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High Court to hear application for permission for challenge to tests of 4-5 year olds in first six weeks of school

The High Court will this week (24 July) hear an application for permission to bring a judicial review challenge over the Government’s scheme to test 4- and 5-year-old children in their first six weeks of school.

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

The families behind the legal challenge are concerned at the potential harm the assessment process could cause to their children.

Claimant law firm Irwin Mitchell has asked the Government to provide evidence that it has considered the 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.

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It said 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.

Lisa Richardson, solicitor at claimant law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: “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.”

An oral hearing is being held after a judge originally refused on the papers to grant the families permission to proceed with the judicial review.

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