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Early years experts launch petition against testing of four-year-olds

Over 2,000 people have already signed the petition on launched by the charity Early Education, calling for the withdrawal of the Baseline Assessment for four-year-olds.

From 2016, all primary schools in England will have to test children when they start school at the age of four. High-achieving schools will be able to opt out of the testing from 2023 and will be judged on the attainment of Year 6 pupils.

The Government claims that a Baseline Assessment of children’s literacy and numeracy as soon as they start school will enable their progress through the school to be measured better.

Schools Minster David Laws said: “The new system will mean higher standards, no hiding place for under-performing schools and coasting schools, and real credit being given to schools which may have challenging intakes but which improve their pupils' performance.

“I want to see all children leaving primary school with a good standard of reading, writing and maths so that they can thrive at secondary school. A better start at secondary school is a better start in life.”

However there is widespread concern among early years organisations over the policy. Beatrice Merrick, Early Education’s chief executive, said: “The proposals for baseline assessment programmes to be administered to four-year-olds in the first few weeks of Reception would subject children who are not yet of statutory school age - some barely past their fourth birthday - to assessments in the name of accountability, so that schools can demonstrate the ‘value’ they add between Reception and Year 6.

“However, the proposed assessments are not a reliable or valid source of data for this purpose, and so will not improve the quality of schools, and will not benefit children - in fact, for many the process could be harmful.”

Early years experts claim the specification for the assessments is flawed and will not produce valid or reliable data, so cannot provide the intended measure of school effectiveness.

They are also concerned that time spent on the assessments will hinder children's settling in at the start of their primary education. For a typical class of 30, a week of a teacher's time could be spent administering assessments instead of supporting children. There is also the worry that children who perform less well on assessments will be stigmatised and labelled as failing at the start of school, because the tests will not be age-adjusted or reflect that children's development is not linear, and will therefore discriminate against, among others, summer born children, boys and children with special educational needs.

This will damage the relationship between the school and parents at a crucial early stage, with further harmful effect on the child's education, according to the sector. Professor Cathy Nutbrown of the University of Sheffield, an eminent early years academic, is backing the call to ditch the tests.

She said: “Baseline Assessment was introduced in the late 1990s and scrapped a few years later, because it was not effective. This is a deeply flawed process and not a reliable way to learn about young children's learning and development.

“Assessment through ongoing observation and working with young children is the best way to support their learning. Baseline Assessment is not in the interests of young children, and wastes valuable time that would be better spent playing and learning.” Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance is also firmly opposed to the proposed Baseline Assessment.

He said: “Any assessments in the early years should be observational, with the aim of supporting children’s learning and development in the best way possible. This is not the case with the Baseline Assessment – the Government has openly admitted that its primary goal is to provide a mechanism through which schools themselves can be ranked and compared.

“Early years policy must always, without exception, have the needs of the child at its centre – but yet again, they have been completely overlooked. We hope that the education community will continue to work together to oppose this ill-thought-out proposal.”

February 2015