The Reception Baseline…Is It Flawed from the Start?

Dr. Helen Simmons, programme lead for the Early Childhood Studies (top-up) BA Hons online at Derby University shares her views on the Reception baseline in the UK. 

Government plans to test 4 year olds on entry to Reception have been widely criticised by early years experts and leaders. Plans for the new baseline assessment due to be introduced in the Autumn of this year will see teachers carry out assessments within literacy, communication and mathematics during children’s first few weeks in school.

A flawed approach?

The Department for Education (2020) claim the new baseline will provide a more accurate picture of the quality of schools and the progress children have made from entry to Year 6 SATs. It also paves the way for KS1 SATs to be abolished with a rationale that testing children at their mid-point of primary education is less helpful than at the beginning. 

However…unions and early years organisations have been quick to point out that several problems are evident:

·   Any single point assessment is arguably problematic and not an accurate representation of a child’s ability.  

·    For such young children at a point of fundamental and unsettling transition, the expectation that any helpful indication of capability could be garnered in such a way lacks pedagogical grounding.

·    The use of the data to ‘measure’ the performance of schools indicates a wider issue which makes these plans merely a symptom of a more systemic concern with the government’s view of what it means to be a ‘quality’ school.


Quality...challenging the discourse

On the BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies degree, students are encouraged to use critical reflection to challenge policy and debate its place within our understanding of pedagogy. Recently, in modules such as Contesting Childhood and The Critically Reflective Practitioner, our students have been debating notions of quality within education. We have explored clear challenges between a data driven view of quality (as underpinned by national testing programmes) and what is widely accepted as quality practice and provision within the early years community. There exists a tension between national policy drivers focused on performance data and competitiveness at the expense of young children’s rights and educational experiences (Lewis 2018). The move to measure children through single point assessment at age 4 is arguably an example of data driven expectations being inappropriately placed on children.

What about the children?

National organisation More than a Score (2020) have campaigned for the test to be scrapped, arguing that a child’s Reception experience should be defined by a love of learning, curiosity and exploration. Reducing performance to a 20-minute window undermines the philosophy of early years education. We may also wonder what messages we are sending to children through this initiative. Are we telling children that English and Maths are the only areas of learning that matter? And perhaps also that testing is a component of the primary education to be accepted and conformed to?


So what next?

Teachers and professionals working with young children are therefore faced with a challenge. Presented with difficult and often contradictory discourse they may feel they face a professional dilemma, embrace government changes at the expense of their own view of what is best for children, or risk being deemed ineffective. Perhaps the challenge falls to leaders and headteachers to reconceptualise the prevailing discourse in relation to their school’s values and support teachers to exercise professional autonomy without fear of reprisal. 

Find out more about studying an Early Childhood Studies (top-up) BA Hons online at Derby here


Department for Education (2020) Key stage 1 SATs replacement to be rolled out from September. Available at: (Accessed: 15th June 2020) 

Lewis, Z. (2018): ‘Policy and the image of the child: a critical analysis of drivers and levers in English early years curriculum policy’, Early Years, An International Research Journal, doi: 10.1080/09575146.2018.1501552.

More than a score (2020) ‘Testing 4 year olds makes no sense’ (Accessed: 15th June 2020)