1 CEM, Cambridge University Press and Assessment (UNITED KINGDOM)
2 Cambridge University Press and Assessment (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2022 Proceedings
Publication year: 2022
Pages: 8872-8880
ISBN: 978-84-09-37758-9
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2022.2317
Conference name: 16th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 7-8 March, 2022
Location: Online Conference
Children typically enter state schools in England at the beginning of the school year following their fourth birthday, although legally they do not have to attend school until the start of the term following their fifth birthday. As such, the overwhelming majority of children start school in Reception class. This group of children will have had a diverse range of learning experiences before attending school. Some will have had little academic input; some may have attended nurseries where they have been taught in a more formal way. Some will have gained their knowledge by watching educational television or through educational apps. Given this diversity of experiences, it is important, therefore, to find out what children know and can do on entry to the Reception class in order to provide them with appropriate learning opportunities. This paper describes the key findings from an analysis of data produced by a computer-based assessment carried out within the first few weeks of children starting school.

Four-year-old children starting school in state schools in England were assessed using a computer-adaptive assessment called BASE. BASE assesses early literacy and numeracy skills in an easy-to-use, child-friendly way. Children were assessed in each of the academic years beginning in 2016, 2017, and 2018. Item Response Theory was used to model dichotomous response data from the tests. This approach was used to account for missing data, introduced by stopping rules in the test. The resulting item difficulty values were converted to estimates of the classical item facility values, or the percentage of children expected to answer each question correctly. The results from over 70,000 assessments taken over three academic years were combined and the estimated facility values were used to interpret what the ‘typical’ four-year-old knows, as well as the range of knowledge displayed.

The analysis revealed a wide range of levels of knowledge and understanding. Just over half of the children assessed could name four individual letters of the alphabet. Surprisingly, however, almost one-fifth of children could already read some three-letter words. While around two-thirds of children could point to a circle, a star, and a triangle when asked, a small proportion could even recognise a hexagon. Over half the children could recognise the digits 1 to 9, and just over half could count up to 8.

When children start Reception class in a state school in England, it is very easy to think of them as ‘empty vessels’ ready to learn from the very start of the curriculum. Our data shows that this is not usually the case. Children often learn many basic skills before they enter school and the sources and extent of this learning can be highly varied. The range of backgrounds and learning experiences mean that some children will need to start learning at the beginning of the curriculum, whilst others will be some way through the curriculum, even as they start school. Indeed, the ‘typical’ child knows a great deal. It is easy to overlook this and treat every child the same, but these findings strongly indicate the requirement for effective differentiation within the Reception classroom.
Early years, Early Literacy, Early Numeracy, differentiation.