The Department for Education is to press ahead with its latest attempt to assess the abilities of four- and five-year-old children in their first weeks of full-time schooling, despite strong opposition from teaching unions.
The new assessments will be designed to gauge the levels of ability that children exhibit in language, communication, basic literacy and maths at the start of their reception year, when most children begin formal schooling aged four.
The pilot is part of an overhaul of state school accountability in England in order to chart the progress of pupils from entry until key stage two tests at the end of primary school, with key stage one tests previously taken at age seven being scrapped in preparation.
“The reception baseline assessment is 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,” said Nick Gibb, the schools minister, in announcing the opening of applications to take part in the pilot.
The National Education Union – the largest union operating in primary schools in England – voted overwhelmingly last year to boycott any pilot scheme run by the DfE. Delegates at the NEU’s national conference were told the proposed assessments were “expensive, damaging and immoral”.
But policymakers argue that the current measures fail to recognise the important progress that schools make with pupils between reception and year two, and do not show the different starting point from which pupils begin their education.
According to the DfE, the new tests will take about 20 minutes to carry out and can be administered at any time in the first six weeks of children starting reception class. The assessments will not carry any pass or fail mark and teachers will only receive brief statements showing them how pupils performed.
The DfE’s last attempt to impose an assessment for reception class entrants failed following a bungled introduction involving competing testing agencies, under policies championed by the then education secretary, Michael Gove. After commissioning multiple forms of assessment, primary schools signed up in large numbers for a low-tech version that was later found to be incompatible with the other types, meaning results could not be compared.