) 203 108 8515

Email: rowan.walker [at] ucl.ac.uk