Whether your children are already in the school system, or you have a few years to go before you are at the stage of applying for their place in Reception, you will probably have heard about the controversial new plans that the Government have for tests for four-year-olds. In fact, it might be fair to say with the news coverage that this announcement has received since it became public knowledge that most people have at least heard about it – even if they are not fully aware of all the details.
Essentially, the government are planning to roll out what is being seen as a very controversial assessment for pupils of just four years of age. What is being proposed is that during their first few weeks of primary school compulsory baseline tests will be carried out. The tests will look at the literacy, numeracy and behaviour of these children, many of whom will only just have turned four shortly before starting at school.
Parents, teachers – those involved in Early Years and Foundation Stage (EYFS) and those who teach older children, and psychotherapists are up in arms about this testing which they believe will be “damaging to young children”.
So great is the concern regarding these tests that the Department for Education has been called on by a coalition of campaigners to abandon them.
The Test – The Facts
The proposal is that the test will be carried out during the first few weeks of school – some indications are that this will happen in the first half term of school at around the six-week mark.
The test will assess literacy, numeracy and behaviourThe age group of children being tested are those of reception class age, 4-5The cost of implementing these tests is expected to be around £10mThe government plan to use the results of these tests to hold individual schools accountable for the progress that pupils make from reception to year 6
The First Few Weeks of School
In order to understand just why so many people, especially professionals who are involved with children are concerned about the tests it is a good idea to look at precisely what the first few weeks of school entail.
While many children will be used to a “learning environment” having attended a pre-school, and often one attached to a school, before entering reception there will always be a proportion of children who will not have this advantage. For these children in particular, the transition to full days away from their primary caregiver, in a strange environment and with a lot of other children can be difficult. School can be a huge step for these children, and it can take a couple of months, not weeks, for them to feel truly comfortable in this new environment.
For those children who are moving from a preschool, the disruption of the long summer holidays and the lack of routine can make it difficult for them to settle back into a structured day of learning. Many schools do an extended transition in reception. The children begin by doing just mornings for a few days, then lunch time is added, and it can be a couple of weeks before these pupils are completing a full day at school. This means that it may be a while before children actually start to do any real academic learning.
It is inevitable that there will be “teething troubles” as these youngsters adapt to their new routine, the strange environment, the structure and of course the other children. With the average class size of between 25-30 children, and each class having just the one teacher and a teaching assistant to help the children, this isn’t always an easy process.
The teacher will be spending a lot of time during those first all-important weeks getting to know the children in their care and seeing where their strengths and weaknesses lie. They will be finding out where each child is up to with their learning and starting to teach those essential first phonetic sounds, letters and numbers. This is a delicate balance that is backed by plenty of non-academic learning, things like social skills, learning to play with others, role-playing and generally getting to know each other and settling in.
Why Might The Tests be Damaging?
Many experts believe these first few weeks in reception are vital for helping to establish good relationships for the children. This isn’t just the relationships they will have with their peers as they progress through the school but also with their teachers. It is essential for children to see teachers as a friendly face, someone who they can trust. Testing them so early on in their journey will not give an accurate and effective assessment of their capacity to learn, nor will it be a proper assessment of their academic abilities. Experts are concerned that the tests represent a considerable risk in making pupils believe that school is a somewhat hostile environment and a judgemental place as opposed to one where they can explore and learn at a pace that is more appropriate to their abilities.
This undue stress may not just be contained to the classroom, as it is feared many parents, concerned about the scores their children will get, may turn to home tutors in order to boost their child’s marks.
For those children who were born in the summer and have only just turned four, those children for whom English is not their mother tongue and those with special educational needs, many of whom will not have received a diagnosis before they begin school, these tests will inevitably label them as “low achievers”. Such a premature judgement may have long-reaching effects as they progress through the school, tagged as the child who isn’t as capable as his or her peers.
There is little doubt in the minds of many that implementing testing at this age and so early in the year will also add significantly to the responsibilities and stresses of the teachers. Stresses that the children may pick up on and which could inadvertently cause a less than ideal learning environment.
With so many professionals calling for these tests to be scrapped and it would appear with good reason, it remains to see whether the government will continue with their plans or listen to these concerns.