Beginning a journey

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As the new school year draws near, many teachers will be planning the ‘educational journey’ for their new students, and knowing precisely where all of your students are starting from is invaluable.

Making a good start

Few would argue against the need to make sure children get off to a good start in school to ensure their later educational success. Recent government-led educational initiatives around the world have commonly reinforced this message and the Starting Strong study by the OECD provides good evidence that developing high quality early years provision is a worthwhile investment. Good early educational experiences secure basic skills for young learners, allowing them to thrive and make the transition into the primary phase more easily.

As teachers know, when they first encounter their new class at the start of the school year, the range of abilities and skills demonstrated by their students can often be wide. It is important that teachers quickly evaluate this range of ability so that they can plan effective learning provision, targeting support where required.

Establish a baseline

The need for detailed information is most often apparent at transition points, when teachers may be unfamiliar with their new students. For example, when children start the reception year, especially when they are joining from a number of different nursery or pre-school settings, the available information about students may be variable. In this situation, a baseline assessment is a great way to start the new year, for several reasons:

  • It allows practitioners to develop a comprehensive overview of what their new students can do in key areas of learning.
  • It forms an evidence base for grouping and supporting learners according to their developmental needs.
  • It provides a useful benchmark from which future progress may be measured.

Additionally, especially where baseline assessments are conducted one-to-one with a student, many teachers find it is a great opportunity to gather a wealth of additional information about what their students can do. For example, how familiar the student is with the conventions and mechanics of early reading or how methodically they approach problem-solving activities. More importantly, it also allows the students valuable time to become familiar and comfortable with their new teacher.

Build on the information you have gathered

Unless this newly acquired insight into your new students is quickly followed, the value of a baseline assessment may be diminished. Tymms et al (2018) highlight the value of early intervention. They make the point that young learners are particularly malleable and receptive to carefully targeted teaching.

The authors also refer to Demetriou et al (2017) who advised that interventions should be timed to focus on enhancing specific abilities that are developing in ‘time windows’. Their study found children’s early reading and mathematics abilities significantly developed during their first year at school in England and effective education during this ‘time window’ could have long-term benefits.

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Demetriou, A., Merrell, C. & Tymms, P. (2017). ‘Mapping and Predicting Literacy and Reasoning Skills from Early to Later Primary School.’, Learning and Individual Differences, 24 (2017) pp. 217-225.

Tymms, P. and Merrell, C. and Bailey, K. (2018). 'The long-term impact of effective teaching.', School effectiveness and school improvement, 29 (2) pp. 242-261.