Maybe the clue is in the name - 'Early Excellence' - nonetheless this particular UK company has for a long time been seen as benign by early years practitioners in the UK. Made up of teachers and local advisers, the company has advocated some of the most progressive pedagogy in the field, drawing on good practice across the country.

Meanwhile, in its latest move to categorise, standardise and provide data for every aspect of childhood education, the UK government is bringing in testing for four year olds. The testing was put out to tender, six companies were chosen, among them Early Excellence. Their justification to teachers has been along the lines of, 'They were going to bring this in anyway - we wanted to protect good practice.' What they have packaged up and sold back to schools is mostly what good teachers are doing - taking a holistic approach to assessment, rather than one based on computer screens.

Placed between a rock and a hard place, many teachers have chosen the Early Excellence tests in an attempt to limit the damage. However the twist is that regardless of this, the data they send on to government will be treated in exactly the same way as data received by the other providers, transformed into a binary score in only certain areas, and the rest discarded. 

What does their involvement mean for the fight for play-based and holistic early years education? First - plans are afoot to develop tests for even younger children. Second - once the testing for tots has taken hold, there is nothing to stop a reactionary government, like the present one, changing the testing criteria to make it more 'rigorous' - perhaps testing the degree of grit displayed by two year olds as well as their literacy and numeracy skills. Third - detailed data on individual children is being collected by government departments and corporations, both of which have a history of selling such data on. And fourth - this sees another diminution of democratic control of education and a ratcheting up of the powers of private companies.

As a result of a large take-up by schools, it has been calculated that Early Excellence may make as much as a million pounds annually from the test. Nice work for them - now they have ambitious plans for expanding their training department and building a new centre in London, to go alongside their already extensive online shopping offer.

At least one teaching union, the National Union of Teachers, has voted to boycott testing for four year olds. This campaign is being seriously undermined by Early Excellence, which has provided a cover for schools to take the easy option and do the tests, rather than take the more onerous and principled path of resistance. But of course, like so-many other companies with their snouts in the edubusiness trough, Early Excellence is seeing a rapid increase in its turnover.

Beware, children, the wolf in sheep's clothing.


With thanks to Sara Tomlinson, convener of the Primary Charter, who provided the information for this article