IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Only 20% of teachers believe baseline assessment tests are accurate

26 February 2020

New research by UCL Institute of Education (IOE) has found only 20% of teachers believe that the new Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) provides an accurate picture of current child attainment.

Girl using educational apps in early years and primary school

Additionally, 84% of survey respondents stated that RBA was an unreliable or inaccurate way to measure children’s progress over seven years of primary school.

The research analysed survey responses from 1285 early years and primary teachers, and in-depth interviews with six case study primary schools. It was commissioned by the National Education Union (NEU).

The RBA is being trialled in half of all primary schools in England. The test is supposed to be a 20-minute one-to-one assessment between pupils and teachers conducted in the first few weeks of pupils starting school. It aims to assess language, communication and literacy skills and maths.

The researchers found 69% of teachers believe the RBA has not helped to develop positive relationships with pupils. Despite the estimated length of assessment being 20 minutes, respondents commented that the tests consume teacher time and interfere with the settling-in period which is important to children’s first experience of school.

83% of teachers said carrying out the assessment increased their workload. In order not to interfere with early experience of reception class, some teachers administered the baseline test in their own time.

One respondent said: “[I have] to use all of my PPA [planning, preparation and assessment] time to complete the Baseline as I cannot leave the other 29 new children with one TA [teaching assistant]. This means the work I would have completed in PPA time is being done at lunchtime or after school. After completing the Baseline I will still have to do our usual on-entry assessments.”

Survey respondents with length of service under 3 years (13%) regarded the RBA more positively than respondents with 3-12 years (2%) and over 12 years (3%).

Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes, Principal Investigator, said: “Baseline assessment is at odds with what we know about child development. Instead of building confidence and trusting relationships through active play, children are forced to sit still for up to half an hour to complete an inappropriate screen-based, tightly-scripted literacy and numeracy test. For some four-year-olds, trying to settle into their first experience of school, it creates inappropriate stress, emotional upset and uncertainty. 

“Contrary to claims that children don't know they're being tested, we found that children are well aware that they are taking a scripted computer test, and that they have a sense of whether they've performed well or badly. There is a danger that they will then label themselves as good or bad learners. There are strong grounds here for parents to be concerned.”