21st October 2019

The Local Government Information Unit policy briefing on reception baseline assessment

The Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) has this month published a policy briefing by Megan Pacey on reception baseline assessment (‘Assessing children at the start of schooling in England’). The briefing brings together the background on the government’s proposals and looks at the concerns raised by both professionals in the field and the parents of young children who will be required to complete it. The briefing will be read by many councillors and local policy-makers, and clearly reiterates many of the arguments against Baseline. The report is only available to LGIU subscribers, but the Unit has given us permission to publish an extract from the the briefing here:

Schools are increasingly accountable for providing a ‘good’ education. Children make more progress in the first year of school than at any other stage and it is important to be able to record this progress. How progress is assessed, how it is measured and how that then translates into holding schools accountable, is at the crux of the anxiety about Reception Baseline Assessment.
Early childhood educationalists believe that each child’s progress should be measured. In order for it to be worthwhile, it must support the learning of a child. To do that, it should:

  • Complement teacher assessment and observation
  • Provide information on what children know and can do that may not be picked up through observation alone
  • Help teachers identify areas for improvement and additional support.

As it stands, the Reception Baseline Assessment does none of these things. It has not been designed to support learning. Early childhood education professionals agree that assessing progress to measure teacher or school performance for accountability over a seven year period is at best, pointless, at worst, immoral.

Assessment for learning is a vital part of teaching. Ongoing formative assessment supports children while they are learning. It can engage children more fully and enrich their development. Critics of Reception Baseline Assessment use robust research evidence and practice which finds that assessment in the reception year should not be a one-off test, but an authentic professional judgement based on sensitive and observed assessment over time.

Most teachers in schools already make tentative judgements within a term of a child starting school, based on the age-stage bands of Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage which supports the end-of-phase EYFS profile. These informed, professional assessments can be used to the end of the reception year and beyond. The consensus from all but central government suggests that the money being spent on the introduction of the Reception Baseline Assessment would be better invested on developing teacher expertise to do this better.

The Local Government Information Unit is a think-tank founded on the basis that ‘public services are best when they are designed and delivered in the communities that need them by democratically elected, fairly funded local government’. Its members are councils and other organisations with an interest in local government from across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

Megan Pacey is a former Chief Executive of Early Education and adviser to the Nutbrown Review. She now works across a range of early childhood education public policy and practice areas. Her daughter, who started in Reception in September, recently took part in the Reception Baseline Assessment pilot at her infant school.


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