Another Year, Another Baseline: the case against ‘schoolification’ in the Early Years

By Maxime Perrott BA, MSc, MRes  PhD Researcher in the School of Education, University of Bristol

What is it?

The Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) is a new assessment of the early literacy and numeracy skills of 4-year-old children, administered by teachers, teaching assistants and other early years practitioners within the first 6 weeks of the child joining reception class. The cohort’s attainment scores will be used as the new starting point for which progress will be measured at the end of Key Stage 2 (Standards Agency 2020). The RBA and Key Stage 2 SATS will be compared across the cohort, regardless of whether the cohort in Year 6 is made up of the same pupils from the original reception class.

Features of the RBA include:

  • Activities undertaken by the child based on discussing, pointing to, or moving objects.
  • Tasks are scored as a yes/no and then get progressively more difficult until a child is no longer able to answer.
  • Intended to last around 20 minutes but can be paused as needed.
  • Carried out one-to-one by a teacher or teaching assistant, in English.
  • Takes place in the first 6 weeks of Reception class.
  • Provide narrative statements about a child’s Mathematics, Early Literacy, Communication and Language ability.

After a long-winded policy development and implementation process foiled with unsuccessful pilots, professional and academic backlash, and a global pandemic, the RBA became statutory in September 2021. This assessment sits alongside the long-established Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), the Early Years curriculum that promotes several key developmental stages from birth to 5. The EYFS is statutory for all nursery, pre-school, childminding, and reception class settings in England and culminates in the EYFS Profile at the end of reception class. Whereby children are assessed based on teacher judgements and observations throughout the year, against 17 Early Learning Goals (DfE 2022).

The bigger picture  

The assessment has received considerable backlash throughout its policy development and implementation period. The government insists that this baseline will allow teachers and schools to get credit for the progress of their pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2. By measuring progress from Reception as opposed to Key Stage 1 SATS, which previously assessed children more than two years later at age 6-7. However, others have classed the RBA as not age-appropriate, much like formal testing and positioned against the more holistic nature of Early Years pedagogy (Roberts-Holmes et al. 2019).

Several campaign groups have been launched in direct opposition to what is deemed the overuse of tests throughout primary schools. These groups have campaigned against the implementation of the RBA, especially considering the Covid-19 Pandemic; whereby children entering reception class in September 2020 had missed several months in pre-school and other early years setting and may have had little experience of separating from a caregiver or the more structured settings of pre-school and reception class. This meant that the RBA was delayed from becoming statutory in September 2020 to September 2021.

Implementation of the RBA can be seen as a product of ‘schoolification’ in the Early Years, a process seen in pre-school and reception settings, that has produced a shift in policy focus and classroom practice promoting the pedagogies typically associated with primary school. Placing high value on adult-led, formal instruction in reception class and ensuring the child is ‘school ready’ before moving into Year 1 (Ellyat 2015; Bradbury 2018). There are concerns for those working in Early Years (pre-school and reception class practitioners), as well as parents, may be driven to make children ‘ready’ for this assessment. In a similar way children are pressured to be ‘school ready’, with the potential to cause unsettling experiences for the child. Such sentiments are echoed in Bradbury and Roberts-Holmes’ (2016) study, that surveyed 1,131 Early Years practitioners, who were concerned that some parents may attempt to ‘coach’ their children in the summer before they enter Reception and take the baseline test,

The Settling-in Period

There are also concerns that the RBA can cut into the important ‘settling-in’ transition period of Reception class, where children’s transitions into primary school are supported by early years professionals, who use the first few weeks of school to reaffirm relationships with parents and establish familiar routines to promote settled and well-adjusted children (Vogler et al. 2008).

As per the RBA policy guidance the practitioner should know the child before carrying out the assessment in a familiar setting. However, in a survey of teachers involved the 2019 trial, 69% disagreed that the ‘RBA has helped to develop positive relationships with the children in Reception’ (Roberts-Holmes et al. 2019, p. 6). Indeed, research from both the 2015 and 2019 trial found teachers felt the RBA took them out the classroom, took children from rich play-based learning, and from opportunities for building relationships with peers (Bradbury and Roberts-Holmes 2016; Roberts-Holmes et al. 2019).

There are also concerns surrounding the potential for very young children to be labelled and streamed into ability groups from the RBA. Although, the STA policy documents contend that the results of the RBA will not and should not be used to track or label individual children (STA 2018). The British Education Research Association (BERA) (2018) suggest the risk of a premature judgement of a child’s ability and these judgements becoming ‘self-fulling’ are a very real possibility (p.4). These concerns are especially acute for those youngest in the school year. Significant evidence has suggested that those relatively young in a school cohort are more likely to have poorer cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes (Squires et al. 2012; Crawford et al. 2014; Norbury et al. 2015; Patalay et al. 2015; Belfield and Rasul 2020). Although, it is likely Summer-born outcomes for the RBA will follow this trend, further research is greatly needed into the specific ways the RBA impacts summer-born children in England.

My PhD Research

As part of my PhD research looking into month-of-birth effects on several outcomes for children and young adults, I have proposed a research project with the aim to explore how children access, experience and achieve in the RBA and the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) during the school year 2022/23. There will be a specific interest in how summer-born children experiences differ from those older in the school cohort.

Using longitudinal research design primary data will be collected from Reception school teachers through online surveys at the beginning of the school year (when the RBA is carried out for most children) and end of the year (when the EYFSP is carried out). Teachers will also be asked their opinions and views on the RBA and current EYFS and how well these assessments align with their own personal pedagogy and classroom practice. Then, secondary data from the EYFS Profile will be analysed to examine the extent to which the primary data findings can be extrapolated to the larger population of summer-born children in reception class in England.

Want to learn more?

If you would like to learn more about my research, or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me:

Maxime Perrott BA, MSc, MRes

PhD Researcher in the School of Education, University of Bristol





Bradbury, A. 2018. Datafied at four: the role of data in the ‘schoolification’ of early childhood education in England. Learning. Media and Technology 44(1), p. 7 – 21.

Bradbury, A. and Roberts-Holmes, G. 2016. ‘They are children… not robots, not machines’: The introduction of the Reception Baseline Assessment. Available online: [Accessed: 5th April 2020]

British Education Research Association (BERA) 2018. Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research. Available online: [Accessed: 25th February 2021]

Belfield, C. and Rasul, I. 2020. Cognitive and Non-cognitive Impact of High-ability peers in Early Years. Fiscal Studies, 41(1), pp. 65-100.

Crawford et al. 2014. The drivers of month-of-birth differences in children’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series A (Statistics in Society) 177(4), pp. 829 – 860.

Department for Education. 2022. Early years foundation stage profile: 2022 handbook. Available online: [Accessed: 1st April 2022]

Ellyatt, W. 2015. Towards an integrated understanding of the Child. Save Childhood Movement. Available online: [Accessed: 10th April 2020]

Norbury et al. 2015. Younger children experience lower levels of language competence and academic progress in the first year of school: evidence from a population study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 57(1), p. 65-73.

Pascal, C. et al. 2019. Getting it right in the Early Years Foundation Stage: a review of the evidence. Centre for Research in Early Childhood. Available at it%20right%20in%20the%20EYFS%20Literature%20 Review.pdf [Accessed: 7th April]

Patalay et al. 2015. The Extent and Specificity of Relative Age effects on Mental health and functioning in Early Adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health 57, pp. 475-81.

Roberts-Holmes, G. et al. 2019. Research into the 2019 Pilot of Reception Baseline Assessment. Available online: [Accessed: 5th April 2020]

Squires et al. 2012. The identification of special educational needs and the month of birth: differential effects of category of need and level of assessment. European Journal of Special Needs Education 27(4), pp. 469 – 481.

Standards and Testing Agency. 2018. Reception Baseline Assessment. Available online: [Accessed: 2nd April 2020]

Vogler, P. et al. 2008. Early childhood transitions research: A review of concepts, theory, and practice. Working Paper 48. Bernard van Leer Foundation.