Please can someone tell me why gathering information about cohorts of children is good – for children or schools?   10 comments

This is a follow on blog to my previous blog which explained why I don ‘t personally like baseline assessment. If you have not read that blog yet, you can do so by Clicking HERE

Although my blog about baseline was my personal view, lots of people have shared it, and lots of people have commented both publicly and privately. What did surprise me were these three things;

a) The number of people who contacted me privately to say they agreed with me, but where unable to comment publicly due to their current employment / contract. Some also said that they could not wait until contracts ended so they could have freedom of speech and be able to say what they really thought about baseline assessment

b) The number of people who have commented publicly in person and online to say they would prefer NOT to have to do baseline assessment, but felt they had no choice due to pressure from heads, fear that Ofsted would grade them lower, fear that if waited until compulsory that they would not have a choice, fear that if waited they would not have enough knowledge and experience to be able to implement next year.

c) The huge number who said – if they have  to do baseline it would be better to use one that best matched their previous systems, and their ethos and practice.

Pretty much the reasons that I suggested in my previous blog.

As baseline assessment is not yet compulsory, I find this a very ‘odd’ professional reaction, especially as so far I have not found anyone stating a good reason why or how baseline benefits individual children, or even schools. The whole thing seems to be based on fear of having to justify to Ofsted in future inspections, or provide evidence of progress through other means.

It would appear to me to have NOTHING to do with supporting individual children, or improving outcomes. Just data with which to beat schools with and to provide so called ‘evidence’ about why children are ‘failing’ the increasingly academic targets – and in my opinion with which to push through changes to national curriculum and frameworks, where ‘play’ becomes something you do at break time and involves letting of steam, not learning through play in appropriate enabling environments.

TO BE CLEAR IT IS NOT THE ASSESSMENT THAT IS THE ISSUE, IT IS THE GOVERNMENTS GATHERING OF DATA OF COHORTS OF CHILDREN.

Those who know me, will know that I am not one for quoting things or referencing other people’s work, to me that is of secondary importance to common sense based on my own observations and discussions in person with colleagues from across all early years sectors. Mainly because research and quotes are often taken out of context and used to support things that the research was never intended to be used for. However,  I have spent some time trying to find any quotes or references that can say WHY and HOW sending data to government  will benefit the children either individually or collectively.

I did find a quote from someone connected to one of the most popular baseline systems, saying in 2014 that ‘will not get meaningful data from very young children’ – but it would be wrong of me to quote this out of context. However I do wonder, why people say one thing and then do another.

I can almost hear those who have already carried out baseline assessments shouting out BUT we have always assessed the children on entry, and through out their time in our setting. OF COURSE YOU HAVE, and so have I, as it is essential to know where the children are when they start, and  their  progress so that you can support their development. This is not about assessing individual children to support their development on an ongoing basis.

IT is about sending data to government, about ticking boxes (yes, even yes / no boxes) against set criteria / targets/ goals.

I have never sent data (or information) to government. I have shared with parents / carers, and  I have shared with other professionals such as health visitors, speech and language specialist, and other early years settings that the child has attended, so that we can all support that child.

Have the children had poorer experiences because data has not be sent to government? Have they failed to reach their full potential? Have they failed to learn to read or write? In fact have any of the children that I have cared for over the last 37 years not gone on to pass exams, gain employment, be socially acceptable, make and maintain personal relationships?

Well, you don’t know these children – but the answer is No, none of them have failed in any shape or form. Many have gone on to university – but not all of them as personal choice, but all of them are ‘successful’.

I have friends and family members who went to private schools or who were home educated, and they had even less assessment in their early years, but again, all are ‘successful’ none of them are ‘failures’. Some family and friends children have additional needs, but with the right individual support all have (or are) achieving their personal best.

In terms of the country as a whole, I am not talking about huge numbers of children – around 300 over the 37 years, but if you add in all the children my friends and colleagues have cared for, we are talking huge numbers and not one of them needed data sending to the government in their early / primary years.

Well that is until Key Stage tests (SATS) and End Foundation Stage Profiles. Some of my grandchildren and friends children have gone through these assessments – but I can not personally see any difference in the attainment of these children – what I have seen though is very stressed children, children labelled as ‘failing’ or ‘not achieving’. I have not seen a huge change in statistics  about numbers of children leaving school without the basics of reading and writing under their belt.

Today we have had the latest results of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) with an increase in the number of 5 year olds who have reached a good level of attainment – 66.3% of them in fact.

I have commented via social media as follows;

So the government think this is GOOD news? The fact that 5 year old can meet the required standard? Some of those who do meet the ‘grade’will not be confident enough in their understanding to use it as the foundations of learning because they do not have time to consolidate, to follow interests, they have to get through the whole check list. About a third of 5 year olds are not making the ‘grade’ that is shocking – will these be the children who were still four when the EYFSP was completed? Or the ones who have already been excluded? Or the ones whose personal lives are falling to pieces for reasons beyond their control? 

What about the fact that so many 5 year olds have mental health issues, live in poverty, live with violence and drink / drug issues in their family and community? And just how many of these 5 year olds are happy?
I am not celebrating these results, I am depressed. When will government make the links to the big picture and stop pushing for these very narrow indicators of success?

You see, I do not think the current EYFSP is  worth the paper it is written on – and the ‘goals’ are not appropriate and that measuring in this way does not look at the bigger picture about individual children.

The baseline assessment results that are sent to government are even more ‘worthless’ as individual children will be merged into cohort facts, so the school can prove it is improving outcomes and children are progressing, but how can it provide this proof?  when children will leave, new children start, some won’t have started at 4 and would have started at CSA. Some will join the school in later years having spent time in another school which used a different system. Those entering the data will have some times been generous will the responses, others will have be conservative and mark down ‘ to be on the safe side’, others may score lower on purpose to make their figures look good next year and to show more progress than actually is made.

There is bound to be some adjustments made to areas that need tweaking, or changing, or dropping, and by the same token, new areas added. So where will the benchmark be made – these first assessment data? future assessment data? Or will it be a constantly moving goal post – in which case no one will be able to prove they are improving outcomes.

So what is the point? What is the benefit to individual children? What is the benefit to schools?

Please can someone tell me, what the benefit is – apart from evidence for Ofsted?

Another thing that is bothering me more and more, is there are two main points of view – one in favour of baseline and one against.

AGAIN I MUST STRESS THIS IS NOT ABOUT ASSESSING INDIVIDUAL CHILDREN FOR USE BY THEIR TEACHER TO SUPPORT THEIR DEVELOPMENT

Those against baseline assessment, do not stand to make any personal gain by objecting – so teachers / schools who have not ‘signed up’ to any baseline system; people like me who are campaigners and not paid by anyone for their campaigning work; membership organisations who are expressing the views of their members. All without any financial reason for doing so, they are just speaking up because they think that measuring children against targets is wrong, and sending data to government of no value to individual children

Those in favour often (but not always) stand to gain personally or organisationally from baseline assessment. This includes all the companies that have been approved by the government. And the most popular one – which we all know to be EEXBA  who stands to have an income of over £2.5 million,  plus any income from associated training or products – will of course  defend their product. Then there are those who are connected to the baseline system companies in one way or another, who of course also want to protect their business interests. And a few who having signed up, do not want to risk rocking the boat in case it impacts on their relationship with the company providing the system they use.

I think people should read about both sides of views about baseline, be aware of who is making comments and what that persons interest is in it all (in other words do they stand to gain anything personally)

My final point is,  I would like someone to explain to me why so many schools are so sure that sending cohort data to the government is not going to impact on them in the future, and won’t lead to new targets for children and teachers.

In my opinion the government have managed to use fear (so bullying) to make schools sign up to baseline, and will then manipulate the data to make changes to curriculum’s, to add more targets, and remove play in favour of adult led, academic tasks.

For the sake of the children of this country, I hope I am wrong. 

Posted October 13, 2015 by psw260259 in My thoughts on current childcare issues

10 responses to “Please can someone tell me why gathering information about cohorts of children is good – for children or schools?

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  1. Of course that’s what they want Penny, it’s gone full circle in the 20years I’ve been in childcare. Let’s hope the UK sees sense and gets rid of them in 2020 or sooner

  2. So happy to read this article. I’ve been feeling really uncomfortable about this data collection too. Also I’m unsure how as a Childminder, ‘summer born’ be a risk indicator. Children are only at risk of delay when they start school too early??

  3. Hi, perhaps you have seen it already but there was a depressing and ominous answer given to your question by Teacher Tom in his great blog recently. He is in the USA, and devoted a post to his rage at the utterly marketised use of big data from education now in that country, fuelled by the academisation process (more embedded there than here). For academies read conglomerates engaged in educational data mining: extracting trends from data on children’s performance in order to create packages of educational merchandise to sell to back to academies – at a profit of course. In fact sometimes to sell to other arms of their own franchises in mutually advantageous deals. What are children is this process but commercial fodder, much to Teacher Tom’s despair. Look at the packaging of the “pilot” baseline assessments here and the pressure to implement them from a government which is also pushing academies and free schools as hard as it can, and delve a little into the groups and corporations behind academy chains and their associated developing lines of educational materials. You will see the same patterns. To me the baseline assessment roll out is not only a disempowerment of teachers and schools, insupportable educationally but intertwines education and market forces more closely – how very useful indeed for this neo-liberal government to have all that big data!

    • Thank you Catherine for your comment.

      I had not read that blog by Teacher Tom, and can only assume it was because I have been unwell and not as up to speed as I usually am. So thank you for the summary, and your personal view. I have to say I do agree with you (and Teacher Tom). It is so depressing that none of it has anything to do with the children

      • Thanks for your reply Penny and sorry for the rant – it makes me angry. I was at a meeting with some year R teachers last week and they had all accepted and were implementing the baseline without question. I should have said something, and if I had read your post first I probably would have!

  4. Penny, you’re wonderful! Every EY practitioner I’ve met in recent months seems, from their conversation, to share these views but — for the reasons you give — feel unable to voice them. Thank you for expressing them so clearly and cogently. And, incidentally, I was the person who sent you the quote that ‘you are not going to get meaningful data’ by assessing children at such a young age. It was by Jan Dubiel of Early Excellence at a conference organised by Westminster Education Forum in January 2014, reported by Richard Garner in The Independent 5/2/14. I remember being extremely surprised when Early Excellence subsequently produced a Baseline Assessment test …
    Sue Palmer

  5. Reblogged this on anemone of promise.

  6. Penny, schools and pupils are all unaware of just how much data is sent to central government about each child. 8 million children’s records are stored at DfE and to date they refuse to accept they have a duty to transparently tell pupils and parents exactly how they use it, who they share it with and what for. I support using our data well for bona fide research with our knowledge and reasonable purposes we consent to. The way in which sensitive, individual level data are handled today by DfE, is in my opinion a scandal. Why the eternal quest for ever more data when Nick Gibb said in June, “data collection was the single biggest contributor to excess teacher workload, reported by some 56% of respondents.” and that the education system is “clogged up” with undependable data on pupil attainment. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/assessment-after-levels Yet they keep collecting an awful lot of it.

    • Thank you so much for commenting, as you say I am sure many parents are not aware of this – and nor are those pupils who reach an age when they should know what data is held about them and how it is used.

      We have to question just what the governments intention is (and not just this current government).

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