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Hashtagcrockoftest or how to resist (the baseline assessment for 4-5 year olds in England)

Helen Lees

I’m both laughing and crying. We do a lot of that in education, don’t we? Someone at work who works closely with teachers just told me that teachers in English schools, if asked about a test and how it relates to a child’s personal and background history– factors such as summer birth, learning needs, in-care status, adoption, deprived household, issues from abuse, health matters, lack of English- would call any test administered in an English school an ‘objective test’ such factors do not affect.

I’m crying because testing is being treated by the government and it seems by too many teachers, including those in my son’s school alas, as rigorous, useful, valid and erm, objective for the baseline assessment exercised inflicted this year on reception stage children. Yes that’s right you heard me: testing four and five year olds in English schools within the first six weeks of term is deemed appropriate and from next year, obligatory. No. I’m not kidding.

I’m crying because as a parent I was handed two weeks ago at a teacher-parents consultation meeting about my son one of the (twitter search it and add to it) #crockoftest results sheets, designed in the most appallingly infantilising way by the NFER to inform parents about their child’s ‘standard’. An example of such meaningless nonsense is here

Eh? Hold on a minute. So an objective test for a four and five year old? Oh I’m laughing again… Have the people who made these tests up and decided to tell teachers they are valid met any small children who can’t yet read or write or do up their shirt buttons? Cute they are. Objective?

How does this story continue? I have spoken with a number of teacher educators of the early years phase who cannot quite believe the utter lack of resistance to this policy and its enacting. One forthright but right educationist has called the teachers for whom this test is seemingly ‘objective’ and ‘valid’ as not bright enough to have a conversation with me (as a parent) about what the NFER sweet, coloured bars in the link above to an example mean. Nor are they bright enough to discuss with me the metrics, the meaning nor the measures. Yet these same teachers are the ones who tell me bare faced it doesn’t label children right at the start of their school career as at this level or that level. Eh? It says in black white and bit of colour they are at this level or that level. So bar one registers a result in the middle, bar two in the middle kinda, bar three blank and the last bar – the grand final assessment they work from right at the bottom- labelled ‘working towards’ because his grade is close to the start of the scale (meaning bottom of it) in terms of ability it seems. THIS IS MY SON YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. So when I ask about the worry I have of him being labelled I am told blithely he is categorised as ‘working towards’. What is that if not a label? Then I am told there are seven other measures. So I ask for an explanation of these but get a blank face. Then I go to the head-teacher and ask for an explanation from her to be told patronisingly the school was made to do it by the government and had no choice. Squeeze me but that ain’t so. It’s not statutory (this year), although perhaps an expectation.

As the conversation progresses I become fed up with platitudes about why it is helpful and, yep you guessed it, objective. I leave in disgust, sadly, the words ‘thanks for listening… ’ escape hopelessly. My nascent desire to get on with the school, with the teacher of my son… is all shot down in flames.

Now I am the one who dared to question their judgment, their professional knowledge, their test. The only parent who has questioned the test? At the parent consultation I pushed the useless piece of paper back across the table to my son’s teacher as she said “Look he’s doing just fine” and I said “That’s all I need to know. Not this. Whatever it is. This has damaged my relationship to you and with the school.” That is an objective fact. Subjectively I wonder if teachers have lost their minds.


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