Government under fire over failure to cancel testing

Scottish schools expected to collect data on pupils' literacy and numeracy despite Covid-19 disruption

Emma Seith

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The Scottish government has told Tes Scotland that schools are still expected to submit data on whether pupils are attaining the expected level for their age and stage, despite the move to online delivery and disruption to learning caused by Covid.

And Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, has responded by saying that continuing to require schools to gather this information is “a bureaucratic imposition that will detract from schools supporting young people”.

In England, when exams were cancelled last month, the government also cancelled its Standardised Assessment Tests – or Sats – which track performance in literacy and numeracy in primary.

However, although Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) exams were cancelled in Scotland in December, the Scottish government has said its standardised assessments in literacy and numeracy will continue to be available and that – while the welfare of learners “is paramount” – “accurate and up-to-date assessment information helps teachers to tailor support plans for individual learners”.

Background: Scotland's 2021 exams cancelled by education secretary

Related: ‘Schools not ready for pupils’ emotional needs’

2019 ACEL data: Literacy and numeracy statistics show modest gains

England: Sats tests cancelled this year says Williamson

When asked by Tes Scotland if teachers would have to submit data on their pupils’ performance this year in order to inform the National Improvement Framework (NIF) – which tracks the performance of the education system – a Scottish government spokeperson said: “ACEL [Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Level] data collection is planned as normal his year, the census date is June.”

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.

Whether the levels has been achieved is based on teacher judgement, but teachers are meant to use the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA) in literacy and numeracy to inform their judgement on the progress of pupils at P1, P4, P7 and S3.

The government has said SNSAs will not be made available remotely and will “only be undertaken in schools”. However, with the return of primary pupils scheduled to begin from Monday 22 February, there are fears that unnecessary pressure will be placed on teachers to focus on assessment, at the expense of wellbeing.

The general secretary of the EIS, Larry Flanagan, told Tes Scotland that the government had cancelled the collection of ACEL data last year and that it should do the same this year.

He said: “This suggests it is business as usual and we certainly don’t think it is business as usual – we would also challenge whether this is an appropriate focus for schools given the education recovery needs of young people.

He added: “This will be a bureaucratic imposition that will detract from schools supporting young people.”

A group that campaigns for a focus on play in the early years and which has lobbied the government to abandon its literacy and numeracy tests, particularly in P1, has also hit out at the decision.

Sue Palmer, chair of Upstart Scotland, pointed out that, as a result of the pandemic, the current P1 had missed the final term of nursery and had only attended school for one term. She said that the focus when they returned should be on building relationships, not testing them on their literacy and numeracy.

Ms Palmer said: “When these P1s return to school, the first priority must surely be their health, wellbeing and support to settle back in and play with their friends. Their teachers need to spend time getting to know how the year’s experiences have affected each individual five-year-old child, not wasting it preparing for and administering national assessments in literacy and numeracy.

“At Upstart, we hear repeatedly that pressure to 'make progress' in literacy and numeracy prevents P1 teachers providing developmentally appropriate play-based practice. This year, of all years, we should surely take that pressure away?”

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Closing the poverty-related attainment gap has been made harder by the impact of Covid-19, with lockdown and being out of school affecting vulnerable children and those in deprived areas the hardest. While our focus has been on the health, wellbeing and welfare of all pupils, we do not want inequality to widen.

“Accurate and up-to-date information about children’s progress helps teachers support all learners. National standardised assessments remain available for teachers to deliver as part of daily learning at the point in the year they judge to be in the best interests of learners.

“We do not expect schools to focus disproportionately on standardised assessments, or to divert children from learning to complete them. Standardised assessment will not be made available remotely  they will only be taken in schools, where learners will have access to the same support made available to them for all learning activities.”

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Emma Seith

Emma Seith

Emma Seith is a reporter for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Emma_Seith

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