In the words of Eminem... "Look who's back, back again!" Well it's Baseline. It's been. It's gone. It's been. It's gone and here is it yet again. This time there's no choice about model. No observation led model on offer. It's all about the NFER test with its plastic bears, plastic shapes and sequencing cards. To quote one of my twitter followers: "The 90's called, they want their resources back". Interestingly this was the least popular model in the multi model trial back in 2015. And yet it's here again. It really is time to drop this baseline once and for all!
The evidence is here for all to see, so please follow the links and share widely. Evidence and research in black and white from organisations who know and understand early childhood education including: BERA, TACTYC, Early Education, More than a score, and now Early Excellence. Their work definitively proves beyond all doubt that baseline testing is pointless. expensive, workload increasing and even damaging to young children. Meanwhile in the other corner we have Dfe with their video advertisement that doesnt seem to represent any typical YrR practice in September I've ever seen and the NFER who assure us this test is child friendly and easy to administer. There have been reports of an email from Dfe claiming that the NAHT and ASCL unions are recommending schools to trial this test. Ironically those in the "for" corner have little if any ECE understanding whatsoever.
We are hearing reports of school leaders receiving multiple invitations to sign up to this voluntary pilot, giving the impression that maybe the acceptance cards are not coming in as thick and fast as the Dfe and NFER were hoping. Worringly we are hearing of maintained nursery schools receiving invitations to trial the test. These are settings which do not even have YrR aged children within them. Perhaps this is intentional if response rates are low? Personally I doubt it. It is probably more likely that invites have been sent because the Dfe really do not understand our sector and just what our amazing nursery schools are.
There are headteachers and leaders proudly announcing that they have said a polite (or sometimes impolite) no thank you to this invite. There are others posting pictures of letters in the bin. There are others who have replied to the Dfe explaining why unfortunately they will not be attending this party. But then there are those who think that by signing up they will be able to tell the Dfe what they really think, and perhaps change policy by doing so. Well in an ideal world this would be a valid point. But the fact is that the TES recently printed a story about how the Dfe will not share the feedback from the pilot last Autumn. From conversations I am having around the country, that feedback wouldn't have led to a roll out of baseline if the Dfe listened. There are also those who believe that by volunteering for this trial, they can get ahead of the game ready for roll out in 2020. My response to this is that this is not a game. Why would you choose to put your children through baseline testing and increase teacher workload voluntarily.
So there it is. The evidence is here for all to see. Baseline is damaged goods. It needs to be returned to sender once and for all.
So now let's get to the reality. The practicalities. What will really happen?
Well firstly let's remember this test is costing £10m. But that isn't the final figure. That doesn't take into account the cost of covering teachers to take children out of class one at a time to be tested. The NFER assure us its only 20 minutes per child. It isn't. It really isn't only 20 minutes. People who used it in 2015 and have already trialled it have spoken out about this.
So, it seems to be 40-50 minutes per child at least, plus the collecting them, leading them to the broom cupboard, setting up the paper work/tablet, settling the child, introducing this "fun" game and getting resources ready from the last child. Let's say an hour per child. Ok so thats around 30 hours if you have 30 children.
Anyone who has ever worked in EYs will know that in those early days of YrR, afternoons can be interesting. I have had children fall asleep! So in reality the baseline testing will have to be done in the morning. So from 9-12 (although many YrR's have earlier lunches) you are probably looking at a maximum of 4 children per day. You have 30 to get through. So it looks like you will be out of your class for about a week and a half for every morning at least. And whilst you are out of your classroom who will be covering for you? Who will be settling the other 29 children in these crucial early days? Setting the rules, boundaries and expectations that are essential from day one? Building those all important relationships? Well it won't be you. You will be in a broom cupboard asking children to count plastic bears (not quite sure how NFER can sell this as being familiar to YrR children). The chances are it will be a member of staff from another part of the school. A member of staff who may not understand EYs, may not have any experience and who may not want to be there at all. I'm sure we have all seen the face of someone informed they will be covering in EYs for the day, someone who whilst perhaps being skilled and knowledgable in their role elsewhere knows literally nothing about ECE and has no desire to learn anything either (and this isn't a criticism of them...it’s just not their area of expertise). However they will be finding themselves in this environment at perhaps the most challenging point of the year. Maybe your headteacher will splash out and get supply cover. It won't be cheap. So it is not just costing £10m is it? How many schools will have money for this cover in a time when they can't afford support staff, glue sticks or school on a Friday afternoon?
But never mind, you will get some useful information won't you? Er no. The data will be black boxed until the children reach Yr6. By which time some may have left the school, new children may have arrived, leadership may have changed. Who knows the Government may have changed by then and baseline will have been scrapped completely. So no you won't get any useful information. After completing baseline testing for DFE (that IS who it is for make no mistake), you will go back to your children and you will baseline them, through observing and interacting... exactly what 70% of us told the Dfe we needed to do back in 2015 when we chose the observation led model from Early Excellence. You will basically complete 2 baselines. Then let's not forget the proposed goals you will assess against at then end of the year. These goals have been written for you by a panel with very little if any EYs experience. But remember according to the DFE this is all part of reducing your workload...plus your Yr2 teachers will love you as they might escape SATs.
And I haven't even mentioned the impact on children. Baseline doesn't care if you have just turned 4 or are turning 5. It doesn't care if this is your first time away from your family. It doesn't care if you can't speak English. It doesn't care if you have SEN. It doesn't care if you are just really shy and feeling unsettled. Dear children...baseline doesn't care about you at all.
Time to drop the baseline. Spread word. Get involved. Talk. Talk. Talk.
And be ready to make a stand. #PlayNotTestsAt4