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Government U-turn over baseline tests for four-year-olds.

12 April 2016

Photo Lucélia Ribeiro (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Government ministers have abandoned controversial plans to judge primary schools based on new tests for four-year-olds. Early years campaigners and teaching unions welcomed the news, which followed a long fight against the tests, known as baseline assessment, that many claimed would be damaging to very young children.

The government had intended to use the tests – to be taken by all pupils in the first six weeks after starting school – to measure pupil progress between reception class and leaving primary school aged 11.


Teachers’ unions had opposed the plans ever since they were announced in 2014. Last month the National Union of Teachers voted to ballot members on a boycott of all primary school tests, including baseline assessment. 

After having called for bids from private companies to devise the baseline tests, the government had invited schools to choose from a shortlist of three. The big problem was that the three systems had very different systems – one required the children to tap in yes/no answers to questions on a computer, while another used only staff observations of how children were doing.

‘In other words, the results would be unreliable.’

Predictably, a government-commissioned study concluded that the three different assessments were not “sufficiently comparable to create a fair starting point from which to measure pupils’ progress”. In other words, the results would be unreliable – exactly as early years professionals had warned.

Ministers were forced to concede that the results could not be used as the baseline for progress measures, because “it would be inappropriate and unfair to schools”. What a waste of public money and teachers’ time!


Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, claimed the U-turn as a victory for all those who had campaigned against the tests. She said: “The NUT, campaigning alongside a wide range of early years professionals in their organisations, has made the government come to its senses and realise that baseline assessment was never a good idea in the first place.”

Most people realise that subjecting small children to tests is ridiculous. We live in a world where public services such as health and education are plagued by paperwork, tick-box surveys and endless edicts from people who have no idea what they are talking about. This serves a political agenda of not trusting, and blaming, the professionals. Let primary school children enjoy learning. Don’t let them be a statistic for bureaucrats and politicians to pore over and argue about.