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Nonetheless, we benefit from the score Baseline gives us and, in an independent school such as ours, that concrete evidence for phonics and maths is a very valuable addition.
Lianne Morrison, Head of Early Years Foundation Stage and Housemistress, St Christopher’s School in Hove

Baseline: Complementing teacher observation of new starters

At St Christopher’s School in Hove, a prep school member of The Brighton College family of schools, teachers have found that Baseline reveals more than a simple measure of literacy, language and mathematical ability.

With 284 pupils on roll, aged four to 13, St Christopher’s School in Hove prides itself on providing a first-class academic education within a supportive family environment. Its innovative outlook means Lianne Morrison, Head of Early Years Foundation Stage and Housemistress, was keen to get to grips with the Reception baseline before its formal introduction in September 2016.

Lianne explains: “I wanted to be well prepared so I was delighted to be asked to participate in GL Assessment’s pilot study of Baseline at the beginning of last year.

“Previously, we assessed children through observation alone when they started Reception. For example, we would look out for communication skills and play numeracy games to hear if children could recognise numbers, then we’d record our observations using a pen and paper. It was clear from the start that Baseline would be a valuable addition to these observations.”

An additional tool

Baseline is a one-to-one assessment that is delivered on two tablets – one for the pupil and one for the teacher, who is able to control the audio and the progression of the tests. It contains full colour illustrations and is divided into three sections that assess literacy, language and mathematics.

“I have since looked at other providers but have chosen to stay with GL Assessment. What I like about Baseline is the fact it gives an additional valid measure. Our teachers are already well equipped to make classroom observations but Baseline is standardised, so it’s an opportunity to see all children do the same thing. This is something that would otherwise be very hard to recreate in a classroom setting.

“There are some children that you can anticipate scoring well from the way they reason and chat to teachers, but then there are those who are so little they are still rolling around on the carpet – and yet a number of these also scored highly which was a surprise.

“At the time, I thought, ‘Really? They can do that?’ However, after a year of maturing and getting used to school life, I can see that the scores for these children were accurate. In other words, Baseline also gave me a measure of potential for the end of the year, which I wasn’t anticipating.”

Precise and detailed

The children responded well to the engaging activities on Baseline and enjoyed the time alone with their teacher. “We are an academically successful school but I don’t agree that we should be ‘testing’ four or five year olds. This assessment was not a ‘test’; it was fun and the children loved it, especially the pictures.

“We hadn’t spent much time with the children before we assessed with Baseline and so it was lovely to be able to create conversations with them. For example, on one of the activities there is an image of a boy wearing roller skates while his mum says, ‘Get your skates on!’. Some children had heard this expression before and some hadn’t so it was a real talking point. In that respect, I got more from Baseline than I had expected.”

Lianne also found the online element was a real plus. “We had one child who was so shy, it was difficult to get much from him. However, he loves it and he really came alive with Baseline. There is no way I’d have realised he was at such a competent level without the assessment.

“I’d have watched him play games where he let his friends take the lead, and he wouldn’t leap to tell me he knew the right answer. Watching him reasoning and completing the maths problems with Baseline really helped me to get to know his abilities, which is exactly why I wanted a precise way of measuring.”

No pressure

The school is particularly sensitive to the fact such young children should feel relaxed and comfortable during any type of assessment. “When we explained to parents that we would be administering Baseline, they didn’t question it. They know we always spend the first few weeks of term observing the children anyway.

“Above all, I am conscious that I don’t want any pressure on the child. Whether they score at the top or the bottom, we will get them reading! We never forget how little these children are or that Reception year is a really magical part of their development. I was reminded of this recently when one mother told me that she had worried her little boy wouldn’t be able to read or write, then towards the end of Reception year he threw a paper aeroplane out the window to her that said, ‘I love you, Mummy.’”

Breaking language barriers

While the school doesn’t have a large percentage of children with special educational needs or who speak English as an additional language, it does often encounter a different kind of obstacle.

“We have quite a few children whose parents are from diverse parts of the world, for example the mum is German and the dad is Croatian, yet they communicate with each other and their child primarily in English. Baseline has been very valuable in highlighting that this can affect a child’s vocabulary and limit their ability to chat. We suspected this could be the case, but Baseline helped verify our thoughts.

“When you look at statistics, these children aren’t counted as EAL and when I approached our local EAL group, they weren’t really aware of this situation so were unable to offer much support. However, now we have evidence on how language and communication can be affected in these circumstances, we can select the right provision to help these children.”

Lianne is clear that Baseline is most effective when used in conjunction with teacher observation.

“Our observations remain as valid as ever for the seven areas of early years learning and also for personal development. For example, children might know what is right and wrong, and say ‘It’s wrong to push’, but that doesn’t mean they are developed enough to apply what they know and not push in the playground.

“Nonetheless, we benefit from the score Baseline gives us and, in an independent school such as ours, that concrete evidence for phonics and maths is a very valuable addition.”

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