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High Court Hearing For Legal Challenge To Tests In First Six Weeks Of Education

Families Think The Tests For Four and Five Year Olds Could Cause Children Distress And Damage Their Future Learning

22.07.2019

Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

Families challenging the government’s controversial scheme to test 4 and 5 year olds in their first 6 weeks of school are preparing for a hearing in the High Court.

The pilot scheme of the Reception Baseline Assessment is set to be used in over 9,000 classrooms across the country this September to test children’s maths, literacy, communication and language skills.

Teachers, parents and education experts, including the campaign group More Than A Score, have expressed serious concerns about the usefulness and principles behind the assessment scheme. However, the concern of the families bringing this legal challenge is the potential harm the assessment process could cause to their children.

Expert Opinion
“The Education Secretary is under a legal duty to promote the welfare of children taking part in the Reception Baseline Assessment and its upcoming pilot scheme. Our clients’ parents are concerned that going through the assessment process could put their children at risk of harm.

They are worried about the immediate distress experienced by some children in the assessment process itself, and the longer term impact on their education of schools potentially using the feedback they will get from the assessment to label or stream children at such a young age. We understand the tasks in the assessment become progressively harder, and where children are finding them too difficult the electronic assessment tool will move on to a different type of task. Our clients’ families are worried that they have no way of knowing how difficult the children have to find the tasks before they are diverted away from them.

They also do not know how the children will react to a formal 1:1 assessment within the first 6 weeks of starting school when they are only just getting to know their teacher, classmates and the school environment. They are concerned that being asked to complete tasks that are unfamiliar or too difficult could cause children to feel anxious and stressed and to associate that feeling with being at school and learning. Studies have even suggested that some children just starting school can associate failing in a task with how good they are as a person.”
Lisa Richardson, Solicitor

The families are also worried that the feedback the government will provide to schools about how their children perform in the assessment could be used to group them by ability in maths and literacy. They are particularly concerned because there is evidence to suggest children remain in their ability groups throughout their education, and that grouping or streaming can have a negative impact on children’s confidence and later education, even more so for the younger children in the year group.

Irwin Mitchell has asked the government to provide evidence that it has considered these risks, monitored the impact of the assessment tasks on children in the testing phase and taken steps to reduce any negative impacts in time for the pilot scheme to take place in September.

The families are calling on the Education Secretary to fulfil his duty to promote the welfare of their children, and all other children taking the assessment, and not to proceed with the Reception Baseline Assessment pilot scheme until the families’ concerns about the risks of harm have been properly considered and addressed.

A permission hearing in the High Court on 24 July is taking place after a judge originally refused the families permission to proceed with a judicial review of the government’s decision to continue with the pilot scheme. The families now have the opportunity to go to court to present their concerns, along with late evidence provided by the government, and to ask for reconsideration of the judge’s decision. 

If permission is granted on 24 July there will be a further hearing to examine in more detail whether the government’s decisions about proceeding with the Reception Baseline Assessment and its pilot scheme have been lawful. If at that hearing the High Court finds that the government is acting unlawfully, the government is likely to be forced to put the pilot scheme on hold while it rethinks its approach to the assessment process and its impact on the children being assessed.

Read more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in Judicial Review cases.