If, like many education professionals, you’ve barely had more than a few moments to skim recent media headlines, you’d be forgiven for believing that the ‘controversial’ baseline assessments have been withdrawn. The reality is, however, that reception baseline assessments have not been scrapped.
Those who have had time to digest the news in more detail will be aware that:
- while it is true that the outcomes from the baseline assessments will not be used for accountability, schools can continue to use the baseline assessments as part of their own on-entry assessment of pupils
- the Department for Education (DfE) is continuing to cover the cost of approved baseline assessments for local-authority-maintained schools, academies and free schools.
Following the announcement that baseline assessments would not be used for school accountability purposes, some media sources incorrectly reported that baseline schemes were not reliable; what the study, commissioned by the DfE, actually said was that the schemes were not comparable (because they were measuring different things). The good news for schools who want a baseline assessment that gives accurate and useful outcomes is that NFER is continuing to offer its reception baseline assessment in 2016/2017. In response to positive user feedback from 2015, the NFER Reception Baseline Assessment remains the same but we have improved the reports to make it even better this year.
The importance of on-entry assessment
Most Reception practitioners already do some form of on-entry assessment, and have been doing this since long before the DfE announced their intention to introduce baseline assessments as a formal accountability measure. There is a clear need to gather information on pupils as they start Reception, as understanding a child’s starting point enables teachers to tailor support to the child’s needs going forward. On-entry assessments also help with resource planning and enable the school to track the progress pupils make from week one.
With this in mind, the question faced by the majority of Primary schools is not if they continue with some form of baseline measure, but more how they continue. Reception practitioners can opt to gather information using their own methods, or they can use an approved baseline assessment. Schools that choose to use an approved scheme will be reimbursed for the cost of the assessment by the DfE.
Making the right choice
While the benefits of doing some form of on-entry assessment in reception do not need to be reiterated, it is important that schools choose a method of assessment that is right for them. Primary schools may decide to revert to their own on-entry assessment methods, but before doing so they should consider the benefits to using a standardised assessment such as NFER Reception Baseline Assessment.
A major benefit of a standardised assessment is that practitioners assess all children in the same way. To ensure comparability, NFER’s Reception Baseline assesses each child using a one-to-one approach and supplies all the necessary resources to carry out the assessment. Standardising the tasks and the contexts in which such tasks take place ensures every child has exactly the same opportunity to show what they know and can do. This ensures consistency in delivery, within and across schools, and therefore more comparable outcomes that are less open to interpretation. A further benefit of a standardised assessment is that it has been trialled on a nationally representative sample, so school outcomes can be benchmarked against national ones.
Feedback on the NFER Reception Baseline Assessment has been extremely positive. Early Years practitioners using our assessment in 2015 observed it as a very useful tool for:
- highlighting strengths and weaknesses for each pupil
- informing planning at individual, group and class level
- providing an accurate baseline from which pupil progress can be tracked
- allowing children and teachers to become familiar with each other.
Over 90 per cent of respondents to a survey about using the NFER Reception Baseline Assessment liked the one-to-one standardised nature of the assessment and the use of child-friendly practical resources.
So if you want to continue to use a baseline assessment in your school, or try one out for the first time, don’t be put off by the misleading headlines. You will find it to be a very useful tool, irrespective of whether it is used for accountability or not.