August 2018

The know zone

  • Summer term blues...
    'Common knowledge' has it that teachers not only spend a large proportion of the year on holiday but also have a full half-term to recharge their batteries in preparation for that big six-week 'sit-off'. If only it were that simple, says one head... More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
  • What's your favourite book?
    With the end of the summer term in sight, bringing with it a chance, hopefully, for you to unwind and maybe read a book or two, we asked what you enjoy reading. Fiction or non-fiction, novel or biography, here are a few suggestions from ASCL members and staff. More
  • Ready for transition?
    Kevin Gilmartin examines the proposed 'transition year' for 16 year-olds. More
  • Time for reflection
    Self-evaluation is almost always a useful process, but as with most leadership activities, the trick is to ensure the cost/benefit ratio works in your favour, says Stephen Rollett. More
  • Hub of expertise
    A new website, supported by ASCL, offers schools and colleges a valuable chance to share best practice and resources on special educational needs and disability (SEND). Anna Cole highlights the details. More
  • New starting point
    As the pace picks up on plans to introduce the controversial new Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA), Julie McCulloch looks at how the assessment will work and how it will be used. More
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As the pace picks up on plans to introduce the controversial new Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA), Julie McCulloch looks at how the assessment will work and how it will be used.

New starting point

It doesn’t take much to reignite the controversy around the Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA). The government’s announcement, in April, that the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) had been awarded the contract to develop the new assessment, led to a fresh wave of anxiety about ‘testing tots’. This came in the same week in which the National Education Union (NEU) (National Union of Teachers (NUT) section) had voted to campaign against the new assessment, using industrial action if necessary.

The RBA has had a chequered history. A previous attempt to introduce a Reception baseline, in 2015, collapsed due to a lack of comparability between the three different suppliers chosen to develop the assessments.

Attracted by the prize of a progress measure that started from the beginning of primary school, rather than partway through (and by the accompanying possibility of reducing the assessment burden on children by getting rid of the Key Stage 1 SATs), the government again mooted the idea of a Reception baseline in its 2017 primary assessment consultation. Rather to the DfE’s surprise, a majority of respondents to the consultation came out in favour of the idea (including, with caveats, both ASCL and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT)), and a second attempt to introduce it was launched.

There are some important differences between the 2015 and current approach. Crucially, lessons have been learned about the multi-supplier model, and this time the government appointed a single supplier (NFER) to develop and deliver the assessment.

So what will the assessment look like and how will it be used?

The RBA will be a short (approximately 20 minute) interactive assessment, administered by Reception teachers or teaching assistants (TAs). It’s likely to involve activities such as teachers asking children to look at a picture and point out various things in it, or to put teddy bears into groups. These activities are intended to assess children’s knowledge and skills in language and communication, early maths and self-regulation.

The intention is that the assessment will be inclusive and accessible to the vast majority of children, including most children with special educational needs or disability (SEND), or English as an additional language (EAL). ‘Discontinuation points’ will be included to indicate to teachers when to move on to the next task, when to omit a task and when to stop the test completely, to help ensure a positive experience for the child.

The plan is that the data from this assessment will only be used to create a baseline for school-level progress measures, not to track or label individual pupils or to judge the performance of early years settings. Importantly, a child’s score in the RBA will move with them if they change school. So, a school’s progress score will be calculated by the distance travelled by the pupils actually in their school at the end of Year 6, even if few (or none) of those children started at the school in Reception.

The question of who should be able to see the information from the baseline assessments is a tricky one, with which the DfE is still wrestling. On the one hand, there is an argument for ‘black boxing’ the data, to avoid any danger of young children being labelled or stigmatised. On the other, school leaders and teachers (and parents) argue that they have a right to know the results of assessments taken by their children – particularly if they are to play such an important role in the way their school is later held to account.

This question, among many others, will be considered during the trialling process. The assessment will be trialled with a selected sample of schools this autumn, before a national pilot, which all schools with Reception classes will be invited to take part in, in 2019/20. The intention is then to roll out the RBA as a statutory assessment in all schools in 2020/21.

The introduction of the Reception baseline was never going to be an easy ride. I’m pleased that the government is taking the time to do a full-scale pilot before making the assessment statutory, and reassured by NFER’s expertise. The best way to ensure the assessment is developed in a robust and valid way is, I believe, to stay close to the process, and to draw on the expertise of school leaders and teachers. I’ll be doing that on members’ behalf as part of the DfE’s RBA stakeholder group, and I would encourage any school selected to be part of the trial to embrace the opportunity to shape the new assessment to be as good as it possibly can be.

Julie McCulloch
ASCL Interim Director of Policy