This is about the Government wanting to measure everything

Interview with Voice General Secretary Deborah Lawson on BBC Radio Derby about baseline assessment

By Richard Fraser, Editor

Voice General Secretary Deborah Lawson was interviewed on BBC Radio Derby (from 13:30) about the introduction of tests for four-years-olds (baseline assessment) when they start school, and the petition against this

“It’s not on really. When children start school, teachers routinely assess them. They assess them by observing them.

“We also have to remember that children starting school in September …you will have children who have just had their fourth birthday alongside children who will be five in a few weeks’ time.  So, there’s almost a year’s difference in their development.

“Those same children may well have had different pre-school experiences, and they may have different family experiences, and all of those things need to be taken into context about where that child is and how they develop going on.

“And this is about the Government wanting to measure everything.”

[Always measured in schools]

“Yes, but what has been lost more recently is everything is coming down from government, and what has happened is that this has implied is that the judgement of professional teachers is not being trusted.

“And what we are saying is trust teachers – they know what they are doing. They are the experts in education – not politicians.”

[Testing has always happened].

“There is an element of this actually being imposed. It is a standardised test, and how can you standardise something when all children are very, very different? And at this age, as well.

“This is about being able to measure how they have progressed through the year, but actually there is no evidence to say this test, this baseline assessment, is going to give you any more information than teachers are already naturally collecting when children start school.

“It is also going to take staff away, in the first six weeks, when you are still settling children in, from some children who may need a little bit more support in settling in.

“I can remember the day when some children had only just settled in in six weeks and were only just doing full weeks from week four or five, because they had half days up until that point.

“The Government did try baseline assessment a few years ago and it was an absolute shambles, and they had to abandon it… and there was a big ‘hurrah’ from the profession.

“And it is going to be more work for staff as well, and we all know that teacher workload is a huge issue and is affecting the profession to the point where people are leaving and we are not recruiting people into the profession because they are saying ‘no, don’t want to do that.”

[Resumes: feedback from current pilot]

“…it takes the teacher away from the rest of the class …and leaving someone else with the rest of the class.

“Is this the right thing to do in the first six weeks of school? Is this the best introduction to education for our youngest children?

[Why is this wrong?]

"…It’s about the age of the children. It’s their introduction to school. We know what switches children on and off education, and is this the best way to introduce them to education?

“We also know that the trade-off about introducing baseline assessment is that some SATs will go in due course, so there’s a big ‘hurrah’ for that, but is it fair that we are actually putting more pressure on our youngest children?

“Yes, we need to measure, but … why are we not trusting teachers’ judgement? They are the ones that know about education. They are the professionals. They are the ones that know – not the politicians – and their professional judgement must be recognised and accepted.

[So, lack of trust from politicians?]

“That is what we have been fighting against for a number of years.

“The current Secretary of State is trying to change that, in what he is saying, but obviously it takes time to change that message completely.

[Power of schools/choices]

“The Government would say that schools are more empowered now, in many ways, but actually that empowerment in some things is actually traded off by having these sort of things imposed on them.”

[Psychological impact on children. Their awareness of testing.]

“It won’t be a teacher saying ‘today, we are going to be tested…’. Good, professional teachers won’t approach it like that … but I think that there are anxieties, because there’s been a lot about it in the media. We’re talking about it now – which is a good thing – but obviously parents then become anxious about it, and we don’t want that anxiety to spread to the children … we don’t want schools to be anxious about a measurement … of us and how well we are doing … there is potential for it to create another league table if the information is published … is that actually going to improve education for our youngest children?

“As for the psychological impact … we don’t know – we will have to see that in the context. They have been prepared for it not only in the classroom, but at home and what their pre-school experiences have been …

“It should be a play-based curriculum for our very youngest children. That is what is important – learn through play. They learn when they don’t realise they are learning, and it’s all fun to them.

“If we look at other countries, the majority of Europe…they don’t start their formal education until they are six or seven – and we’re starting to test them at four!”

Further information

Voice: Primary assessment – the good, the bad and the ugly (2017)

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