Yet another baseline-is-bad article appears in mainstream media and I wonder whether I’m the only person in favour of a national baseline?
I believe the government, policy makers and indeed everyone in this country has a right to know about the state of early childhood. Currently, we are mostly in the dark, save for stories about material poverty, but what we have no public discourse on the poverty of aspiration. It is this kind of poverty that has the most far-reaching effects and I believe it is more endemic than material poverty. Put simply, a poverty of aspiration is what happens when parents are led to believe that parenting is something that happens, rather than something that one must do – the latter being about the goal of sending out in the world intelligent and caring adults into the world who will have an overall positive effect on society. The early years curriculum rhetoric assumes everything will unfold ‘naturally’ and the result is that some children arrive at school without speech, without general knowledge, without stories, songs or nursery rhymes.
It is mostly the stalwart nursery and teaching assistants who have to roll their sleeves up and stoically get on with the job without making a fuss. In the meantime, people like me look at the EYFS data, the phonics data and see enormous numbers of children who are increasingly unable to access the academic aspects of the curriculum. If we had a national picture of the real state of early childhood, then we’d be able to deploy those resources more effectively. We also might have a little more respect for those reception year teachers and teaching assistants who work within a framework, moderation and inspection process that makes it difficult to apply evidence-based practice in early years – the upshot of which is that disadvantaged children in particular are disadvantaged even further, and combined with the fact that there is no magical process that suddenly makes them ‘naturally’ catch up in the 6 week holiday between reception year and Year 1 as well as the fact that all children in later year groups sit the same tests, those disadvantaged children are looking at fewer choices in life when they become men and women.
I think a baseline test would also wake parents up as to the minimum expectations for school preparedness and be made aware of what the consequences are for their own child if their child cannot access the learning or even play happily with their friends. This is about honesty, joined up thinking, working in partnership with parents and sometimes we need to have difficult conversations as part of that process. Of course, many might then look at this national picture of early childhood and surmise that perhaps we simply need to delay school entry, perhaps have children start school at 6 or 7 years of age – but imagine the word gap by then! I think we’d also end up with children still starting school without the basics, only this time the bad habits would be even more entrenched.
So, let’s have that national baseline test and brace ourselves for the massive wake-up call that it will bring.
Who’s with me?