Questionable baseline assessments suggested by the Department for Education to assess the abilities of four and five year-olds have been abolished.
The validity of attempts to measure a child’s ability at such a young age were heavily disputed by teaching unions and some parents, arguing that children of this age were too young to assess.
The BBC recently reported that children as young as six were already feeling stressed by “exam pressure”, so it would have been wildly optimistic to think these tests would have been welcomed.
After conducting a study which assessed the comparability of the three testing systems, the DfE later came to the decision that competing providers would offer schools a choice.
Speaking to the Guardian, a DfE spokesperson said: “The comparability study has shown that the assessments are not sufficiently comparable to provide a fair starting point from which to measure pupil progress”.
Critics had already pointed out that they had led to children being grouped by ability at a young age, and added to teachers’ workload while giving them little useful information.
“It is hard to avoid saying ‘we told you so’,” a head teachers’ union commented drily to the BBC.
The National Union of Teachers had previously criticised baseline tests; it said it felt as though its campaign “made the government come to its senses.”
“What we need is for the government to discuss with us what appropriate assessment in early years education looks like. The qualified teachers working in early years would be only too pleased to share the good practice they have developed,” said Christine Blower, the NUT’s general secretary.”
Despite the U-turn, the DfE had already committed to funding the tests for 2016, so it will incur additional costs along with administration and training costs, due to the first round of assessments last September.
The education department is still committed to the principal of baseline testing and will continue looking in to how to best assess early years pupils, whilst Early Excellence, an independent provider, said that it would continue to use its version of the test next year.
Liz Marsden, director of Early Excellence, said: “For us, and the whole early years community, learning is defined more by academic attainment. We need a broad definition that takes in to account emotional, mental and physical health, learning behaviours and dispositions.”
“We urge the government to incorporate these features in to any new assessment beyond 2016.”
It has been suggested by TES that Ministers are now looking in to the possibility of a ‘schools readiness indicator’, as it is understood that the DfE wants to move away from a ‘single provider approach’ to any such assessment.