What is the reception baseline assessment for 4-year-olds?

In the first 6 weeks of September 2019, 10,000 schools in England will take 4 and 5 year-old reception pupils out of class for a reception baseline assessment (RBA). In 2020 the test will become statutory. But what does it involve - and why are they happening?

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From September 2019, half of all primary state schools in England will be taking part in a pilot scheme which involves giving 4- and 5-year old children in Reception classes a 20-minute test called the reception baseline assessment (RBA).

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There has been a lot of talk about these tests in the press, and opinions on it have been something of  a mixed bag (probably no surprise there!).

Here’s the lowdown on the baseline assessment and how it might affect your child…

What if my child’s at primary school in Scotland? Your child will take a short SNSA test in reading, writing and numeracy

What if my child’s at primary school in Northern Ireland? There’s no testing at Reception class stage

What if my child’s at primary school in Wales? Your child’s teacher will complete a Foundation Phase profile 

1. What will be tested during the reception baseline assessment (RBA)?

The test has been designed to get a check of a child’s language and counting ability in the first few weeks of primary school, according to the government. It’s designed to provide a snapshot of each child’s development as they start school.

2. Which schools are doing the reception baseline assessment?

Around 10,000 schools, from all over England, have opted to take part in the national pilot that starts in September 2019. If your child’s school is taking part, they may inform you but schools are not obliged to tell parents they are taking part.

The RBA will become statutory in 2020, so in the autumn term of 2020, all schools will be required to give the test.

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3. What will the reception baseline assessment involve?

It will be a 20-minute, 1-to-1 assessment with a teacher, carried out in the first 6 weeks of primary school. It will look at:

  • mathematics tasks
  • early numbers
  • early calculation (early addition/subtraction)
  • mathematical language
  • early understanding of shape
  • early literacy, communication and language tasks
  • early vocabulary
  • phonological awareness
  • early reading
  • early comprehension.

Cards and plastic shapes and other aids will be used as part of the test, which should be given by someone the child knows and is comfortable with.

4. Will I know what mark my child gets in the baseline assessment?

It’s very unlikely. Even the teacher who does the assessments won’t be told how many marks an individual child gets.

Instead, the marks will be put onto a national pupil database, which will then be used, according to the government’s Reception Baseline Assessment Information Leaflet, to “create a baseline for school-level progress measures for primary schools. We will publish these new measures for the 1st time in the summer of 2027, when the children who enter Reception in autumn 2020 take the key stage 2 tests at the end of year 6.”

It’s not clear whether, if your child takes the test, you’ll ever know the marks. “As we develop and trial the baseline assessment,” says the government’s leaflet, “we will explore whether any information it produces should be shared with schools and parents.”

5. What’s the point of the reception baseline assessment?

According to the Department of Education (DofE), the point of the RBA is to help acknowledge how much progress pupils make through primary school, bearing in mind what level they were at when they first started in primary education.

As different children start school at different levels of education, the test will, says the DofE, make sure that “schools get credit for the important work they do with their pupils between reception and year 6”.

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6. Will I know my child is taking the reception baseline assessment?

If your child’s doing the RBA during the pilot, you won’t necessarily know. According to the Department of Education, parents have no legal right to know if their child is taking the test – it’s up to schools to tell them if they want to but they’re under no obligation to.

My daughter is 4 and a half and starts reception in September and I’ve not been told about any tests!
Claire H, MadeForMums Facebook community

But, as we’ve explained above, the test is set to be statutory by 2020, so, as plans currently stand, if your child’s starting school in September 2020, it’s safe to assume that yes, they’ll be taking the RBA.

7. What have people been saying about the reception baseline assessment?

When news of the reception baseline assessment broke, it’s fair to say that not all the reaction was positive.

In fact, campaign group More Than A Score has set up a petition to stop the tests, stating, “Testing such young children is fraught with problems. It cannot provide a valid account of their learning, because they will not be able to show their true abilities in a test taken out of the context of familiar relationships and practical experiences.”

The campaign group went on to say:

There is no evidence that early testing can reliably predict children’s later achievements. Developmental psychologists have shown that children's well-being, confidence and self-regulation are central to their future learning, but these cannot be tested by baseline.
More Than A Score campaign group

What does the NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers) say?

The NAHT has said that whether they support the roll-out of the RBA depends on whether the Department of Education takes into account some of the issues they have regarding the the tests, for example making sure the workload of the tests isn’t too much for teachers, and ensuring the experience the children has of the tests is considered as part of their design.

And parents of children who face the tests seem to have varying views, too.

In the MadeForMums Facebook community, for example, Sarah E says, “Unfortunately, tests are a part of our society and I don’t see any problem with getting children used to them slowly. If you have always done exams and tests from the word go, you are less likely to suffer anxiety at a later date.

I think it gives parents and teachers a good idea of where children are at when they start school, and also how much they have progressed over the reception year and beyond.

For Jenny B in our Facebook community, it’s how how the tests are carried out is what’s important.

“My child isn’t old enough to go to school yet,” she says, “but I hadn’t heard about the test. At the moment, I’d say I’m in 2 minds.

“I think a big part of how I would feel about it would be how it’s performed. As long as my son didn’t feel stressed or anxious in any way, then I wouldn’t really have a problem with it. “

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