Education & Family

Ministers didn't listen over baseline tests, unions say

child doing test
Image caption Many teachers say young children face too many tests

The government has been accused of failing to listen to teachers after it was forced to shelve its controversial tests for reception pupils in England.

Ministers announced the tests would not now be used to measure progress as was intended, because the three systems approved for use are not "comparable".

Teaching unions had warned that using a choice of tests would be problematic.

National Union of Teachers' Christine Blower said: "Flaws in the scheme were well known to Early Years educators."

The NUT general secretary added: "They were pointed out to the Department for Education when it first consulted on the scheme.

"The attempt to make baseline work has cost millions, has prevented children from settling into their school and increased the workload of their teachers."

She added that it was "disingenuous" of the Department for Education to describe the scheme as "optional".

The DfE had said any school wishing to have the progress of their pupils reflected in primary school league tables, rather than just their raw results, would have to adopt one of the three baseline tests on offer from this September.

And hundreds of schools piloted the baseline tests last year.

Ms Blower said: "It (the DfE) pulled out all the stops to get schools to sign up and now, without a word of self-criticism for the months of disruption it brought to schools, it has pulled the plug."

'Inappropriate'

The NASUWT teaching union pointed out that the baseline assessment was to be a "core element of the DfE's proposed reforms" to the school accountability system.

Chris Keates, its general secretary, said it was "another example of the DfE failing to listen to teachers and school leaders in the development of policy".

"The NASUWT made clear from the outset that using different assessments to establish a common baseline was an approach that would always create problems in terms of the comparability of the outcomes produced by these different systems."

The DfE said, in a statement on Thursday, that it had always intended to carry out a comparability study of the three systems and the results meant that to use them as a baseline for a progress measure "would be inappropriate and unfair to schools".

But it stressed the government remained committed to measuring the progress of pupils through primary school and would "continue to look at the best way to assess pupils in the early years".

Schools are free to continue to use the systems they have bought into, with the basic costs of these being borne by the DfE.

Significant training

But Russell Hobby, head of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was not clear how many schools would do this.

He added: "Heads will be quite annoyed at the cost in terms of time and effort put into the baseline assessment.

"They will have had to evaluate the different providers. Some of the systems required significant training to use them like sending a member of staff on a day's training."

Liz Marsden, founder and director of Early Excellence, said her organisation would continue provide its assessment, EExBA, and work with schools.

"For us, and the whole early years community, learning is defined by more than academic attainment. We need a broad definition that takes into account emotional, mental and physical health, learning behaviours and dispositions.

"We urge the government to incorporate these features into any new assessment beyond 2016".

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