What is the Reception baseline assessment for 4-year-olds?
Every child in English primary schools now has to take the Reception baseline assessment (RBA). Here's your guide to what it involves, when it happens and what you, as a parent, need to know about it
If your child is starting primary school in England, then they'll be having an official assessment in the first 6 weeks of term. It's called the Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) and it's now compulsory in all English schools. But don't worry: your child probably won't even know it's happening, and the results are used to measure their school's progress, not judge your child.
Here, we explain everything you need to know about the RBA, including what it is, how it's carried out, whether you'll get the results – and how it fits in with other assessments your child will have in their first year of school.
Here's what you need to know about the Reception Baseline Assessment and what it means for your child...
What if my child's at primary school in Northern Ireland? There's no testing in Year One.
What if my child's at primary school in Wales? In the 1st 6 weeks of term, your child's teacher will complete a Foundation Phase profile that assesses your child in 6 key developmental areas. The teacher will share this assessment with you and you'll get a written report.
What exactly is the Reception baseline assessment – and what is it assessing?
The RBA is a 20-minute, activity-based, 1-to-1 assessment that has been designed to get a snapshot of your child's early literacy mathematics, language and communication skills. Every Reception-class child in England will take the RBA within the 1st 6 weeks of starting school.
Is there an example of what my child will be asked to do in the Reception baseline assessment?
The Government asks schools not to share the outline of the tasks children are asked to do in the RBA (and it's very hard to find any examples of them online) because they want to make sure that no child has an advantage.
More like this
But the RBA is very informal and practical – and not at all like a 'school test' as we tend to think of them. Most of the tasks your child will be asked to do will be 'hands on' and involve moving colourful objects or pointing to pictures; in other tasks, your child will be asked a question and asked to give a verbal reply.
The tasks are designed to give the teacher a picture of your child's current abilities in different key areas, including early vocabulary, memory skills, describing and understanding a picture, recognising numbers, and understanding patterns, shapes and sizes. Judging by the material used in pilot tests of the RBA, a task might be, for example:
- Your child is shown a picture of a boat with green fish swimming around it. Some of the fish are small and some of them are big. Your child is then asked, "Can you show me the big fish?"
Who will be carrying out the Reception baseline assessment with my child?
The RBA must be carried out by someone your child knows and is comfortable with. This could be your child's class teacher or the classroom assistant or it may be an Early Years leader or Special Educational Needs Coordinator.
As the RBA must take place within your child's 1st 6 week at school, it's actually provides valuable 1-to-1 time that allows the teaching staff to get to know your child better in those early weeks.
How do I prepare my child for the Reception baseline assessment?
You can't – and you shouldn't feel you have to. The RBA is not a 'test' and the results aren't used to judge your child: they're actually used by the school to build up a picture of the abilities of the classes as a whole.
As the Government says in their leaflet for parents about the RBA, "Your child cannot 'pass' or 'fail' the assessment. Its main purpose is to create a starting point to measure the progress schools make with their pupils."
Will my child know when the Reception baseline assessment is happening? Are parents told when it's happening?
No, the whole idea of structuring the RBA as a short series of practical, fun tasks is that your child probably won't realise they're having an assessment. And though the school or the class teacher may send out some general info about the RBA, they won't tell you when your child is being assessed.
Everything will be kept as low-key as possible, with the teacher deciding when to carry out the RBA with your child. It will happen during normal teaching time, though, maybe with the teacher pausing or take a break between tasks if they feel your child us getting distracted or restless.
How inclusive is the Reception baseline assessment? What if my child has special needs or doesn't speak English as their first language?
The assessment has been designed to ensure that it is inclusive and accessible to as many children as possible, including those with special educational needs or disability or English as an additional language.
The teacher can pause the assessment at any time if your child needs a break. There are also modified materials available for children with visual and hearing impairments.
Do parents get told what mark their child gets in the Reception baseline assessment?
No, even your child's teacher and the school will not be told how many marks an individual child gets. The score your child receives will be recorded in the national pupil database and will only be used for marking progress of schools. Your child's school will instead receive a short list of statements that set out how your child has performed in the assessment. Schools do not legally have to report these statements to parents but they must share them if you request them.
It's also worth noting that your child cannot pass or fail the test — it's designed to provide an overview of your child's abilities in key areas when they first start school. The results and scores are not used to track, label or judge pupils, instead the data from the assessments will only be used by the Department for Education to, according to the government's Reception Baseline Assessment Information Leaflet, "create a baseline for school-level progress measures for primary schools. This will show the progress pupils make from reception until the end of key stage 2 in year 6." The results will be published for the first time in 2028, which is when the pupils who entered reception in autumn 2021 will be taking the Key Stage 2 assessments at the end of Year 6.
What is the point of the Reception baseline assessment? What are the results used for?
"The assessment will enable us to create school-level progress measures for primary schools," says the Government in their leaflet to parents, "which show the progress pupils make from Reception until the end of Key Stage 2 [the end of primary school]."
So, it's basically a way to start tracking how much each school is helping learn and improve from their first day until their last.
It's also worth knowing that the introduction of the RBA means that primary-school children in England no longer have to undergo assessments at the end of Key Stage 1 (Year 2).
Will my child take any other assessments in their Reception year?
No, but at the end of the year, your child's teacher will complete – and share with you – an Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) report.
This report is an outline – based on the class teacher's observations over the year – of how your child has developed throughout their 1st year at school, based on an informal assessment of your child in relation to the 17 Early Learning Goals (ELGs). The areas covered by these ELGs include:
- Communication and language, including speaking, listening, attention and understanding
- Physical development, including fine and gross motor skills
- Personal, social and emotional development, including self-regulation, managing self and building relationships
- Literacy, including comprehension, word reading and writing
- Mathematics, including numbers and numerical patterns
- Understanding of the world, including past and present, the natural world and people, culture and communities
- Expressive arts and design, including creating with materials and being imaginative and expressive
Pics: Getty Images. Additional research: Emily Longman Wall
Helen is author of the classic advice book Parenting for Dummies and a mum of 3. Before joining MadeForMums, she was Head of Community at Mumsnet and also the Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby.
Six big family moments that matter – and the products that make them easier to navigate
These products from John Lewis & Partners help support the memorable moments of family life.