The Department for Education (DfE) is seeking schools to participate in a pilot of the reception baseline assessments (RBA).

The RBA, which will become statutory in 2020, will consist of an activity based assessment of pupils’ ability in mathematics, and also in language, communication and literacy. The DfE says the assessments will be age appropriate and last approximately 20 minutes, and can be carried out by schools any time within the first 6 weeks of children starting school.  No numerical score will be shared with the teacher, but they will receive a series of short, narrative statements that tell them how their pupils performed in the assessment. These can be used to inform teaching within the first term.

The DfE also say the data from the assessments will not be used to label or track individual pupils, but will instead be used at the end of year 6 to form school-level progress measures, showing the progress pupils make from reception until the end of key stage 2 (KS2). The DfE will publish these measures for all-through primary schools for the first time in Summer 2027, when those pupils who entered reception in autumn 2020 reach the end of KS2. The pilots will therefore not contribute to the first published progress measures.

The proposed introduction of the RBA has been controversial, with some teaching unions, and sector organisations such as the Early Years Alliance, being vocal in their opposition to the assessments. In summer 2018 a panel, convened by the British Educational Research Association (BERA), called the proposed assessments ‘flawed’, ‘unjustified’ and ‘wholly unfit for purpose’. Among the specific criticisms made by the BERA panel was that the assessments fail to control for the effects of the different ages of the children taking them. In 2015 a previous attempt to introduce a form of RBA had to be abandoned when it was found that tests produced by three DfE approved providers were not comparable with one another. One of those previous providers, the National Foundation for Education Research’s (NFER) centre for assessment, has been selected as the sole provider for the new assessments.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said the introduction of the RBA was a ‘hugely important step forward in ensuring that we can fairly and accurately measure how effectively schools are helping children to progress while helping to reduce the burden of assessment for teachers’. He said the pilot would be ‘an opportunity for schools to familiarise themselves with this new assessment and help us make sure it works for children and teachers ahead of its scheduled statutory introduction in autumn 2020.’

However Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, saidIt’s incredibly disappointing, though unfortunately not surprising, that the government has chosen to push ahead with the roll-out of baseline testing despite widespread concerns from educators, parents and the wider early years and primary sectors. Rather than looking to assess children across a broad range of areas of learning and development, these reductive, inconsistent and often-unreliable tests instead take a narrow focus on easy-to-measure skills such as numeracy and literacy’.

The national voluntary pilot of the RBA will start in September 2019, and any state funded school with a reception cohort will be eligible to participate. Schools were due to receive communications from NFER on 1 March 2019 containing information about how to sign up for the pilot. The recruitment window opened on 1 March and will close on 5 April 2019.

Further details about the RBA: https://tinyurl.com/y9wh2dwo

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