The announcement yesterday that from 2016 there will be tests for 4-5 years olds has had a mixed response. It hasn’t been helped by the media hyperbole surrounding the idea, with a focus on conjuring up images of Reception age children being sat in rows completing examinations.
However, if we set aside prejudging the way that this will be implemented and consider the possible impact, then I think there is much to celebrate in the notion that we may look at the child’s individual developmental point when they start school.
It is important to recognise that this should be a formative or diagnostic process rather than a comparative one. There is little to be gained by trying to create a baseline which sets one child against the next. This is in part because of the significant variance in age at this point. As a percentage of age, one child could be almost 25% older than another.
An additional factor is that children have not necessarily been exposed to the, hopefully, positive impact of education. Some will have had highly stimulatory formative experiences and others won’t. This will contribute to a wide range of developmental difference, dependent upon numerous factors. Also lets not forget that children are themselves inherently unique which itself brings significant variance.
What is of value is identifying and understanding the extent to which children have developed and consolidated the cognitive skills required for learning. There are a wide range of skills, which are often developed intuitively, that serve to create the building blocks of later development. If these skills are not in place then their absence can have a significant impact on progress.
This assessment opportunity has the potential to provide a greater consistency of knowledge and understanding regarding each individual’s unique developmental point. As a result, effectively differentiated opportunities to develop these skills may be highly supportive of individual progress. What we have the opportunity to create, is a highly personalised start to education rather than the generalist approach we often have now.
It is also an opportunity to explore the idea of Early Intervention in its truest sense. I have always found the notion of Early Intervention somewhat ironic, as it is too often a reactive response to the symptomatic indicators of some form of delay or difference. By having a universal evaluation of the developmental point that children have reached upon starting school, it may be possible to put support in place, or focus on developing particular cognitive areas, before underdevelopment has an impact on progress more broadly.
However we do need to be mindful of making crude generalisations as a result of this information and not make presumptions which limit aspiration, but instead ensure that we use this knowledge of the child to drive personal progress.
Through the provision of outreach support it has become increasingly apparent that children throughout Primary, who are not making the expected progress, have gaps in their cognitive development which have not been addressed. Gaps that with the right, appropriately delivered assessments could have been identified through a universal approach.
So lets not jump to conclusions, in the right hands and with the right intentions this could transform education at its earliest stage, encouraging a far better informed, child centred, approach to curricula and delivery that could build the foundations of future success.