Baseline test sign-up plummets

Baseline test sign-up plummets

The baseline assessment provider chosen by more than half of England’s primary schools last year is expecting its numbers to plummet following the government’s decision to abandon the tests as a progress measure.

Jan Dubiel, Early Excellence’s national development manager, told Schools Week that schools were still signing up to his company’s assessment, but he projected that “by the end of May we will be in the low thousands”. Last year the organisation signed up more than 12,000 primary schools.

The Department for Education (DfE) announced last month that the controversial tests will no longer be used to track school performance in official tables.

The decision came in the wake of a comparability study, first received by the department on January 6 but not published until last month, which showed the three approved assessments were not comparable. This confirmed a Schools Week’s investigation that also revealed the report was sitting in the department back in February.

Providers of the ditched tests said they were always aware of the study, but claimed their approaches were never going to be comparable because the approved assessments were not designed to be similar.

The assessments, introduced last autumn, required teachers to test four and five-year-olds in their first weeks in the classroom so their progress could be measured throughout primary school.

Teachers criticised the tests as a distraction and several unions called on school leaders to withdraw while they were still optional.

Primary schools can continue using the tests, which will be funded by the DfE for another year, but there is little incentive now they will not be used to track progress.

Dubiel said Early Excellence’s assessment, a model that involves observations rather than formal tests, was “getting quite a broad response” considering schools did not have to use it now.

“We will wait and see how it goes,” he said.

“What we found last year was that it took a while for schools to start signing up and then as time got to the end, because there was a cut-off date, the numbers generated so that might happen again.”

Rob Coe, director of Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, another approved provider, said his company had also received a “good” response following the DfE announcement last month.

“We were a bit uncertain whether a lot of schools would want to pull out but it doesn’t look that way at the moment,” he said.

“I don’t know what the total numbers will be but it is more positive that I had perhaps worried about.

“It may not be part of accountability now but it is still part of wanting to track where children are at and how they are going.”

A spokesperson for the National Foundation for Educational Research, the third provider, said their recruitment numbers “remain confidential” but that there had been “continued interest” in its assessments although “it is early for schools to order”.

The jettisoning of the tests was just one in a number of troubles for primary testing this year.

The spelling, punctuation and grammar tests for all year 2 pupils were scrapped last month after material had been accidentally released months in advance, and answers to a key stage 2 English test, sat by pupils earlier this week, were also leaked online.