Press release

Delivering a reception baseline assessment - why a standardised administration is fairer than an observational approach.

19 October 2017

The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has today published a new NFER Thinks paper(1) in which it outlines the reasons for having a standardised or uniform approach to the administration and scoring of a school-entry or reception assessment to use as a baseline for measuring progress across the primary phase.

In September, the Government published its response(2) to the Department for Education’s consultation on primary assessment in which it specified that a new reception baseline assessment (RBA) would be introduced to enable progress of a whole cohort to be measured across seven years of schooling. The response did not give much detail on the proposed assessment but clearly stated that it would be ‘teacher-mediated’ and that it would not be an observational assessment carried out over time.

In this latest paper in the NFER Thinks series(3), NFER outlines in more detail what will be required of the new RBA if it is to enable fair and consistent comparisons across schools in this new high-stakes accountability regime.

A standardised or uniform administration approach to the delivery of the RBA will be essential and would involve the teacher carrying out assessments on a one-to-one basis, using exactly the same instructions or ‘script’ for each child.

Among the characteristics and advantages of a standardised or uniform administration that NFER explains in the paper are included:

The author of the paper, Research Director Catherine Kirkup, says of proposals for the new RBA, “A standardised or uniform administration of the RBA should not in any way be taken to mean that the assessment must necessarily be automated or sterile. This underestimates the professionalism of assessment developers and the practitioners that will carry them out.

“In many cases young children will not even realise they are being assessed. Many will enjoy the opportunity to have their teacher’s undivided attention, if only for 20 or 30 minutes, and the experience may seem less strange than some other activities encountered for the first time in reception, such as lining up, assemblies or doing the register”.


For further information please contact: Pippa Cox 01753 637177 or Jane Parrack 01753 637245

Notes for editors

  1. Kirkup, C. (2017-P). Delivering a reception baseline assessment. Why a standardised administration is fairer than an observational approach (NFER Thinks: What the evidence tells us). Slough: NFER.
  2. Department for Education (2017). Primary Assessment in England. Government Consultation Response [online]. Available:
  3. Other papers in the NFER Thinks series can be found on the policy page of the NFER website.
  4. NFER submitted written evidence to the DfE’s primary assessment consultation which can be read here.
  5. Almost 90 per cent of primary senior leaders and classroom teachers participating in NFER’s Teacher Voice omnibus survey considered the measurement of progress, rather than absolute attainment, to be a better way to assess the effectiveness of schools.
  6. NFER is a leading independent provider of rigorous research and insights in education. Our robust and innovative research, assessments and other services are widely known and used by key decision-makers. We are a not-for-profit organisation and any surplus generated is reinvested in projects to improve outcomes for children and young people.; @TheNFER