The Tories intend on rolling out compulsory tests for all children within the first 6 weeks of them starting primary school. They propose that children as young as four will be tested in numeracy, literacy and behaviour.
These baseline tests are designed to measure the abilities of all state school reception class pupils in England, and will judge their progress. The trial will cost £10m and will start in September. The tests are intended to be nationwide by 2020.
“Flawed and biased”
The plan to test 4-year-olds is being executed by the new Education Secretary Damian Hinds. It follows a November report from OFSTED that highlighted that a third of five-year-olds are not reaching the expected level of development in Reception. Disadvantaged children are struggling the most, with over half failing to meet expected levels and falling behind.
OFSTED inspectors said that reading and maths were not being taught well enough, and that schools should have ‘high expectations’ of Reception pupils to avoid creating ‘missed opportunities’.
Our main concern is that the research underpinning the report is flawed and biased. The report is based on visits to less than 0.25% of schools. It is quite apparent that Ofsted visited only those schools where the approach to teaching was congruent with the recommendations the report would later make – i.e. where teaching in reception classes was similar to teaching in Year One.
What this essentially means is: a narrowing of the reception curriculum to focus on literacy and maths; more adult-led, ‘formal’ teaching; and less recognition of the potential benefits of learning through child-initiated play.
The letter was signed by various child development experts, MPs, teachers, parents and more. Together, they urge ‘the government to review their plans regarding changes to the nature of the reception year’.
A tried and failed technique
This isn’t the first time that the Tories have attempted to introduce baseline testing in Reception. In 2015, Micheal Gove attempted a voluntary trial of assessment approaches, including baseline testing and simple observation of the children. The most popular was observation.
Members of the National Union of Teachers attending a conference voted unanimously in favour of persuading schools to refuse to take part in a pilot of the test, as a stand against baseline testing. NUT president Philipa Harvey said that it was a “crime” to test four- and five-year-olds on their arrival at school.
Just days later, the Department for Education halted the scheme, claiming it was impossible to compare the different approaches.
So, where has the roll-out of baseline testing Reception children come from? With absolutely no evidence to show it works, and with continuous opposition from experts, why is Damian Hinds pushing for this controversial approach?
‘Social inequality could be made worse by baseline tests’
After the trials, Alice Bradbury and Guy Roberts-Holmes, of University College London Institute of Education, researched baseline testing further. Roberts-Holmes told The Guardian:
The test risks making social inequality worse, as parents with high expectations will prepare their children, which could mean these infants have a higher score and that higher expectations will follow them throughout their school careers. The opposite could be true for children from disadvantaged homes.
According to The Guardian, even the companies who would have been expected to create the new test are declining, amid fears it could even be “immoral”.
Could children who are already disadvantaged be at even more risk because of these tests? And how about those born in the summer and are several months younger than most of their counterparts; those whose first language isn’t English; those who are perhaps a little shy, and are struggling to settle into school? These tests have the potential to set them up for failure throughout their education. Is this not discrimination?
Considering the failed trial, the uproar from teachers, parents and experts and the lack of evidence, it is hard to understand why any sensible government would push ahead with such obviously flawed, and potentially socially destructive plans.
It’s hard to imagine many parents supporting baseline tests, but if they do not speak out then they will have no choice. These tests will become compulsory by 2020 if we do not express our feelings about testing 4-year-olds.
Please sign this petition if you want to help stop the introduction of compulsory tests for children in Reception.
Share it with your friends and family and ask them to sign it, too. It isn’t too late to stop this from rolling out, but soon it will be. We must act now.
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