WHAT IF: We took baseline data at reception and used it to research learning…

wpid-sketch14234654-1.pngI got quite a lot of positive feedback from my first What If post – but very little further interest (I’m still intrigued to know what ideas people have about using PP funding for developing the cultural aspects of a school – in order to improve educational and life experiences for students who are less likely to get same outside school).

This week, the baseline test providers were published by the DfE and a lively debate has been asking what the point of the baseline tests will be, how will schools be held to account with it and whether schools might purposely engineer the tests so they are biased towards the lower end, thus making it easier to show better progress over time.

I tweeted my opinions on the subject:

Now, a caveat. I’m not an expert on cognitive development at reception – I’ve read about cognitive development theories when studying to become a teacher, but a lot of the popular stuff seems to be discredited or superceded. So I bow to anyone’s superior knowledge on this sort of thing, but the way I understand it is that there is a high level of variability in development during the early years <4 that is highly dependent on both environment and genetics.

So I see the situation simply as this:

  • 30 (ish) children come into a reception class and they are baseline tested.
  • That is their baseline for the rest of their school educational lives.
  • Schools will be judged on that!?!

Why do I think this is a problem (Leaving aside the schools using a bias to their advantage argument made by Michael Tidd)

  • No normalising effect of the new environment will have taken place. It’s received wisdom that August children on average have a disadvantage because they enter school younger than everyone else but at the same time teachers report that they tend to catchup after about 6 months. The environment and adjustment to it will affect children in very different ways.
  • The baseline tests are from 6 different providers – how can they be comparable?
  • The noise in the small sample of a school year group at the start of reception will be huge.

So do I think we should have baseline tests? Possibly, yes.

What if:

  • they could a useful formative tool for teachers and schools as they get to know their new students?
  • they could provide the education system with a wealth of amazingly useful data? Imagine the longitudinal studies that could be facilitated with this data. It could support research in education over a long period of time. (I realise consent and research ethics needs to be considered here.)

But they should not be used as accountability measures for progress.

[EDIT : I’ve already had two people remind me that at the end of early years the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile is completed. This provides a suitable formative reference for teachers. Could it be used as data for researching progression through school?

I’ll also add a link to @Sue_Cowley’s must read post that delves into the problems with the baseline tests and why we must not tolerate them.


What do you think? Respond in the usual way. Twitter #eduwhatif or comment below.



WHAT IF: We spent PP money on providing comprehensive music tuition for every student?


I am reading a brilliant and funny book at the moment called What If? by Randall Munroe, the creator of XKCD, in which he answers absurd hypothetical questions with scientific research and calculation. It is an excellent book and I will review it, when finished, for the Science Teaching Library, which I hope to re-reopen this year.

However it got me thinking… “What If” is an excellent question for tackling some of the wild ideas we have in education: e.g. What If we used meditation in schools (to pick up on a discussion going on on Twitter right now). It’s important that we think about and debate these ideas. But the answers are useless if simply based on opinion or bias. They have to be researched and ultimately put to the test.

So I’m going to try something – I’m going to propose an (absurd?) hypothetical question. And I want you to give me some proposals as to how we could answer it.

Here’s the question:
WHAT IF a school used the money allocated to them for Pupil Premium and used it to (help) fund instrumental provision and music tuition for all students in the school?

This question was prompted by this amazing tweet tonight by @headguruteacher.

He suggested PP money could be used to fund this sort of provision.


I’m adding in some suggestions from twitter #EduWhatIf as well as a video to help trigger reasons for doing this intervention over others.


TED-ED Video – How playing an instrument benefits your brain


The (loose) rules are:
* make suggestions in comments or on twitter with #EduWhatIf
* contributions should ideally have some credibility – either from direct experience or having read and referenced research.
* constructive criticism of suggestions proposed (remember this is a hypothetical question).
* we are trying to identify a theoretical outcome that may well be able to be implemented so try to be realistic with your suggestions.

What would the effect be? Would it meet the criteria for appropriate spending of PP money? Issues? Benefits? What do you think would happen?

Next week: Mindfullness 🙂