Free article: Baseline assessment and SEND

Published: Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Suzanne O’Connell looks at a report on baseline assessment in primary schools and it’s affect on identifying children with SEND.


  • Baseline Assessment was introduced in September 2015 for children entering the reception year at primary school.
  • A report has been published investigating how well the Baseline Assessment has been received by schools.
  • One of the aims of Baseline Assessment has been the benefits for those schools with lower attainment on entry and to spot underachievement early on.
  • There is concern that assessment in early years could be counterproductive in terms of low expectations and labelling of underperforming children.

The report They Are Children… not Robots, not Machines: The Introduction of Reception Baseline Assessment was jointly commissioned by the ATL and NUT. Following the introduction of Baseline Assessment in primary schools in September 2015 they wanted to investigate teachers’ experiences and views of the new form of assessment.

The assessment takes place during the first few weeks of the autumn term with children entering the Reception year. It is technically voluntary but schools feel under pressure to do it. The use of the Baseline Assessment has long-term implications for schools if it remains.

One of these is the allocation of funding. The Baseline Assessment will replace the EYFSP data as the basis for the allocation of low prior attainment funding to primary and infant schools from 2016.

The assessments have been put together by private providers. From the original approved list of six, only three were able to continue. These included:

  • Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, Durham University (CEM)
  • Early Excellence
  • National Foundation for Educational research (NFER).

The option of having different providers makes any comparison between schools difficult. This is the first time that private providers have been used in this way with most national assessments such as SATs being delivered by the Standards and Testing Agency (STA).

Particularly popular among schools was the Early Excellence Baseline with over 70% of schools choosing this alternative.

One of the selling points for the Baseline Assessment has been the benefits for those schools with lower attainment on entry. There is concern, however, that introducing such a high stakes test in these very early years could be counterproductive.

The reason why such a large number signed up for Early Excellence is because it is seen as being more holistic than some of the other baseline tests. Those campaigning against the tests had pointed out that it ran the risk of narrowing the curriculum.

This research study included among its questions:

  • How can this assessment be adapted to the needs of different groups of pupils, such as children with SEND or EAL, looked-after children, children from BME groups and from disadvantaged backgrounds?

It included an online survey and also five primary case studies.

Main findings of the report

  • The majority of respondents agreed that the Baseline Assessment had disrupted the start to school (59%).
  • A notable number responded that they agreed that Baseline Assessment negatively affected the development of the relationship between pupils and teaching staff (31.2%).
  • The majority of respondents did not feel that the assessment had helped them get to know reception pupils better (54%).
  • The majority disagreed that the Baseline Assessment had helped them to identify the needs of SEN children (71.1%).
  • The majority disagreed that the Baseline Assessment had helped them to identify the needs of EAL children (68.2%).
  • Ninety-two per cent of those responding indicated that they already had at least some form of assessment arrangement at the start of reception to support teaching and learning.
  • There was strong support for the existing EYFS profile assessment.
  • Almost 60% disagreed that the Baseline Assessment was a fair and accurate way of assessing children.
  • A very high proportion of respondents agreed that Baseline Assessment had increased workload within the classroom (81.6%) and outside the classroom (84.3%).

From the research the authors conclude that:

  • Baseline Assessment is inaccurate and therefore problematic as the basis for school accountability.
  • Baseline Assessment has potentially damaging effects on children relating to low expectations and labelling.
  • Baseline Assessment increases teachers’ workloads without providing useful information.
  • Baseline Assessment has cost and resource implications for schools.

Impact on children with SEND

There are a number of worrying results from the survey, particularly in relation to pupils with SEN. Teachers replied that they had stopped teaching whilst the assessment was being applied so that it was a true reflection of what the children could do when they entered the school.

Some schools have been putting children into ability groups based on the results, a development that is particularly worrying for children with SEND. Concerns were expressed about the extent to which the baseline might be responsible for the grouping and labelling of children at a very early stage.

Teachers referred to the difficulties they had ensuring a warm welcome for children into reception at the same time as conducting the assessment. Many felt that the assessment got in the way of them getting to know the children rather than improving their knowledge.

It was very clear that teachers did not feel that the Baseline Assessment had helped identify children with SEND. When asked in the survey 20% of respondents (223) said that they disagreed a little with the statement ‘Baseline Assessment has helped to identify the needs of SEN children’ and 51.1% (569) disagreed a lot with the statement.

However, a small number of teachers did suggest that the assessment had helped them identify higher achieving children and those with dyslexia. The overall conclusion was ‘Baseline Assessment appears to have a limited use as a tool for identifying particular needs, especially where existing arrangements or information from nurseries already identified these children.’

Some teachers expressed concern that pupils with SEND were at risk of being labelled too early. In interviews it was raised as a concern that some parents might begin gaming the system and that this could lead to further gaps between those with knowledge of the system and those without.

Some suggested that there could be low expectations as a result of the test. ‘The potentially damaging effect of Baseline Assessment is… that for children with low scores (`below typical´) even if they make good progress, it will be seen as acceptable for them to remain low-attaining at age 11.’

Teachers had significant concerns about the possibility of tracking and predicting results from the Baseline Assessment. Many concerns were raised about the validity and reliability of the tests. In addition, concerns were raised about the possibility of ‘gaming’ taking place.

Further information

They Are Children… not Robots, not Machines: The Introduction of Reception Baseline Assessment, Alice Bradbury and Guy Roberts-Holmes, UCL Institute of Education, February 2016:

About the author

Dr Suzanne O’Connell was headteacher of a junior school in Warwickshire for eleven years. During her teaching career she has worked in primary and middle schools in Coventry, Bradford and Leeds. She now works as a freelance education writer and editor.

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