The Scottish government has bowed to pressure and agreed to suspend the collection of data on whether S3 students are attaining the expected level for their age and stage in English and maths.
An email sent by education secretary John Swinney yesterday says that he recognises “the pressure secondary schools are currently facing” and “as an exception, S3 data should not be collected this year”.
However, Mr Swinney adds that he remains “firmly of the view that we should collect ACEL [Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels] data in primary schools this year”.
The move to ease teacher workload in secondary comes amid warnings that Scotland is heading for another results fiasco.
Teachers say they are at the end of their tether and students are “pale and tired” and “shattered”, given the volume of assessment taking place in order to evidence grades.
Covid: Attainment data collection stopped in secondary schools
The ACEL statistics report on the percentage of school pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S3 who have achieved the expected Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) level, relevant to their stage, in literacy and numeracy.
Whether the levels has been achieved is based on teacher judgement, but teachers use the results from the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA) of literacy and numeracy to inform their judgement.
The Scottish government has been criticised for pushing ahead with this testing and data-collection exercise this year, with early-years experts saying that teachers should be spending their time reconnecting with their pupils, not delivering national tests.
The English equivalent – Sats (Standardised Assessment Tests) – were cancelled in January at the same time as the exams.
However, Mr Swinney argues in his email to the EIS teaching union’s assistant secretary, Louise Wilson, that, given there was no data collection last year when pupils were not in school during the pandemic, “ACEL data this year will be particularly helpful in supporting our understanding of the impact that Covid-19 has had on children and young people’s achievements and on the attainment gap”.
A secondary headteacher told Tes Scotland that the move meant there is now “one less thing for English and maths staff to be doing”. However, he added it was “a drop in the ocean, really”.
He also questioned if the SNSAs had been cancelled – or if it was just the collection of the data that was being suspended.
Putting pupils through the online tests is the “bit that takes time”, he said.
However, Jim Thewliss, general secretary of secondary headteachers’ organisation School Leaders Scotland (SLS), welcomed the decision and said the collection of the data – which usually falls in June – would have been “a major, major distraction”, given that senior students’ provisional results are due to be submitted later that month.
He said: “It’s not onerous in normal circumstances but it just sits at exactly the wrong time this year.”
Mr Thewliss said that secondaries would now have the choice about whether or not they ran the SNSAs.
“The standardised assessments are still there and we expect that it will now be left up to schools as to whether or not they do them,” he added.