Teachers vow to oppose introduction of baseline assessments

Teachers have vowed to oppose the government’s plans to assess children in the first weeks of school, as the country’s largest teaching union called for a boycott of pilot schemes planned for next year.

The baseline assessments, to be taken at the start of a child’s reception year in primary schools in England, were proposed by the government last year as a replacement for national tests in year 2, when children would be seven years old.

But delegates at the National Education Union’s annual conference in Brighton voted against cooperating with the new tests, which are likely to be rolled out for the first time on a voluntary basis in schools from September 2019.

The Department for Education argues that the assessments will simply measure the emerging abilities of children at the point they start formal education, and be used to measure their later progress. But NEU members heard that the assessments could distract children when they first arrive in school.

Katharine Lindenberg, a teacher from Waltham Forest in London, said the baseline tests were unnecessary, expensive and even immoral.

“Baseline tests will be given to four-year-olds in the first weeks of reception. They are unnecessary, they are pointless, they are expensive and above all they are damaging and they are immoral.

“This is a time when children should be building their confidence, gaining trust with their teachers and support staff. Learning through play, establishing routines. They will become data, that is what baseline testing is all about,” Lindenberg said.

The government first attempted to introduce baseline assessments for reception classes in 2015. But the move was undermined by the DfE’s insistence on using several private providers, and the tests collapsed after research showed the different assessments were incompatible.

Alex Kenny, a member of the NEU’s executive, said: “We want to pile pressure on heads and governors to say that they won’t volunteer to take part in baseline in 2019.

“But if that pressure doesn’t work, we will combine it with indicative ballots so that we can identify the schools and areas where we can use industrial action if heads say they will go ahead with the pilot.”

Earlier, the conference delegates endorsed a motion in support of public libraries as a way of introducing children to books.

Jennifer Bhambri-Lyte, a delegate from North Somerset, said some children were so unfamiliar with books that they thought they operated like tablets or smartphones.

“In a world of food banks, as my colleagues have previously talked about, books are a luxury that many families just cannot afford,” she said.

“Sharing a book brings parents together for precious moments, and I’ve taught both nursery and reception and I personally still find it disturbing to see a child pick up a book and try to swipe left.”

Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the NEU, said while there was a statutory requirement for prisons to have libraries, there was no such rule for schools – meaning that many relied on council-run libraries.

“Given the closure of many public libraries, we are losing the tools to create confident, excited young readers,” Courtney said.

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