Baseline tests: DfE contradicts itself in bid to defuse protest

Janet Downs's picture

Expecting children as young as four to take tests when they join reception classes is challenged by both parents and teachers.  The petition opposing ‘baseline assessments’ has attracted 64,000 signatures.  A march will take place on 25 April  ending with the petition being handed in to Downing Street.

An article in Sunday’s Observer prompted an immediate response from the Department for Education.   Schools have nothing to fear: data from the tests ‘will only be used to form the progress measure’.  And it won’t be used to ‘hold providers to account’.

The claim that schools won’t be judged by the ‘progress’ made between baseline tests and Key Stage 2 Sats is rather undermined by the next sentence:

Schools should be accountable for the progress of all their pupils, throughout their time at primary school, and the reception baseline will help to provide a starting point to measure how well the school supports children to succeed.’

Results ‘will not be used to label or track individual children,’ the DfE says.  But this is also contradicted.  Baseline assessment results will be stored on the National Pupil Database (NPD) until the end of Year 6.  The NPD ‘is the richest education datasets in the world holding a wide range of information’ including exam results, ethnicity, first language, free school eligibility and exclusions for every single child in an English state school.

Schools will not be held to account.  Schools will be accountable.

Test results will not track individual children.   Test results will be stored for up to seven years on individual NPD records.

Classic cases of Doublethink.



FOOTNOTE:  In 2014, changes in the law allowed organisations including private companies to access the NPD under strict rules.   In 2016, the little-known Star Chamber Scrutiny Board decided to include nationality data on NPD records.  This was rushed through Parliament with little scrutiny.   A backlash against the requirement resulted in it being scrapped.  The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) has been working with the DfE about safeguarding NPD data.   In October 2018, UKSA published an update which listed which of its recommendations had been met and which needed further work. 

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Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 16/04/2019 - 13:14

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 16/04/2019 - 17:12

I recently attended a meeting arranged by NAHT for parents in the Bath area campaigning about education underfunding. This is the gist of a letter I sent via the local representative expressing my disappointment that the association is offering qualified support for the piloting of the proposed new Reception Baseline Assessment. I felt the need to speak out against the planed participation at a time when the last thing the system needs is another level of testing, especially for very young children.

"Recently, Reclaiming Schools sent out the following blog article discussing Ofsted judgements which was linked to a previous one highlighting the problems with Progress 8.

The link below, from the Progress 8 blog cited above is to recent research by two professors from the University of Bristol. I would personally emphasise the unreliability factor of Progress 8 featured in their findings and point also to the work of Professor Rebecca Allen of UCL Institute of Education on questions about the meaningful measurement of progress in our schools.

As Leckie and Goldstein point out, "The DfE’s decision to ignore pupil background when comparing schools is in stark contrast to both the academic literature and practitioner commentaries, both of which argue that such adjustments should be made when holding schools to account." This is the nub of my objection to the introduction of RBA2. If, as claimed by these two academics, background specific data on individual pupils is given short shrift by the DfE and Ofsted, and as we know these data are subject to unpredictable changes over time, how is any valid comparison over the period from the completion of the new reception baseline to GCSEs possible?

My view is that heads are simply handing the authorities another stick to beat them with by accepting these new assessments. Apart from that, and in line with the views expressed by those parents who are becoming ever better informed about the lack of care their children are exposed to at the hands of politicians, the DfE and Ofsted, as exemplified in the funding crisis, surely it is time to put the interests of children above those of other players.

These assessments will tell teachers nothing they could not find out, or do not already know about their pupils. However, the fact is that those data are to be placed in the hands of private tech companies. This adds a very troubling dimension, in the light of events like that involving Cambridge Analytica, Facebook and others who have played fast-and-lose with individual personal data. Few parents will be aware, unless they are informed, of what the consequences of their child's participation in the testing might throw up in future through this data harvesting. All heads who agree to take part in the pilots will surely have a duty of care to address this with the families involved before hand. But the truth is, the parents won't know the questions that need to be asked, so we have to consider, who will advise them? Does this not create the possibility of a conflict of interest for school leaders?"

The truth is, as parents, educators and poltiicians we have choices to make about what may benefit our children is concerned. As the Guardian article shows, there are parents ready to challenge this proposed new addition to the 'testing stable'. As a former NAHT member, I am truly baffled at the association's stance over this new development. It raises the serious question of who is standing up for higher standards of professionalism?

This piece on exclusions this morning on the BBC web site may indicate what needs to change.

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