The high-stakes testing system in primary schools is not fit for purpose. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted even further the flaws in this system. The union is opposed to the Government’s plan for all primary statutory tests to go ahead in 2021 and is working with More Than A Score to campaign against this. Find out more on:

Reception Baseline Assessment

In July, the Government recognised that its plan to make Baseline statutory from September 2020 had to be put on hold; it would add another element of disruption to an already difficult situation. The union welcomed this decision.

Baseline Assessment is not designed to help teachers support children’s learning. It is not a diagnostic form of assessment, but an accountability measure. Children will be tested when they enter Reception and tested again through Key Stage 2 SATs: the scores will be compared? And schools will be held to account for the progress children have made.

The Government has been trying to introduce Baseline since 2015 and it remains highly controversial. Academic research commissioned by the NEU has shown that the 2019 pilot of Baseline added to teachers’ workload, disrupted children’s settling in period at their new school, and in some cases added to the stress they felt. The British Educational Research Association has questioned the validity of the test as a measure of children’s learning.

The Government, however, is reluctant to give up completely on Baseline 2020. It is encouraging schools to become voluntary ‘early adopters’ of the new test. The union advises schools not to involve themselves in this proposal. In the Autumn, teachers and teaching assistants will face the demanding task of settling into Reception children who have not had a ‘normal’ experience of education for nearly six months. To expect educators to devote their time and energies in the first term of Reception to one-to-one testing of children cannot be justified. It works against children’s well-being and adds nothing to their learning and development.

Baseline would be a bad idea at any time. To introduce it in Autumn 2020, even on a voluntary basis, is especially pointless. The DfE asked schools to sign up, by 24 July 2020, to a voluntary scheme that would begin in October/November. Government will want to use the numbers who volunteer to argue that schools want to adopt Baseline. NEU members should work together in their schools to ensure that Baseline is not adopted.

Early Years Foundation Stage

In January 2020, before the consultation on the revised Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) had even closed, the DfE invited infant and primary schools to express an interest in being “early adopters” of the new framework in September 2020 a year before it becomes statutory. Now, in July 2020, faced with the massive disruption caused by Covid-19, schools are being given the option to opt out of early adoption.

The NEU advises schools to take the opportunity to opt out.

There has been a complete rewrite of both the Educational Programmes and the Early Learning Goals, a rewrite which is being strongly criticised within the early years sector. In the union’s view, it should not be a priority for Reception teachers to be scrutinising the new documentation trying to work out what it means for practice, when they will also have, as the centre of their work, the need to support the learning and well-being of children whose learning and home lives are likely to have been disrupted.

Early Education (The British Association for Early Childhood Education) has produced guidance notes on early adoption.

You can watch here the Zoom meeting organised by Early Education to discuss the problems of the new EYFS, which within 24 hours had 25,000 views. You can sign here the petition organised by Keeping Early Years Unique calling for the changes to EYFS to be revoked. Read more about the principles of early years education.

Primary Assessment

On 2 July 2020, the Government announced:

‘We are planning on the basis that statutory primary assessments will take place in summer 2021. The Early Years Foundation Stage profile, and all existing statutory Key Stage 1 and 2 assessments, should return in 2020 to 2021 in accordance with their usual timetables. This includes:

  • The Phonics Screening Check
  • Key Stage 1 tests and teacher assessment
  • The Year 4 Multiplication Tables Check
  • Key Stage 2 tests and teacher assessment

Test results will continue to be used for accountability purposes, with school level results being published in the usual way.

The union is strongly opposed to these plans, which are both unrealistic and damaging to pupils’ learning and well-being. These tests did not go ahead in summer 2020 and were not missed. Pupils have missed nearly four months of schooling through lockdown; results from national tests would not be comparable with other years, and they will hold schools accountable for issues outside their control, such as family poverty and access to technology. The Government has already halted the roll-out of Baseline next academic year, now it must go further to cancel all Government primary tests in 2021. The NEU is working with other unions, with parents and with More Than A Score to argue for a change of direction. As a first step, you can sign the More Than a Score petition, ‘Cancel SATs and all formal government tests in 2021’.

The Phonics Check

The Government is proposing to introduce a statutory phonics screening check for incoming Year 2 pupils in the second part of the Autumn term: schools would administer a ‘past version of the check’. They would be required to report pupils’ check scores to their local authority and local authorities would then submit this data to the DfE. Pupils who did not meet the expected standard in the Autumn check would be expected to take the check again in June 2021.

This proposal is part of the Government’s programme to restore as quickly as possible the pre-Covid system of assessment and accountability. It is the exact opposite of what schools need.

At a time when educators will be trying to rebuild their school community, and cope with the challenges of a possible ‘second spike’, the return of high stakes assessment places a new set of obstacles in their path. Only a Government which was completely out of touch with the experience of schools could think this was a good idea.

The NEU, alongside other unions, will be arguing strenuously against this measure, including the envisaged arrangements for the reporting of results. In the meantime, members should aim to ensure that the work of their school focuses on recovery and well-being, not on preparation for an entirely inappropriate test.

New phonics check is pointless

The government's proposal for a mandatory Year 2 phonics check in the Autumn Term is exactly the opposite of what schools need. 

A new phonics check will be a pointless and damaging interference with the work of primary educators, who will be pulling out all the stops to provide an appropriate and engaging curriculum for children whose learning will have been significantly disrupted.

For Year 2 children who “fail” the test, they will have to re-sit it – in the same year they will also sit KS1 SATs. This will pile pressure on young children who need to be supported to re-engage with school, while the requirement on schools to report their results to local authorities and Government will create new pressures of accountability.

John Hayes - NEU member and headteacher

In this video, John Hayes spells out the reasons why a new Phonics check should be opposed. 

Too Much Testing : the alternative for England

The Westminster Government wants to hold on to its SATs-based system of primary assessment. It is increasingly isolated in this. In a recent YouGov poll of parents, 73% thought children were under too much pressure because of standardised testing and 61% believed there was too much testing.  In a 2019 survey, 97% of 54,000 NEU members voted to abolish SATs. 

There is a contradiction between what is required by the Westminster Government and what works for children and teachers. The NEU believes that the framework for a different model already exists. Read and download our leaflet on the alternative.

The political support for the alternative 

Most political parties are opposed to Baseline and other high stakes tests. At NEU Annual Conference 2019, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Lib Dem education spokesperson Layla Moran announced their intention to scrap SATs.

It’s time for the Government to listen and move to an assessment system that trusts teachers and values children as individuals, not as data.

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