Children’s author Philip Pulman is among 80 signatories to a letter published in the Guardian today urging the government to scrap assessments for four and five year olds, but assessment providers have rebuffed the criticisms.
The letter refers to calls by campaigners for reception baseline assessments to be stopped because they “are statistically invalid, will formalise a testing culture from the age of four, will be used to judge teachers and schools, and most importantly, will be dangerous for children”.
Six approved assessment providers were announced by the government in February, and two have now responded to the criticism.
Jan Dubiel, national development manager of Early Excellence, told Schools Week he “shared the concerns” in the letters but explained that their assessment product meant children did not need to be withdrawn for testing and avoided disruption.
“The child does not go out of the room. It is designed to fit into good everyday practice.”
“Not all baselines are the same, and ours is significantly different from the other five. It looks at maths, literacy and language and also at the other primary areas – including physical development, personal, social and emotional development and the characteristics of effective learning.”
Professor Rob Coe at the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring (CEM) at Durham University also denied that the assessments were statistically invalid or that CEM’s assessment would be “traumatic or harmful in any way”.
“Some of the claims are just wrong – such as saying that they are statistically invalid and unreliable. Reliability is one of the main criteria for accreditation.
“Suppliers will have had to give evidence of that when they were applying,” he added.
All providers of the baseline assessment must sign up approximately 1,700 schools before the end of April to retain their approved status. Early Excellence has already signed up 3,700 schools – more than double the threshold.
CEM would not comment on the number of schools recruited so far, but Professor Coe said that their assessments have been used voluntarily by schools for over 20 years.
Professor Coe said: “This has been a completely free and voluntary choice by teachers, because it gives them information it would otherwise not get just by observation.”
Responding to claims that the assessments were dangerous for children, he said: “I don’t think that’s accurate. Of the 3.5 million children who have taken our assessment there is no suggestion from children, parents or anyone that this has been traumatic or harmful in any way.”
The letter is signed by educationalists, early years specialists, psychologists and the general secretary of the NUT Christine Blower. It says the new baseline assessments will be debated at the NUT annual conference on Saturday, where the first motion on the agenda calls for a “different vision for primary education”. Delegates will be asked to vote on a possible boycott of the tests.
The letter says the union will also be asking parents to take part in the campaign by “telling schools they do not want their children to be subjected to this damaging experiment”.
According to Professor Coe, when baseline assessments are used for accountability it does add complexity to their use.
He added: “I think that the whole accountability system and use of testing needs to be looked at again … We need to make it more sensible.”
The other four approved baseline providers are GL Assessment, Hodder Education, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and Speech Link. GL Assessment and Hodder Education said they did not wish to comment on the contents of the letter. NFER and Speech Link did not respond in time for publication.