Children are highly sensitive and intelligent, and their competencies are dependent upon the environment in which they find themselves. Young children express these social and cognitive competencies through a multitude of ways as Loris Malaguzzi pointed out in the following poem:
The One Hundred Languages of Children
The child is made of one hundred.
The child has a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
a hundred, always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds to discover
a hundred worlds to invent
a hundred worlds to dream.
The child has a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and Christmas.
They tell the child
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
that do not belong together.
And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says
"No way- The hundred is there."
Baseline assessment, by judging young children when they first walk through the reception door at aged four, with a battery of simplistic yes/no statements is indeed stealing their expressive and creative languages.
To attempt to reduce young children's complex learning, competencies and abilities to a single number is not only absurd but deeply disrespectful. Why do that? Why place the heavy weight of primary school accountability on a four-year-old's small shoulders? Is that not disrespectful to that child?
Baseline is disrespectful to families because it will label and group their children as either succeeding or failing. With a baseline report on their children in the first term of their schooling experiences, they will be given a fixed so-called 'ability'. How is that helpful?
Baseline assessment is potentially deeply divisive and will serve to further alienate particular families whilst other families will train their children to do well at the baseline. School's baseline assessment scores may become published on a school's web page so families can compare and rank different schools, leading to certain families moving to areas with higher scores. Why deliberately widen the attainment gap and exacerbate difference in this way?
Finally, baseline assessment is disrespectful to reception teachers because all early years teachers already do extensive baseline assessment, tracking and prediction!
Why do teachers need to perform yet another baseline assessment on top of the one they already do that is useful for them? Why does the government distrust what teachers are already doing?
Distrust and disrespect runs through the heart of baseline as it ignores, belittles and bullies young children, their families and early year’s teachers.
Surely it is time for the government to listen to children, families and teachers and to be respectful of their competencies, abilities and hard work!
ATL and NUT jointly commissioned research into the implementation of the baseline assessment, undertaken by Dr Alice Bradbury and Dr Guy Roberts-Holmes of the Institute of Education, UCL and published on 25 February 2016. Find out more on the ATL website.