Four-year-olds don't need exams

Nick Gibb, Schools Minister

The Department for Education plans to spend £10 million making England the first country in the world to put four-year-old children through exams. Overwhelmingly the evidence, and consensus from experts around the world, says these kinds of tests on young children are both pointless and damaging.

If so-called Baseline Assessment goes ahead in 2020, every four-year-old will be tested in their first six weeks in school, using a 20-minute one-to-one test. The results will inevitably be unreliable, as two previous expensive and abandoned trials proved.

At four years old, children are just too young for this kind of high-stakes testing.
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To: Nick Gibb, Schools Minister
From: [Your Name]

We oppose your plans to spend £10 million rolling out Baseline Assessment for four-year-olds entering school. Overwhelmingly the evidence, and consensus from experts around the world, says these kinds of tests on young children are both pointless and damaging.

Successive governments have tried to establish baseline testing, but time and again they have failed.

We know that assessment of children’s learning is essential to good teaching and to helpful conversations between teachers and parents. There are better alternatives for ensuring the quality of schools without subjecting young children to testing.

Testing such young children is fraught with problems. It cannot provide a valid account of their learning, because they will not be able to show their true abilities in a test taken out of the context of familiar relationships and practical experiences.

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 will suffer through being labelled at a young age, particularly disadvantaging 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. The tests risk children’s well-being and confidence by interrupting the crucial early period when they are forming relationships and settling into school.

And many schools will 'teach to the test', so that early years education will become more narrow and formal. This is not good for children. Children deserve an education that places them at the centre. Children are more than a score.

Will you cancel this doomed experiment once and for all?