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Early years heavyweights back campaign against baseline tests

Several influential early years figures are among more than 2,000 people to sign a petition against plans to introduce new testing arrangements for children in reception classes.

From September this year, schools will be able to use new baseline assessments to test the knowledge and understanding of children as young as four in school reception classes at the beginning of the academic year. The tests will replace the use of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile.

But the plans have been rejected by many in the sector and a petition has so far attracted 2,086 signatures from early years experts, providers and parents.

The campaign, launched by Early Education, The British Association for Early Childhood in Education, warns that the arrangements could harm children’s development and that those who perform less well could be “stigmatised and labelled as failing” within weeks of starting school.

Beatrice Merrick, chief executive of Early Education, hopes that their support will help to place the issue high on the political agenda ahead of the general election in May. “We want to try to get it on the radar of the political parties now so that pre-election we see parties committing to reviewing this policy. We realise that it’s unlikely that we’re going to get a decision now to take it away but a new government could look at this and say ‘is this rational’?”

Nutbrown, author of the 2012 Nutbrown Review into early education, dismissed the testing arrangements as “deeply flawed”. She said: “This is a deeply flawed process and not a reliable way to learn about young children’s learning and development. Assessment through ongoing observation and working with young children is the best way to support their learning.”

Meanwhile, Penny Tassoni, president of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, described the assessment as “another nail in the coffin” for early childhood.

A spokeswoman for the DfE said: "There is absolutely no suggestion of introducing the kind of formal testing in reception that is used with older children - that would be completely inappropriate. These assessments include simple tasks typical for children at the start of reception, such as counting and recognising letters, numbers and everyday objects. Most schools already do some form of assessment when children start in reception, so they already know what care and attention the child needs."