Controversial test for four-year-olds unveiled

Group Of Pre School Children Answering Question In Classroom

The government has unveiled plans to roll out the testing of all four-year-olds in their first few weeks at school, says a report in The Guardian. Ministers say the new tests will enable schools to measure progress in primary education and thus give a better measure of a school’s effectiveness. Critics argue that this measure will lead to some children being labelled as low ability.

More than 700 academics, early years experts and teachers have signed an open letter opposing the new national tests for four-year-olds that are due to begin in September 2020. They say the tests are both pointless and unreliable.

Despite opposition from teachers about the scheme, the government are pressing ahead and have announced that NFER (National Foundation for Educational Research) have won the contract to begin testing in 2020. The rationale behind the testing is to make the accountability of primary schools fairer. It puts the spotlight on progress, rather than the ability children already possess.

The government attempted to introduce baseline assessments for reception classes in 2015. The DfE insisted on using several private providers, but research showed the different assessments were incomparable, so the scheme was scrapped.

Now the reshaped testing scheme is back on the agenda. However, it’s not without considerable opposition from teachers and education experts. Even assessment experts who ran the previous baseline scheme are speaking out against the proposals.

In a report on baseline testing published by TES, academics and education experts opposed to the scheme say “The tests risk children’s wellbeing and confidence by interrupting the crucial early period when they are forming relationships and settling into school.

“And many schools will teach to the test so that early years education will become more narrow and formal. This is not good for children.”

The baseline tests involve a 20-minute one-to-one assessment. The scheme will cost up to £10 million to develop. The largest teaching union is urging teachers to boycott pilot schemes to test children in the first weeks of starting school.

The More than a Score coalition, an alliance of parents, teachers and educational experts, which covers 16 teaching and early years’ organisations, argues that the proposed baseline tests will not produce valid results, and that there is a danger schools will play the game and lower baseline scores to make it easier to show progress later on. The group is also concerned that children will be streamed into sets too early on.

Speaking to The Guardian, Madeleine Holt of More Than a Score said: “There is no research evidence that four-year-olds can be reliably tested. The government has certainly not produced any.

“The score that the baseline test produces will not be a true picture of what children can do – yet it will be used to judge schools seven years later to assess whether they have enabled children to make enough progress.”

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