The Department of Education’s proposed £10 million baseline assessment for four year old’s starting reception has been rejected in the strongest of terms by a coalition of experts and concerned parents.
More than a Score – which represents numerous education groups, experts in education, early years education, psychology, psychotherapy, teaching unions, parent groups and children’s rights campaigners presented the government with a detailed report on the dangers posed.
So controversial are plans that Early Excellence, a supplier of other government assessments for children, pulled out of the bidding process on the basis that it was impossible to reliably test four year old’s and that results would be meaningless.
More than a Score’s report details the serious damage that can be done to children by the proposed testing. Despite the unreliability of testing at this age, children are treated differently as a result of scores. Tests often increase the belief from adults that ability can be defined from this young age, streaming children according to the results meaning they do in fact become self fulfilling.
Baseline assessment has been shown to amplify differences between children and further disadvantaging those with initial challenges.
Summer born children are unfairly impacted , consistently scoring lower in early assessments, resulting in reduced expectations and being placed into the lower groups. They are regularly over-identified as having Special Educational Needs when they are merely younger, not less able.
“I did have children that were crying and I just couldn’t get anything out of them at all because they were too upset to do anything, even when I left it later on. Some children just refused or just weren’t ready and I know they said you only assess them when they are ready, but some children, well, you got to the point where you had to assess them because it had to be done whether they were ready or not.”
Children whose first language is not English and poorer children are likewise impacted.
The tests also make children upset and fearful about school, about their abilities at a time when they need to be reassured and helped to settle in.
Some children looked at me and said ‘I can’t read’ when asked to read parts of the assessment. It was heartbreaking to see their reaction to it and I spent a lot of time reassuring children. (W, Centre for Educational Measurement, Durham University, user) (Bradbury and RobertsHolmes, 2016b)
These assessments which focus on a very narrow range of skills and attainment inevitably further increase the pressure on early years education. Nursery staff are increasingly being encouraged to make children “school ready” by introducing formal study at younger and younger ages, resulting in yet further reductions of creative play and movement which we know to be vital to children’s development.