Don’t test four-year-olds in English and maths

Nick Gibb, Schools Minister

England is the first country in the world planning to put four-year-old children through formal tests in English and maths when they start school. Overwhelmingly the evidence, and consensus from experts around the world, says these tests on young children are pointless and damaging.

If Reception Baseline Assessment goes ahead in 2021, every four-year-old will be tested during their first six weeks in school. Two previous expensive and abandoned trials have already proved the results are unreliable. This year, the data will be utterly meaningless.

Only half of our youngest children are currently attending nursery and at least half are predicted to be "not school ready" in September. Introducing these tests during a pandemic is not just absurd, but immoral. It shows a government more wedded to data collection than children's well-being.

Reception year should be an exciting and reassuring introduction to the joy of learning through play. It should stimulate children’s curiosity and build their self-confidence. It should not include tests that ignore everything four-year-olds can do and turn them into data points.

When four-year-olds start school, the priority should be settling them in. Careful, personal and precise assessment by teachers is the way to determine how best to support young children’s learning, not statutory government tests.

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To: Nick Gibb, Schools Minister
From: [Your Name]

We oppose your plans to yet again attempt to introduce tests in English and maths for four-year-olds when they start school. Overwhelmingly the evidence, and consensus from experts around the world, says these tests on young children are pointless and damaging.

Testing four-year-olds is fraught with problems. It cannot provide a valid account of their learning, because young children will not be able to show their true abilities in a test where they are removed from the classroom and from their friends.
Children will suffer through taking English and maths tests at such a young age.

Research carried out during the Baseline trial in 2019 showed that children were aware they were being tested and were anxious about not doing well.
These tests particularly disadvantage the most vulnerable children – those with special needs, those suffering the effects of poverty, the summer-born, and those whose first language is not English.

They risk children’s well-being and confidence by interrupting the crucial early period when they are forming relationships and settling into school. This is more the case than ever given the huge social, emotional and economic impacts of the pandemic.

You have also failed to explain how the data gathered from tests on four-year-olds will be used to measure children’s progress or school performance.

There is no evidence that early testing can reliably predict children’s later achievements. Developmental psychologists have shown that children's well-being, confidence and self-regulation are central to their future learning, but these cannot be tested by baseline.

Children deserve an education that places them at the centre from the very start. Children are More Than A Score.

Please cancel this doomed experiment once and for all.