On April 25th this year, my daughter Isla and I gathered with a group of around 250 parents and Reception-age children in Parliament Square, in protest against the government’s plans to roll out standardised baseline assessments for 4- and 5-year-olds. We were there as part of an action organised by the campaign group More Than a Score, alongside the MPs Jack Dromy and Peter Kyle.
There was singing, pictures were drawn on the ground in chalk and flags were waved. We then marched down to Downing Street, where Isla and I, along with two other parents and their children handed in a petition to Downing Street with over 65,000 signatures objecting to introduction of baseline assessment. Quite a few bystanders came up to ask what the protest was about, and reacted with horror when we told them why we were there.
Isla is the fourth of my five children, and currently in nursery at a state maintained primary school. I’ve seen three children through the school system, without any undergoing formal assessment upon entry to reception, and I don’t believe that formal testing for children within the first six weeks of them entering full-time school is a good idea. That first term of reception should be about children finding their feet, settling down, developing their confidence, getting to know their classmates and becoming comfortable with their new teachers and surrounding environment.
I’m also concerned that the results gathered by baseline testing will be effectively locked away for seven years and then held up against Year 6 SATs results. Lines will be drawn and schools will be judged based on the development of a cohort starting seven years previously – which by that stage may include a substantial proportion of children who didn’t even start at the relevant school.
It’s an example of how the system is moving more in the direction of ‘stick’ than ‘carrot.’ Look at how much standardised testing children are now expected to do – officials are trying to turn children into data that they can use to hold schools to account, when there are far more important outcomes for children in primary settings. Their management of social situations, for example – their confidence levels, creativity, problem-solving skills, physical development.
I agree that there’s a need to track how each pupil has progressed, but that can be done sensitively via a series of informal assessments. Children are individuals – the systems we’ve had of formative and summative assessment recognise that.
I’d like to see headteachers stand up and say they’re not taking part in the baseline pilot planned for September this year. I want to see the idea scrapped – again – since this is the third time that it’s been floated. Above all, I want to see the DfE listening to school leaders, teachers and education professionals. They’re the people who know our children best, and those best-placed to assess them.
Kay Tart is a PTA co-chair and a North Hertfordshire District Councillor, representing Hitchin Walsworth