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Covid-19 and early years education and care: not the time for baseline assessment

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 25 June 2020

Guy Roberts-Holmes, Siew Fung Lee and Diana Sousa.

The Covid-19 crisis means that young children have had prolonged absence from nurseries, and lost the chance to interact with their peers.  As Shadow Schools Minister Margaret Greenwood has told the Government, ‘Some will have lost parents, grandparents or other family members, while others will have simply struggled, like millions of others across the UK, with living in lockdown, unable to play with their friends’.

This means that early years teachers and care workers need to focus even more than usual on children’s well-being and mental health. We argue that the DFE’s latest iteration of Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) is an unnecessary distraction at a time like this.

Fortunately, the DFE has taken on board our concerns and those of others and has just announced that the RBA’s introduction is to be postponed for a year.

As many parents, teachers and children have experienced, home learning is no easy substitute for socially inclusive and participatory early years settings. Recent research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and UCL highlight the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on families from disadvantaged backgrounds in relation to engagement with learning and attendance.

The RBA is a maths and literacy computer test for four year olds in Reception class designed as a basis for measuring progression and accountability across seven years of primary school. The studies shed light on the enormous challenges that school leaders and teachers will face in the autumn term around relationship building, trust and ‘settling-in’ routines for children new to Reception: ‘Some commented that it is simply not possible for them to ensure social distancing because children are too young to understand the rules and/or their school buildings are unsuitable’.

Rather than a regime of testing, school leaders and teachers need realistic and clear post-Covid guidance, resources and support when schools open to more pupils.

Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) has to be carried out in the first six weeks of Reception class. Our research demonstrated that RBA disrupted their careful ‘settling in’ routines and crucial relationship-building with young children by physically taking teachers out of their classrooms to conduct the computer test. This meant that establishing consistent day-to-day classroom routines became difficult for Reception teachers who were out of class administering the RBA.

This in turn had a negative impact on teaching assistants who were left to manage the class on their own. We found that 83% of teachers stated that their workload had increased with RBA as it took 20 to 30 minutes per child to complete. Reception teachers said they felt conflicted and anxious in attempting to meet the formal school-based testing demands of RBA, and at the same time trying to settle and develop caring relationships through child-centred play, dialogue and meaningful relationships with young children.

Early years teachers stated that their existing on-entry baseline assessments were already carefully aligned with the holistic and meaningful Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and included detailed observations during social and play interactions, discussions with parents, home visits and nursery reports. One reception teacher, for example, told us that ‘The first couple of weeks are just spent playing with the children […], children who are struggling to make friends, children who are distressed, have problems separating’.

Our research demonstrated that four-year-old children were aware that they were being tested in school-based early literacy and numeracy and some experienced a sense of test failure, anxiety and stress. Teachers were concerned that RBA inadvertently ‘labelled’ particular children such as those with English as an Additional Language (RBA is only conducted in English), summer-born, disadvantaged and SEN children, potentially contributing to low expectations at the beginning of their school journey.

If implemented this September, RBA would have reduced early years teachers’ relationship-based care and the well-being of young children to instrumental and functional attainment in prescribed, narrow, school-based tests. This would have adverse effects on children’s and teachers’ well-being. It establishes as routine the testing of four-year-old children in the first six weeks of their schooling through a computer script that minimises meaningful teacher-child relationships, trust and care.

Photo by vsuydam via Creative Commons

 

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