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Baseline – To Teach or Not to Teach?

Date: / Comments: 24

Post: Liz Marsden

Baseline to Teach or Not to Teach?
Baseline to Teach or Not to Teach?
Baseline to Teach or Not to Teach?

Over the last few days we have been asked several times:

“Is it ok to ‘teach’ whilst baseline is going on?”
We have been frustrated by the question and pondering why.

What does this question really mean?
‘Teaching’ in its broadest sense goes on all the time and so it’s impossible NOT to teach. Teaching is how we influence children’s learning – and if you value learning across a broad spectrum then teaching is present within every moment children spend in an educational environment – experiencing, engaging and interacting. Everything we provide, do and say shapes how a child is – is able to be and become. This is a critical and important definition that values the role of the adult in the EYFS and gives well-being & involvement, CoEL and the areas of learning equal value.

Perhaps then the question is not about this definition of teaching – and when you unpick the question further it seems ONLY to be related to maths and literacy, mainly literacy and to be honest – just phonics.

So the question should be ‘Is it ok for me to start teaching phonics during baseline?’
This is a sensible question, of course, you want a true baseline – but what does it say about what we value?

No one to our knowledge has asked:

  • Is it ok to settle children in and support them in managing routines and friendships – PSED
  • Is it ok to show children how to use the mark making equipment, put on an apron and use the paint brushes? – Physical
  • Is it ok to encourage a child to respond to a question or share ideas? – Language and Communication
  • Is it ok to support a child to do something that’s frustrating them before they give up? – CoEL


If we are not teaching, across the whole curriculum, what are we doing?
And anyway – will a few weeks of not teaching formal phonics really make that much difference overall, across a year? Isn’t the first few weeks about settling children in, building relationships, getting to know them well as individuals, showing them how to navigate their new environment, manage routines, make friends and so on? It’s about listening to children, working alongside them, nurturing their confidence, encouraging their contribution – all of which will help to complete an accurate baseline!

Let’s finish on the words of Professor dr. Ferre Laevers and remember that if children are not ’well in their skin’ teaching phonics will have little – if any – impact.

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Community comments

  • Exactly the question I have been asking on my Facebook page. I, as a nursery teacher and feeling undervalued as clearly some reception teachers don’t see what we do all day as teaching! Worryingly baseline assessments are being ‘done’ to children.

    • Keep true to what you know works so well for your children. Your interactions are laying vital foundations for childrens social development, academic and intellectual development. You make a difference to your children every day.

  • I agree totally and fed up of having to defend and protect what we know to be best for young children’s healthy development and well being. Why is it so hard to comprehend that children need to be happy and feel safe and valued if they are to make progress towards becoming life long learners.

  • Totally agree. I have done all the things that I would usually do at the start of a term and have kept children’s well being and engagement at the top of the agenda. The baseline assessment has fitted in well with our normal practice whilst providing us with a really good understanding of the children’s current knowledge, skills and attitudes. This is a great baseline to go forwards from.

  • I started phonics today as I feel they have settled well to respond to carpet time as they have developed their listening skills.

    • That’s ok, keep it active, short and well differentiated…. And keep this a part of everything else you do.

  • I too have had the same frustration when reading comments saying I’m not doing any ‘teaching’ until the baseline is over. True EYFS means that children are learning all of the time. From the environment, from the supporting adults, from home and from their peers. So what people are referring to is ‘formal carpet sessions’ which are only a small part of what we do in EYFS anyway. We begin ‘teaching’ from the moment the children walk through the door as we help children to learn how to separate from carers, carry out independent activities and become part of a school community.

    • Exactly, so important to use the word ‘teaching’ appropriately to encompass all the wonderful things we do in EYFS. Thanks for your comments.

  • I for one have relished the opportunity to spend quality time working alongside, chatting to and observing my children. I do not feel pressured to, or obliged to teach them specific phonics or mathematics. We have worked outside making junk models, shared dozens of story books, observed our caterpillar in their pavilion and generally had lots and lots of fun! Yes once the baseline is completed I will begin to identify where we need to move forward on addressing next steps but until then you’ll find me buried in the sand tray with a gang of small children relishing in their job of cover the teacher. I love my job but the EExBA has made the first few weeks back truly relaxed and precious…I thank you all :) x

    • That’s a joy to hear… And those foundations will support all of your children’s future developments, you’ll know them well and will have embedded good relationships. Well done you.

  • Over the last 2 weeks I have taught my children that coming to Nursery is fun. I have taught them to sit on the carpet and join in with singing nursery rhymes. I have taught many of them how to flush the toilet and to how to wash their hands. I have taught them how to hang up their coat and to find it again. How to put their wellies on, and then return them to the welly rack. I have taught them that they can find somewhere to play, that they can get out the toy box they want on the carpet, that they can explore inside and out. I have taught them lots and lots. I have not yet succeeded in teaching them to put everything away onto it’s photograph when they have finished – but it’s still early days :)

    • Yes, early days for children to match your silhouettes. Made me chuckle!! Good to hear that enjoyment is your focus.

  • We feel we are assessing children from where they enter Reception, ignoring Nursery data which often tends to be unreliable anyway. We are worried that phonics has not started yet but we did the literacy and number base line assessments first. However this did not take into consideration the children who are low level when they enter reception. We feel we are getting to know the children well as we are working with groups of 5 children at a time. I am not worried as we have so many summer born children they need the whole of the Autumn Term to settle in before they are even ready to start phonics. It has been worrying that we are doing the Baseline Assessment right but with 9 years experience I feel confident we will be able to assess the ability of each child in every area really accurately.

  • As a teacher in a small school in Cornwall, with no nursery or pre-school as a feeder into our reception class, I feel that it is important for the cohort to not only become comfortable with the classroom, the school the environment and the practitioners but also with the other children in the class.

    Children whom they have often not met before other than in our share/visit afternoons. (Particularly as we are a mixed EYFS/Year 1 class)

    I am integrating phonics activities and games within my class ,which enable the children to show their abilities without the need to ‘teach’ phonics or ‘group’ the children in phonic ability before I have assessed their ‘wellbeing’ or comfort within the new class group.

  • At a recent EYFS phase leader meeting practitioners proudly told me they had done all of their Baseline Assessments (by staging assessments) within the first few weeks. I have spent time getting to know my class, and have had a lovely time giggling, playing and talking whilst carrying out long observations and snapshots. I am currently completing the Baseline for most of my class now and I know I would not have been able to give children a ‘yes’ for lots of areas within the first week as they were still settling and getting to know me and the environment. Some people seem to want to rush. Yes your scores will be low and you will be able to show AMAZING progress but surely you’re doing some of those little people a bit of an injustice! Sorry for the rant!

  • Great to hear comments that teachers are feeling relaxed with the new Baseline assessment. I’m still finding it difficult to see how it has improved any assessments that I already did during the first few weeks. If anything I feel as though there are gaps in the assessments that I need to find out where as by now I would normally have a greater understanding of their next steps. I don’t understand what benefit these ‘tests’ will have to children other than a benchmark to measure teachers’ performance by which time it will be too late other than sack the teacher. Will I be getting a number back for each child? And what am I supposed to do with this number? I absolutely love the Early Years and I am very very worried that what is happening with the government’s interference is just the beginning.

    • Really great to hear you have completed the baseline as we’d expect otherwise it’s not a true baseline. You’re right, if you do it too quickly, you’ll not really know if setting in is effecting what they are doing.

    • Just to reaffirm that EExBA was not designed by us to improve on what teachers already do. I agree that many teachers already assess their children extremely well on entry through their observations and interactions.

      EExBA was designed in response to the strict criteria set by the DfE. It manages to secure the continuing use of teacher observation and interaction to gain knowledge of a child in order to make the binary judgement (yes/no) prescribed by the DfE.

      The national baseline initiative was not designed by the DfE to measure individual children instead it was set in motion as a school accountability measure only.

      Early Excellence are committed to helping maintain good practice and we believe EExBA is better than a test.

  • Please can you confirm exactly how teachers are meant to make observations. I am assuming all areas needed to be well equipped so that the children have exposure to different resources etc
    For example to assess whether a child can read and write numbers they need some sort of activity left in the maths area hoping they will go along at some point so you can observe them. Am I thinking along the right lines or completely wrong?

    • In EExBA you get to know your children through all of the interactions you have. Through observing children, playing with them and through small group and whole class activities. To assess those things that children might not choose to do, but might be able to do, you work with them to find out. It’s not end of YR profile where everything needs to be embedded in self-initiated play. Sometimes you have to sit with a child or small group to do some – for example – counting activities. Even if you set activities out in provision children might not choose to do them – but may have the ability to do them – so it’s about more proactive adult interaction.

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Over the last few days we have been asked several times:

“Is it ok to ‘teach’ whilst baseline is going on?”
We have been frustrated by the question and pondering why.

What does this question really mean?
‘Teaching’ in its broadest sense goes on all the time and so it’s impossible NOT to teach. Teaching is how we influence children’s learning – and if you value learning across a broad spectrum then teaching is present within every moment children spend in an educational environment – experiencing, engaging and interacting. Everything we provide, do and say shapes how a child is – is able to be and become. This is a critical and important definition that values the role of the adult in the EYFS and gives well-being & involvement, CoEL and the areas of learning equal value.

Perhaps then the question is not about this definition of teaching – and when you unpick the question further it seems ONLY to be related to maths and literacy, mainly literacy and to be honest – just phonics.

So the question should be ‘Is it ok for me to start teaching phonics during baseline?’
This is a sensible question, of course, you want a true baseline – but what does it say about what we value?

No one to our knowledge has asked:


If we are not teaching, across the whole curriculum, what are we doing?
And anyway – will a few weeks of not teaching formal phonics really make that much difference overall, across a year? Isn’t the first few weeks about settling children in, building relationships, getting to know them well as individuals, showing them how to navigate their new environment, manage routines, make friends and so on? It’s about listening to children, working alongside them, nurturing their confidence, encouraging their contribution – all of which will help to complete an accurate baseline!

Let’s finish on the words of Professor dr. Ferre Laevers and remember that if children are not ’well in their skin’ teaching phonics will have little – if any – impact.