30th April 2020

Reception Baseline Assessment: A Flawed and Inappropriate Test

Recently, Dr. Guy Roberts-Holmes, conducted research into the pilot of the Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) which can be found here. He has kindly written this summary for us:


The Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) is not concerned with children’s care, holistic learning and development. It is a numerical accountability measure to judge early years and primary teachers’ performance and provides decontextualized data for the DfE’s competitive schools market. It is a maths and literacy computer test for four year olds designed as a basis for measuring progression across seven years of primary school.

RBA, if implemented, establishes as routine the testing of four year old children in the first six weeks of their schooling through a computer script that minimises meaningful teacher-child relationship and care. Given the current crisis context, RBA is an unnecessary distraction away from the care and attention young children need to catch up on the many learning opportunities they have missed. In the research, teachers stated that their existing on-entry baseline assessments were already carefully aligned with the holistic and meaningful Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Teachers’ baseline assessments, with their focus on children’s well-being and care, are much more appropriate than the RBA.

The research demonstrated that children were aware that they were being tested in school-based early literacy and numeracy and some experienced a sense of test failure, anxiety and stress. This was something that teachers felt could potentially lead to the unintended consequence of some four year olds labelling themselves as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ learners. Teachers were concerned that RBA inadvertently ‘labelled’ particular children such as EAL (RBA is only conducted in English), summer-born, disadvantaged and SEN children, contributing to low expectations at the beginning of their school journey. Only 20% of teachers believed that RBA provided an accurate picture of children’s current attainment.

During the first six weeks of Reception class, RBA took teachers out of their classrooms and disrupted their careful ‘settling in’ routines and crucial relationship-building with children. Establishing consistent day-today classroom routines became difficult for Reception teachers who were out of class administering the RBA. This in turn had a negative impact on teaching assistants who were left to manage the class on their own. 83% of teachers stated that their workload had increased with RBA as it took 20 to 30 minutes per child to complete.

Reception teachers felt conflicted and anxious in attempting to meet the formal school-based testing demands of RBA, and at the same time trying to settle and develop caring relationships through play, dialogue and meaningful activities with the children. This reconfiguring of Reception teachers away from their caring pedagogic values of observing and listening to young children and towards a screen-based scripted standardised test, led to professional unease, frustration and stress. RBA redefines the holistic care and well-being of young children as being attainment in prescribed, narrow, school-based academic goals.


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