The "basic" cost of administering the baseline assessment has been reimbursed by the DfE in this academic year 2015/2016 and there is a commitment to reimburse the cost in 2016/2017. It is unclear who will pay for the policy after this.
The situation is complicated because the various assessments that schools must choose from - NFER, Early Excellence, CEM - have different fee structures and produce widely different costs per pupil depending on cohort size.
By our calculations, this could range from around £8.50 per pupil for a cohort size of 30 under the NFER's paper-based scheme, to £1.50 or less per pupil under the online version of the same scheme, if the cohort is 150 pupils or more. On the national scale - across almost 17, 000 primary schools and 640,000 children in reception - this difference adds up to more than £1.7 million a year between the lowest-costing CEM scheme and the NFER paper-based one.
In addition to the millions coming from the public purse, many schools face significant additional costs which have put school budgets under further strain. These costs - over and above the sums the DfE have promised to reimburse - have been revealed by research undertaken by Dr Alice Bradbury and Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes from the Institute of Education, UCL, on behalf of ATL and NUT:
- training – to administer the baseline and analyse the data
- resources – to deliver the baseline (some had to redesign the reception curriculum for the baseline)
- supply teachers – so that the class teachers could run the baseline, input data or attend training.
Let’s remember too that the demands of baseline mean reception teachers have been taken away from their classes in the crucial first few weeks of school. I haven't even looked at the human costs of reception baseline here, which would require a blog post all of its own.
This assessment is not actually an assessment. Assessment just sounds nicer than “accountability instrument”, which is what this policy really is. It serves no real teaching and learning purpose, and the majority of reception teachers have chosen to run their real and meaningful baseline assessments alongside this policy.
We know the data from the baseline assessment is inaccurate. We know that you can’t use test scores from four-year-olds to predict future attainment at 11. We know that you can’t then use those predictions to measure “progress”.
We know that this policy will not work as an accountability measure. We know that this baseline assessment serves no legitimate teaching and learning purpose.
So here is my question – why are we wasting so much money on the reception baseline assessment?