Reception baseline assessment tests explained for parents

Reception assessment tests explained for parents
Starting school used to be about settling in, making new friends and learning to be independent. Then ‘Reception tests’, due to take place within weeks of walking through the school doors, were announced. The Reception Baseline Check will now be introduced in September 2020; we explain the latest developments.

On 14 September 2017 Education Secretary Justine Greening announced that a new teacher-mediated assessment in Reception, from 2020, will provide a baseline measure to track pupils’ progress during primary school. The check will be developed in conjunction with the teaching profession. “Teacher-mediated assessment” means the teacher will be present while the Check is administered.

Reception Baseline Check latest developments: new test to be introduced in September 2020

It is proposed that the new Reception Baseline Check will take place during the first six weeks of school. It probably won't be a formal "test", but an assessment done over a period of time.

The focus will be on literacy and numeracy. 

The Check data will be used to judge progress children's progress when they reach the end of KS2 (Year 6 SATs).

Although children who start Reception in September 2020 will be the first group to take the new Check, they'll also be the first children who won't have to sit statutory KS1 SATs when they reach the end of Year 2. These are being discontinued from 2023.

The Reception Baseline Check before 2017

The Reception Baseline Check has a long and complicated history.

In September 2016, the Department for Education was due to introduce national testing for all Reception-aged children in England. 

The purpose of the Reception Baseline Check was to assess each child’s level of development at the beginning of their formal schooling in order to measure how they’ve progressed by age 11. The government suggested the new tests would ensure higher standards and that all pupils would receive the attention they deserve.

In summer 2016 the Baseline Check (piloted in September 2015) was put on hold, indefinitely, and teachers were instructed to continue to complete the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (a broad assessment of your child’s abilities in all areas of their learning and development), pending further decisions about assessment in Reception.

The decision was made because the government conceded that the three different methods of baseline assessment that schools were able to choose from in 2015 – a computer-based assessment, an assessment based on tasks and observation, and an observation-only assessment – were not comparable. The same child could take all three types of assessment and come out with different results. This meant that the results of the baseline assessment in its 2015 form couldn't be used as a comparison between schools, or to accurately measure children's progress from Reception to Year 6.

How do Reception assessments work?

As parents, we need to bear in mind that teachers already assess our children when they start school but baseline assessments are intended to be more formal.

Designed to give teachers and schools a clearer picture of each child’s initial skills, Reception Baseline Checks are designed to indicate a child’s ‘baseline’ abilities in very basic literacy, reasoning and cognition (how a child understands and acts in the world). Any test reported results would be supplemented by teachers' broader assessments and observations of a child’s development.

What will the Reception Baseline Check look like?

At this stage we don't know.

In 2015, schools were free to choose from a number of approved assessments.

  • About a third of schools were planning to opt for tests carried out one-to-one with a Reception teacher, which focused on the very basics of learning such as counting, picture, letter and number recognition. The NFER assessment used common Reception classroom resources like counting beads, plastic shapes and number and picture cards. Children worked through the activities (which took around 30 minutes) while the teacher recorded the child’s progress on a digital device or in individual paper pupil booklets.
  • The other two-thirds of schools had decided to use an assessment that relied on teachers' observations of children's skills within the normal day-to-day school routine. This method of assessment, devised by a small educational consultancy called Early Excellence, was designed so that children didn't even know they're being tested. 

The new Reception Baseline Check will be developed in conjunction with teachers. It's thought that the focus will be on literacy and numeracy. There's a possibility that some or all of the Check will be done on a computer.

What’s the thinking behind baseline tests?

By giving each child a baseline assessment when they first start primary school, schools will not only have a clearer idea of how much progress their pupils are making, but should also be able to identify which children are likely to need most help. The government feels that baseline checks will also help to recognise the good progress that schools make with children from a low starting point.

As part of the wider changes to primary assessment, the current Phonics Screening Check, carried out at the end of Year 1 to assess reading progression, will remain unchanged.

In September 2014 a new primary-school grading scheme was introduced to replace the previous system of national curriculum levels.

Since summer 2016 more challenging tests (updated SATs) have reflected the new curriculum at the end of the key stages. Children are also matched against ‘performance descriptors’ (in other words what pupils are expected to know and be able to do at the time of testing) when being assessed by their teachers at the end of Key Stage 1 and 2 to see if they’ve achieved the expected standard. 

How do parents and teachers react to the prospect of Reception assessments?

The idea of testing children didn’t please the majority of parents in 2015, and is unlikely to be very popular in 2020!

Children of just four and five already have to contend with the anxiety of starting school and are often daunted by unfamiliar tasks at this age. Concentration levels may well be an issue too, particularly for summer-born pupils who are almost a whole year younger than their autumn-born peers. Checks administered on a one-to-one basis are time-consuming for teachers, too.