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The government’s response to the review of primary assessment and accountability, published yesterday, contained a mix of good and bad news.
It goes some way to address the disruptions and distractions in primary education over recent years, but perhaps it could have gone further.
The review attracted over 4000 responses and addressed the complex implications for assessment and accountability. It asked for views on the future of the statutory primary assessment system, including assessment in the early years, the starting point for measuring the progress that pupils make at primary school, and statutory end-of-key stage teacher assessment.
It’s a massive understatement to say that CEM knows about assessment.
We know that while getting primary assessment right may not be easy, but there are a few fundamental things that really will help. And the government’s response to the review reflects some of the essentials that formed the basis of our recommendations.
For over thirty years, CEM have recommended to policymakers and education professionals alike that a baseline measure should be established at the beginning of the reception class. It is great to see that a majority of respondents now agree with this position.
Children make more progress in the first year of school than at any other stage. It’s important to be able to record this progress whilst balancing the need for all children to feel comfortably settled into school. Taking a baseline measure early on will ensure high quality provision is valued and provide ways of measuring progress.
The caveat here is that if progress measures are used to judge school effectiveness, they must be supported by a range of other outcomes and measures and should include a process of continuous evaluation.
Any proposed baseline assessments should meet a comprehensive list of conditions, and these conditions should be established in consultation with a range of experts.
A baseline assessment should meet minimum requirements: the content should be linked to later outcomes; it must be manageable, child-friendly and appropriate for the full developmental range; it should be robust and acceptable to the teaching profession.
Schools should be expected to have high-quality, detailed assessment in place, and assessments should capture development; inform teaching and learning and measure progress right through school.
Therefore, we welcome the government’s decision to develop and reintroduce a baseline assessment by autumn 2020.
Unfortunately, the response to the review does not fully address the issues around the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP). We believe that there should be a comprehensive review of the way the EYFSP functions.
The profile, as it stands, has drifted from its original function when it was first introduced, and therefore the purpose of the assessment needs to be clarified, as it is only when there is clarity of purpose that an assessment can be effectively evaluated.
Additionally, we would recommend that the developmental pathways for children be clearly explained. Early learning goals should be aligned with the latest and best evidence about children’s development and the recommendation to emphasise a smaller number of goals is in line with this principle.
As they stand now, the assessment categories ‘emerging, expected, or exceeding’ are deeply flawed, arbitrary and have no empirical basis. A single cohort-based expectation makes no sense when the range of relative ages is so great and development varies so much even for children of exactly the same age. The government have said they will retain the existing assessment scales but will review the possibility of introducing an additional band within the ‘emerging’ scale and the descriptors underpinning these scales will be clarified.
The wealth of early years’ research conducted by CEM over the last 30 years highlights what every reception and primary educator knows about teaching young children – that the first year of formal schooling is crucial and getting it right from the beginning matters.