Writer attacks government plans for the new baseline tests

25 Aug

Mr Michael Morpurgo, the Children’s Laureate from 2003-5, has described the new baseline tests for reception pupils, which will take effect from September 2016, as “completely absurd”.   The reason for its introduction is to assess children’s level of development at the start of their formal education so that their progress can be measured at the age of 11, thus statistically holding schools to account for children’s progress in literacy (reading and writing), cognition (how children understand and act in the world), reasoning and mathematics.   Children are already being assessed at the end of their reception year.  However, the (new) tests will now be used as measures for determining the progress they make six years later.   Schools will be able to choose from a number of approved assessments. 

About 33.3% of schools have chosen the National Foundation for Educational Research’s (NFER’s) assessment model, which uses the reception resources like counting soft toys, plastic shapes and picture cards.   At the end of the reception year, children will take around 30 minutes to deal with the tasks set for them. They will record the progress digitally and in the children’s booklets.

In the rest of the schools teachers will assess the children by observing their skills in the normal day-to-day routine.  The educational consultancy, Early Excellence, has devised a method of assessment which has been approved by the DfE.   Children will not know they are being tested, thus reducing the possibility of stressing them.

In September 2015, schools will have to make final decisions on the type of assessments they want for their pupils.     They will also be able to opt out altogether and be judged on the basis of whether or not their pupils meet the required standards of reading, writing and mathematics in Key Stage 2 Standard Assessment Tests (SATs) at the end of year 6 in 2022.  Where this option is chosen, at least 85% of pupils in the school will be expected to meet the standard.  Currently, the floor level is 65%.

The arrangements for year 1 pupils to be tested in phonics will continue.

Many parents consider that very young children have sufficient anxieties starting school without having to be assessed in their development.   Summer-born children are likely to be adversely affected because of the later progress they make, being that much younger than those whose birthdays fall in the early part of the academic year.

Mr Morpugo, who was born in 1943, has censured the “maelstrom” of testing that can have a detrimental effect on children’s well-being.  He worked as a teacher for 10 years before setting up “Farms for City Children” with his wife, Clare. They have three farms in Devon, Wales and Gloucestershire.  Both received MBEs for services to youth in 1999.

Mr Morpurgo has written a number of children’s books including, King of the Cloud Forest, Wombat Goes Walkabout, Kensuke’s Kingdom, Private Peaceful and, of course, The War Horse.  The War Horse was transformed into a play by Mr Tom Morris, associate director of The National Theatre. It has become the biggest-selling production ever at the New London Theatre. The book has also now been made into a production on Broadway and a film by Steven Spielberg.

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