Teachers question accuracy of baseline assessment - ATL/NUT survey

Press release
12 February 2016 by ATL Media Office
Baseline assessment does not accurately reflect what four-year-olds can do and disrupts their start to school when many are in education for the first time, according to research* carried out for ATL and the NUT by UCL Institute of Education.

Baseline assessment does not accurately reflect what four-year-olds can do and disrupts their start to school when many are in education for the first time, according to research* carried out for ATL and the NUT by UCL Institute of Education.

Teachers also do not think the assessment provides much valuable information about their new pupils.

The research involved an online survey of over 1,000 ATL and NUT members and interviews with staff and parents from five primary schools in England, and was carried out in the autumn of 2015.

The key findings are:

  • 60% of teachers do not think baseline assessment scores give an accurate reflection of children's attainment
  • Only 8% of teachers think baseline assessment is a fair and accurate way to assess children
  • 59% say baseline assessment had disrupted children's start at school
  • 54% do not think baseline assessment has helped teachers to get to know their pupils
  • 71% do not think baseline assessment has helped teachers identify the needs of SEN pupils
  • 68% do not think it has helped identify the needs of EAL children
  • 31% say baseline assessment has damaged the relationship between pupils and teachers
  • Only 7% think baseline assessment is a good way to assess how well primary schools perform.

Sixty per cent of teachers and school leaders do not think the baseline assessments, introduced in primary schools in England in September 2015, accurately reflect children's attainment. They felt four-year-olds are too young for testing, particularly in their first six weeks of school when children are getting used to new routines and getting to know new adults. Only 8% think baseline assessment is a fair and accurate way to assess children.

In addition, only 7% think baseline assessment is a good way to measure a school's performance because of the problems of accurately assessing four-year-olds and the variability of children's patterns of progress and development (in primary school).

Fifty-nine per cent of teachers say baseline assessment had disrupted children's start at school. Some schools found it took a lot of children's class time, some schools did activities relating to the assessment, while others stopped teaching the children involved during the assessment weeks.

  • Respondent quote: "There is no time given to these poor little children to settle in before they are assessed and in our school they are put into ability groups based on these results."

Teachers have mixed feelings about the impact of baseline assessment on building relationships with their pupils during this critical settling-in time which is some children's first experience of formal education. Fifty-four per cent of teachers felt baseline assessment did not help them get to know their pupils.

Teachers feel baseline assessment has a limited role in helping to identify children with special needs and those who may need more help, such as those for whom English is an additional language and summer born children. Seventy-one per cent said it did not help identify SEN pupils and 68% that it did not help identify EAL children.

  • Respondent quote: "We don't need this to identify groups. We know our children and the 'groups' they fall in due to our observations and interactions."
  • Respondent quote: "I just felt it excluded children with SEN and does not give you a clear idea as to where they any child actually is."

Teachers, however, say baseline assessment is having a significant impact on their workloads. Eighty-two per cent say baseline assessment has increased teachers' workload in the classroom and 84% says it has increased their workload outside classes. It has generated extra work including training, time to make judgements, discussions with colleagues and inputting data. Seventy-five per cent say baseline assessment is an additional burden on reception teachers, which is a serious problem when teachers are already struggling with excessive workloads.

  • Respondent quote: "It took much too long for each child to complete the assessment and they often became tired and irritable, and it took a lot of time out of class for teachers."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, (ATL), said: "The Government would be wrong to push ahead with baseline assessments in the light of this research. It is questionable how far any form of assessment can accurately show the knowledge and skills of a four-year-old. Children are not robots and do not develop at a regular rate, so we have grave concerns about the reliability of measuring their progress from age four to 11."

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: "This research shows that teachers have no confidence in baseline as something that will produce fair and accurate results and that it can also have a negative impact on children's start to school and the relationships that they develop with their teachers.

"Baseline is part of a punitive system used to de-professionalise and demoralise teachers and punish schools. It is not about supporting education and has no place in our schools. Children's education and wellbeing are being treated as less valuable and important than accountability measures. We continue to oppose baseline assessment and call on the Department for Education to withdraw it."

Dr Alice Bradbury, UCL Institute of Education, said: "The study found that baseline assessment is seen by teachers as ineffective and potentially damaging because it is time-consuming, distracts from the important settling in period in reception and does not provide any additional useful information. There are serious doubts about the accuracy of baseline as an assessment, particularly given the age of the children, and as a result there are real questions over its value in education."

Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes, UCL Institute of Education, said: "Reception teachers already carry out thorough and meaningful baseline assessments in authentic and meaningful play based contexts. They use these detailed and careful observational assessments for tracking and development. So, reception teachers are frustrated that their professional expertise in assessing young children is not respected by this new baseline. They also resent having to pay private companies for accountability training and analysis."

Additional quotes from respondents:

  • "The data is skewed and it didn't give an accurate result of children's ability on entry."
  • "Baseline assessment is the biggest farce I have undertaken during my entire teaching career, the potential for children to guess at answers or to misinterpret things is too vast to give a clear representation of where children are at."
  • "Appalling form of unnecessary assessment. Goes against the principles of ethical and purposeful assessment in the EYFS. Serves no other purpose than to give the government another tool with which to bash teachers. Why change the system of EYFSP when it was perfectly adequate? I can see how this is already damaging to teachers and children, and this kind of poorly considered policy makes me want to leave the profession."
  • "I find the awarding of a point score to four and five-year-olds unhelpful and fail to see how it can be an accurate predictor of future performance. I worry it will lead to sample tests being produced which will encourage parents to drill children. I see it as another assault on a play based curriculum."

Notes:

  1. *The research was carried out in the autumn term of 2015, using a nationwide survey and five primary school case studies by Dr Alice Bradbury, Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes and Emma Jones from UCL Institute of Education.
  2. The survey was completed by 1,131 ATL and NUT members, of whom 50% were reception teachers, 38% early years foundation stage or phase leaders, 7% senior leaders and 5% support staff or other school staff.
  3. The five primary school case studies involved 35 interviews: 13 with reception teachers, two with EYFS co-ordinators or assistant headteachers, five with headteachers, and 15 with parents. The schools were: a London community school with three form entry, a South England community school with two form entry, a South West community school with four form entry, a West Midlands Church of England voluntary controlled school with two form entry, and a North community school with three form entry. The first four were rated good in their most recent Ofsted inspections, and the North school was rated outstanding. All the schools used the Early Excellence Baseline Assessment.

Notes to editors

  1. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) is an independent, registered trade union and professional association, representing approximately 170,000 teachers, headteachers, lecturers and support staff in maintained and independent nurseries, schools, sixth form, tertiary and further education colleges in the United Kingdom.

  2. ATL exists to help members, as their careers develop, through first rate research, advice, information and legal advice.

  3. ATL is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and Education International (EI). ATL is not affiliated to any political party and seeks to work constructively with all the main political parties.