Assessing progress in the early years and primary school

Academic progress or the needs of the child? Heather Ransom assesses changes to early attainment checks.

CentreForum report out last week has stated that children’s academic progress should be the main criteria used to identify whether England's primary schools are performing well.

Changes to how primary schools are held accountable will have a knock on effect for early years. Children’s attainment at age five is currently measured through the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile. The Profile enables teachers to gain a full picture of a child’s stage of development through observing their progress during the reception year. In addition to literacy and mathematics, the Profile assesses children’s physical, social and emotional development, their understanding of the world, and how they express themselves through art and design.

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The government has announced that from 2016, teachers will no longer have to use the Profile. A baseline assessment will be introduced in its place – this will be a computer test which children will sit on entry to school to gauge their current level in maths and literacy. Baseline assessment scores will be tracked against Key Stage 2 test results to determine how well each primary school has supported children’s learning between the ages of 4 and 11.      

These changes have raised a debate about how and when young children’s progress is assessed. The Profile is valued by reception class teachers in helping them to identify children with SEN and additional needs, and they work closely with Year 1 teachers to ensure that children have a smooth transition onto their next class. In addition, the Profile data is collected by local authorities and informs the commissioning and delivery of children’s services.

Given its narrow academic focus and application by computer, the baseline assessment will arguably not be able to meet these outcomes as effectively. This poses a fundamental question about the role of assessment – is its primary purpose to support children’s learning or to measure school performance? 

Under the new regime, schools will be held to account on their academic performance. But if they are no longer required to complete the EYFS Profile, valuable information about the needs and achievements of each child may be lost.

Heather Ransom is Senior Policy Officer at the National Children's Bureau.