Reception Teachers Assemble! With half-term right around the corner it’s fair to say that Reception Teachers, more than most, have earned their break. Why you ask? Well, as part of major revisions to the EYFS framework (for more information on this please see our previous Bromcom blog), the RBA or Reception Baseline Assessment has been introduced as a mandatory assessment for primary pupils, to be taken in the first six weeks of term.
Not only are these ‘Year R’ teachers having to contend with a crop of youngsters who are experiencing their first foray into the world of education, they are also expected to digest new early years documentation, alter teaching practices to ensure modified ELGs (Early Learning Goals) are met and persuade their pupils to complete the RBA. Sound like a lot? That’s because it is!
In this blog we plan to highlight the key messaging around the RBAs, namely: the context in which it was introduced; what it intends to measure and initial responses. So, without further ado, what is the Reception Baseline Assessment?
The Reception Baseline Assessment has been designed as an age-appropriate assessment for all students of reception age. The content of the assessment correlates directly with the modifications to the other elements of the EYFS and reflects the strands of learning needed to be met in order to achieve GLD (Good Level of Development) by the end of academic year.
The assessment itself focuses on early mathematical and literacy skills. It is intended to be a short interactive assessment which lasts no more than 20 minutes, generating an accurate snapshot of the child’s academic aptitude as they arrive at big school.
In recent years, the Reception Baseline Assessment has been the only measure the Department of Education has used to assess the development and progress of students who enter school at Reception age.
The RBA’s introduction was actually as response to a 2017 consultation in which the government deemed it necessary to introduce an assessment to provide a reliable baseline (hence the name) that would enable them to make predictions on how a pupil would do at the end of their Primary career; but more on that later.
Despite the intentions of the government to release this new initiative in the 2020/21 academic year, the pandemic delayed proceedings. However, some schools trialled this system between September and November of 2018, there was also a voluntary pilot in 2019 and some schools were ‘early’ adopters of the assessment at the beginning of the previous academic year. The data collected was vast, so we have taken the liberty of raising some of the salient findings below:
To begin with, it should be noted that the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) who were the driving vehicle behind this new assessment worked extensively with schools, SEND experts and early years practitioners to create something which would accommodate those from all different ethnicities, religions and sexual orientations. Their methodology centred on being as inclusive and age appropriate as possible.
From the 2,507 schools analysed across the pilot year, 84% of practitioners said they rated the child’s interest and enjoyment with the assessment as ‘satisfactory’ or higher. 89% of practitioners claimed that the child’s understanding of the task was ‘satisfactory’ or better. This latter figure is slightly at odds with the government’s assertion that the assessment should be accessible to 99% of students. Again, this is something we will address later.
Additional positive feedback provided about children’s engagement with the assessment was based on the flexibility to pause the assessment and restart without it affecting the child’s performance. Practitioners said this was useful as, with the challenges of managing a class alongside this, they could adapt to changing circumstances quickly and it would not be detrimental to the pupil in question.
For more information on findings from the early implementation of the RBA, please visit: DfE Reception Baseline Assessment
So why do we need a baseline? Well it’s fair to say this is up for debate and answers between educational professionals may differ dramatically. The official line is that the previous KS1 approach was not sufficient to provide a foundation for accurate long term assessments of pupils. The government wanted to introduce a system which did not increase the burden on Reception teachers and could, on average, accurately measure a schools KS2 results compared to other pupils nationally who had similar starting points.
Though this process will take seven years (as we will have to wait till the current crop reach Year Six), it is envisaged that this will be a better progress measure, moving forward. Are you still with me? Good, well let’s take a deep dive into the baseline…
There are two parts of the assessment and both should take no longer than 20 minutes to complete, as mentioned previously. The assessment includes practical tasks with physical resources including plastic shapes and picture sequencing cards. The resources themselves have been provided for schools and should have been sent out during the summer term so staff could become accustomed to the different objects and instructions before the beginning of term time.
One part of the assessment will be mathematical tasks focusing on early number, early calculation (addition and subtraction), mathematical language and early understanding of pattern. The English tasks will centre on early vocabulary, phonological awareness, early comprehension and early reading.
For those children who may have accessibility requirements, modified materials are provided to accommodate their needs. For example, there is equipment in place to ensure that hearing or visual impairments have no bearing on the outcome of the child’s result.
The assessment should be completed by a trained member of school staff. It is important to note that Ofsted will not factor the RBA into their inspection of a school, nor will any external assessor have any role in the baseline. Generally, it will fall to the child’s regular Primary teacher to assess unless a suitable teaching assistant or other qualified member of staff, the child knows well, can support.
The RBA is not a written assessment. The child will respond to questions by either oral response, pointing or moving objects. There are no specific techniques required for the majority of questions. In many cases, multiple methods of answer can lead to a mark.
The total marks available are 39. It is the government’s assertion that no more than 2.5% of pupils assessed will hit 39/39. This it to avoid the dreaded ‘ceiling effect’ where the test does not suitably measure a pupil’s ability as they can perform the tasks with little difficulty. At the other end of the academic spectrum, with students whose cognitive processing may not be as strong as their peers, activities will be given which total 22 marks as a minimum. This does not mean the minimum score is 22, merely that for some students who may struggle with the assessment, they are not bombarded with the 17 extra markable tasks that are likely to be overwhelming and of significant detriment to the child’s confidence.
Crucially, these marks will not be shared with the primary school. Instead of receiving numerical data to inform targets for students, teachers will be given a brief statement illustrating how the child performed on the day. For primary teachers, the crucial work they do with this RBA is intended to pay dividends for progress insight at KS2 level. Other elements of the restructured EYFS, such as Development Matters, can be used as guidance to assist teaching and learning for the primary year.
There it is. The history of the Reception Baseline Assessment and a high level overview of its contents. It seems to have caused quite a stir, both positive and negative. So, let’s explore some of the perceived pros and cons of the RBA. Firstly, the pros…
The pandemic has already caused a delay to proceedings with the RBA and it will have also had an adverse effect on thousands of children up and down the country. Assessing knowledge seems more important than ever for some and it seems reasonable to suggest that this assessment could be crucial in ascertaining a pupils starting point. As the assessment is largely uniform for all pupils and, coupled with the statements, primary school teachers will gain a decent insight into where individuals stand within their cohort. This can help with tailored activities, moving forward.
Another advantage is valuable one-to-one time with a practitioner to complete the task. At this early stage of primary education, building relationships is crucial. Though it is only twenty minutes, this time could prove invaluable to both educator and pupil in building a bond which will hopefully endure until the end of the academic year.
Unfortunately, for many, it seems the negatives outweigh the positives and the RBA represents a burden for Reception educators.
First and foremost, there has been criticism placed on the time it takes to understand the resources used in the Reception Baseline Assessment, with many teacher spending the first few weeks of term simply getting accustomed to the content, let alone having to deliver to a class of pupils, individually.
On this note, it’s also worth mentioning the concerns about the nature of this assessment and the time it takes educators or assistants outside the classroom. Many argue that the time in the first six weeks should be spent settling students and conducting home visits, not spending hours of the day outside the class to complete an assessment and having to, in many instances, arrange cover provision to ensure they are completed.
From an assessment perspective, some of the criticism has been even fiercer. Practitioners have commented that engagement with the content has been hugely variable even though it has been designed to stimulate. As a result, many believe that it is not an accurate reflection of the child’s ability. This is combined with the multiple choice element of some of the questions. Even a pupil who is perceived to be struggling with a question can get the answer correct by pointing in the right direction. There are serious questions raised of whether this is reflective of the child’s actual level or if it’s a series of correct guesses which can be detrimental to their ensuing education.
A final cause for concern across the primary teaching community is the lack of access to the results. Teacher’s see this is as nonsensical as it does not allow them to formulate plans for their children’s academic futures and the statements provided in place of grading do little to help assist them with guiding the child forward.
Overall, it is understandable that over 110,000 individuals have signed a petition organised by campaign group, More Than a Score, which is calling for an end to the current system of primary assessments.
Despite these protestations it seems, for the time being, the RBA is here to stay. So what can you do to ensure you are prepared? Some of you may have already completed the assessment but for those who haven’t, Bromcom wants to offer some top tips on how to navigate this new baseline successfully.
As stated, the test can be stopped and started at any time and will not be of detrimental effect to students. If an issue arises or you happen to be in the middle of an assessment as break time begins, don’t be afraid to stop what you are doing in the knowledge you can pick it up again later. With all the variables that come with teaching a primary class you are not expected to dedicate yourself entirely to this 20 minutes and, with all your time management skills already, this will be of distinct advantage to getting them completed within the first six weeks. If a child is crossing their legs and begging to go to the loo, it’s not the end of the world!
As is instructed to parents, pupils are not to be taught or coached in any way to do well on this assessment, it should be a natural reflection of their own abilities. So don’t worry about desperately trying to cram topics into your early curriculum to skew results in your favour, just continue doing what you’re doing.
If you are struggling with the contents of the tests, either the way it should be delivered or the inputting of results, then just ask. Many of you will have primary colleagues just down the corridor to support and, failing that, have a look on online forums or government troubleshooting websites. You are not alone in this!
Don’t be afraid to tell people how you feel about the RBA. Yes this can mean ranting or raving to anyone who will hear you in the staff room but also provide your comments to the DfE. They need accurate feedback to ensure the assessment is appropriate. Whether you feel it is or not, articulating this could be crucial to the development of the process in years to come.
Most importantly, back yourself. You’ve trained for this. You are experts in what you do. Yes the educational landscape continues to change and you are often hit with last minute alterations or new methods of teaching but you are more than capable of completing all these tasks with aplomb. Of course at times it feels overwhelming but the reason you do it is to help enhance young people’s lives and at Bromcom we really do think there is no more noble a quest.
From everyone at the Bromcommunity, good luck with the RBA and if you’ve got any thoughts you’d like to share with us, please do get in touch.