2019 Autumn Term 2

The know zone

  • Reception baseline assessments
    ASCL Primary Specialist, Tiffnie Harris, gives an update on the new Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) pilots and says while overall feedback has been positive, there are some concerns. More
  • Building strong foundations
    Business Leadership Specialist, Hayley Dunn, shares top tips to help you work effectively with your school business leader. More
  • Collaboration wins the day
    Deputy Director of Policy, Duncan Baldwin, on why collaboration gets a 'gold star' and the DfE gets 'must do better'. More
  • Internal scrutiny
    While the new Academies Financial Handbook adds more regularity burdens on trusts, if employed correctly, the scrutiny undertaken can add significant value to trusts and reassure trustees that key risks are being mitigated effectively, says James Taylor from Cooper Parry. More
  • Mobile coverage
    Do you allow mobile phones to be used in class or do you have an outright ban on usage? Are they useful or are they a hindrance in your school or college? Here, ASCL members share their views. More
  • Equality for all
    Chief Executive Officer Kamal Hanif OBE has been a member of ASCL Council since 2015 and is on the Council's Ethics, Inclusion and Equalities Committee. More
  • Little wonders
    A new intake of 11 year-olds is a colourful, joyous - and well-equipped - thing to behold. If only we could bottle that initial courage and infectious passion for later years, says one head. More
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ASCL Primary Specialist, Tiffnie Harris, gives an update on the new Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) pilots and says while overall feedback has been positive, there are some concerns.

Reception Baseline Assessments

From September 2020, RBAs will be statutory – aiming to test reception-aged children within their first six weeks of starting school, with the intention of creating a school-level progress measure from Reception to Year 6. But is this a fairer system for schools and a less stressful experience for our children?

Approximately 9,300 primary schools out of a potential 15,000 have taken part in the pilot and the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) says feedback received so far has been “positive”.

This autumn, the STA has ramped up its RBA communications, recognising the need to make up lost ground with parents. A new, parent-facing video has been added to YouTube, presented by a headteacher involved in the trial, and a ‘campaign page’ extends efforts to explain the baseline assessments and what they will be used for – see https://tinyurl.com/y4rull8m

Additionally, a document published by the DfE (https://tinyurl.com/yxh64uko) presents a strong correlation between 2015 baseline and 2018 Key Stage 1 results.

While we agree that high-stakes test-based accountability has impacted negatively on how we evaluate primary schools, we do recognise that testing is an important aspect of pupil learning. I observed the assessments in three pilot schools and my initial thoughts were that they provided a great opportunity for twenty minutes of one-to-one time between teacher and pupil. Surely, this can only be a good thing.

Fine tuning

Nevertheless, some less than positive points have been raised. One is that the mark scheme needs some refining, as it can be vague when it comes to deciding whether the pupil’s answer is right or wrong, particularly if a child hesitates. Some children will inevitably lose focus in the middle of an explanation (repeating is not allowed), and this is unfair, despite guidance indicating tests can be paused if required. Testing four year-olds will always throw up issues, and unexpected out-ofthe- box responses to some questions scores ‘nil points’.

Some pupils are nowhere near ready to be tested so early on, and this is not just limited to SEN and EAL children. The Assessment Framework published in February 2019 states “[the RBA] has been designed so that pupils with SEND and those learning English as an additional language can participate” but some school leaders disagree.

Timings raise additional concerns. Although the baseline must be taken within the first six weeks of a child starting school, it can be taken at any time of the day and by any school professional. This could create inconsistent comparisons between school data, especially if it transpires that these tests will be used to assess a school’s effectiveness.

The baseline will assess literacy, maths, language and communication skills but there will be no pass mark. Information will not be shared with a school until the cohort reaches the end of Year 6, and then the information will be used to form a cohort-level progress measure.

While the new assessments may not be perfect, some headteachers may see at least one positive – RBAs mean that there will no longer be a need for statutory end of Key Stage 1 assessments.

I continue to urge primary and secondary leaders to work together in understanding each other’s accountability pressures and hope these trying times may act as a progressive springboard.

ASCL Primary Conference

30 January 2020 in London

The programme for our Primary Conference is in direct response to the growing needs of our members, with a strong set of speakers including talks by Ofsted National Director, Education, Sean Harford and Managing Director of FFT Aspire, Paul Charman. Find out more and book your place at www.ascl.org.uk/PrimaryConference

Tiffnie Harris
ASCL Primary Specialist