Baseline assessment: questions but not too many answers

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24 July 2015 by Anne Heavey
Here's a puzzle for you...

Q. In order to carry out an accurate reception baseline assessment of primary schools, what is the minimum number of schools that should be included in each sample?

A. According to the Department for Education, it's 1638 - or around 10% of all primary schools (based on the DfE's 2014 figures).

In February, the DfE told its six potential providers of the reception baseline that they would each need to sign up at least this many schools by 30 April in order to have their approved status confirmed. Schools would then be informed by 3 June if their chosen provider had been approved, the DfE said.

Or at least, that was the story back in February. Since then, the DfE has gone silent on the issue, missing it's own 3 June deadline to announce whether or not the providers had been successful.

Then at the start of July, a flurry of activity: the GOV.UK webpage on the reception baseline assessment was updated  to reveal that three providers (Early Excellence, CEM and NfER) had been approved. At the same time, all mention of the 10% target was removed.

Green MP Caroline Lucas and Labour MP Catherine West were sufficiently concerned about the lack of information on the issue to independently submit written questions on 15 July.

Q.  To ask the Secretary of State for Education, how many primary and infant schools have signed up to (a) the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, Durham University, (b) Early Excellence and (c) the National Foundation for Educational Research for provision of reception baseline assessment; how many primary or infant schools signed up to a provider which was unsuccessful in gaining approval as providers of such assessments; and how many primary and infant schools have not signed up to any provider. (Catherine West MP)

A. The Department for Education does not have final numbers of primary and infant schools signing up for the reception baseline. Schools are still able to sign up to their preferred choice form the list of three approved baselines ahead of the new academic year starting in September. (Nick Gibb MP)

Q. To ask the Secretary of State for Education, which schools opted not to do the Baseline Assessment tests in September and October 2015? (Caroline Lucas MP)

A. Schools are still able to sign up to their preferred choice from the list of three approved reception baselines. There is not yet a finalised list of schools that have not signed up to any of the providers. As of 30 April 2015, 2859 schools had not signed up to any reception baseline. (Nick Gibb MP)

Although hardly fulsome in response to either question, Nick Gibb helpfully provided a key piece of information that allows us to pose our own mind-bending brain-teaser:

Q: if Early Excellence have signed up at least 11,000 primary schools and 2859 schools have yet to choose a provider, is it possible for two other providers to have both reached the 10% target by the deadline?

A: No.

Our reasoning? 16788 primary schools - (at least) 11,000 signed to Early Excellence -  2859 yet to choose = 2929 primary schools.

Split equally between NFER and CEM, that allows for only 1464 schools each, far short of the DfE's original 1638 target.

In stark terms: at least one if not two of the three approved reception baseline assessment providers have failed to come anywhere close to meeting the conditions set by the DfE.

Nick Gibb’s opaque answers to Caroline Lucas MP and Catherine West MP suggests that the DfE has prioritised covering up the failure of the baseline assessment approval process over demonstrating that the new system can function as a sound and reliable accountability measure.

The DfE stated in 2014 that “the purpose of the reception baseline is for an accountability measure… we will use a reception baseline as the starting point from which to measure a school’s progress”.

How can the schemes be compared fairly and reliably when the standards that the DfE set to ensure that comparisons between schemes and schools can be robust have clearly not been met? This accountability measure is flawed even before any children have been assessed.

It is interesting that both NFER and CEM undertook research of the reception baseline assessment for the DfE.

The introduction of the reception baseline assessment is an extremely unpopular policy. In the government’s consultation only 34% of respondents were in favour of it and the legitimate and detailed concerns raised at the consultation stage were completely ignored by the government.

Schools made their decisions on this policy in good faith and the government has ignored their voices to preserve their pride and protect the interests of private companies.

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Very interesting and yer unsurprising in tge same breath. How much money wasted? Another good question