Fooling the Reception baseline

My thoughts on a brief discussion tonight about whether or not Reception teachers will cheat on the baseline tests to depress results.

Only it’s not as straightforward as that, is it?

Doubtless somewhere somebody will cheat: it’s the nature of large populations, sadly. But cheating is relatively rare at all levels of examination. What is more significant in this case is the careful use of the rules.

Firstly, there’s the (somewhat crazy) act of selecting a test. Schools are entitled to choose the test that they think is best for them. We’ve seen endless articles and politicians complaining about the ‘race to the bottom’ from GCSE exam boards; why would reception tests be any different? And why would school leaders do anything other than try to select the test that would cause their pupils to achieve the worst results? After all, this is the baseline against which future outcomes will be measured.

And once the test is selected, when do you carry it out? After the first few weeks, once children are settled in the environment and familiar with the staff and able to show what they can do? Or might a headteacher be tempted to push for an earlier assessment, before those possible frustrating factors have been removed? Maybe the first day they’re through the door?

And in what circumstances? We sit KS2 tests in silent rooms, but might distractions be an advantage in this case? Maybe it’s better that the child can’t fully hear the tablet because of the other noises in the room?

Of course, the timings are bound to be flexible, so perhaps a little rush would help? After all, its no skin off our noses if they don’t quite get the chance to show what they can do.

And the benefit of the doubt? Not sure if they got that phoneme right through knowledge or luck? Better to err on the side of caution and say not for now. After all, if they did, that’s a little bit of progress made already on the data spreadsheet.

But why would Reception teachers do any of that? Sure, the stakes are high for schools now – not least after the declaration of “all out war” from the current government, but as Sam Freedman points out:

But what Sam has missed – and what the DfE seems so often to misunderstand – is that the vast majority of teachers is not so mercenary as to disregard the wellbeing of their colleagues; most primary school teachers consider themselves to be part of a collaborative community where we’re all working towards educating all of the children in our care, not in competition with one another; the average teacher in a Reception class is much more concerned about the relationships with their colleagues and workplace than with the latest wheeze from the department; and the typical primary school teacher doesn’t see the data set from children in another year group as ‘somebody else’s problem’. So yes, 7 years is a long time, but for a teacher in a Reception class, what other factors are there to consider?

Lower baseline results might help them to show more progress over the Reception year – a vital high stakes factor now, given that we have had performance-related pay forced upon us.

Lower baseline results might also help to demonstrate the challenges we’re working with to outside agencies, inspectors and others who scrutinise our work.

Lower baseline results might help to satisfy the headteacher who fears for his job in the current high stakes environment that is worsened by outbursts like those recently from the Tory party.

Lower baseline results will at some point help the school to demonstrate the progress that is made by all of the staff working together in the building – and for many, 7 years is a perfectly reasonable time to imagine still being in the same building.

And who benefits from higher scores? Certainly not the child, nor the teacher herself, nor her immediate colleagues, or the families with whom we work.

All of the factors that lead to coaching and boosting and targeting in Year 6 (about which secondary schools complain endlessly, and yet schools feel compelled to do), are going to have similar (if inverse) effects in Reception. So indeed, it’s true that very few Reception teachers would feel pushed to cheat on the tests. But if it were as simple as not cheating, then we wouldn’t have half the trouble we already have with results transferred between primary and secondary schools.

The only difference is that this time we’re mixing up 4-year-olds in our data games.

With apologies for any typos – it’s late, and I never meant  to get caught up in this debate anyway!



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One thought on “Fooling the Reception baseline

  1. […] do I think this is a problem (Leaving aside the schools using a bias to their advantage argument made by Michael […]

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