It has been confirmed that the new Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) will focus on children’s literacy and maths, and may include self-regulation, depending on the outcome of trials.

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has revealed that the Reception Baseline Assessment will focus on literacy and maths skills because these work as good indicators of how well children will perform later on in their education.

The NFER said it would be trialling questions relating to self-regulation to decide whether this should be included too.

A statement on NFER’s website says: ‘The design and content of the Reception Baseline Assessment will be based firmly on evidence, including existing research on the key factors affecting later performance, practitioner expertise and large-scale trialling. This will ensure it has robust measurement properties and is a positive experience for teachers and children.

‘This is an initial summary in which we have brought together some of the evidence, practitioner expertise and experience we have drawn on in our proposals for the design, content and delivery of this new baseline assessment. It also highlights some of the detailed investigation which will be undertaken to refine these proposals over the next two years.’

The assessment body will be responsible for developing the Reception Baseline, including piloting, trialling and the first two statutory years of delivering it from September 2020.  NFER was awarded the four-year £10m contract back in April by the Department for Education.

NFER will be trialling the assessment with schools and children ‘to ensure it is a positive experience for them, as well as a robust assessment of children’s early literacy and early mathematics skills.’

The assessment body said that they have been working closely with children and practitioners this summer and will be trialling materials from September. In June, the Department for Education said it would be inviting a group of schools to take part in trialling the new assessment in the autumn.

NFER’s website also states, ‘The RBA is designed to provide a measure of children’s performance at a cohort rather than an individual level. The assessment therefore focuses on the information needed to provide a reliable and valid baseline for progress measures which will be reported at the end of Key Stage 2.

‘As a result, the RBA does not aim to assess everything a child can do when they start school. Instead, it will focus on what children can do in the areas of early literacy and mathematics skills. Research shows that these skill areas are good indicators of later success in school. The tasks being developed for the RBA are based on this research as well as the performance of tasks included in RBA15 [the NFER’s previous Reception Baseline].’ 

Some of the features being trialled are:

  • The assessment is expected to last for 20 minutes; it can be split into shorter sessions depending on what the teacher thinks is best suited for the individual child.
  • Children will not be asked to move on to the next question if they have not successfully completed the previous one.
  • Practitioners will record each child’s response to the questions on an online recording system to make the results easy to manage.

According to the NFER, previous trials confirmed that it was possible to achieve consistent results and a reliable assessment of children’s abilities in English or maths if the assessment was taken on different days by different people.

To ensure that the assessment is valid, the NFER says that it has used research already recorded about the key indicators of children’s future performance to identify areas to be included in the assessment.

The assessment body added that it has ‘organised detailed reviews of the assessment by experts to strengthen their effective and acceptable use with children who speak English as an additional language, and those with additional assessment needs. We will include extensive trialling of their recommendations within the broader trialling of the assessment in schools with children and teachers which begins in September.’

The Department for Education’s choice to bring back the Reception Baseline has sparked considerable controversy in the early years sector and within teaching unions.

Two weeks ago, the British Educational Research Association Group published a scathing report of the Reception Baseline. Its expert panel of academics found that it was ‘flawed, unjustified and wholly unfit for purpose’.

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