Let's build on the positives

Tom Macintyre

In the immediate aftermath of the first Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy being published, I was struck by the number of negative responses and hasty criticism of maths and numeracy attainment ("A third of S2s underperform in maths", TESS, 30 March). I wondered why we cannot expect and encourage more positive messages that will influence practice for the benefit of teachers and learners in Scottish schools.

The survey clearly reports on numeracy skills with attainment broken down by gender, deprivation and type of task, but a new and notable aspect of this survey that is of direct relevance to practitioners is the additional breakdown of attainment by numeracy organiser - the eight topic groupings of experiences and outcomes that define numeracy in Curriculum for Excellence.

This highlights topics that pupils find easy or challenging and can be analysed alongside data on pupils' attitudes to learning, their learning and teaching experiences in the classroom and their perceived views on personal performance. Analyses highlight discrepancies where pupils perform considerably better than they thought, or where they perceive themselves as being good at a topic but are unable to demonstrate that through the survey items - valuable information for practitioners.

Another useful addition to the 2011 Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) is in the teachers' questionnaire where views on features of CfE are explored, noting in particular how knowledgeable, well prepared and confident teachers are in delivering the numeracy experiences and outcomes. This is valuable information for policymakers and local authorities as they support successful implementation of CfE.

The SSLN offers a lot of potential in exposing practices, perceptions, attitudes and understandings, as well as identifying numeracy strengths and weaknesses to inform policy and practice. Many lessons come out of the survey for immediate consideration, with staff development opportunities that can be explored on the back of it.

In 2008 the Scottish Survey of Achievement reported 65 per cent of S2 pupils had "made a good start" or better at their expected level (level E). Three years later, in SSLN, we have 68 per cent of S2 pupils "working within the level" or better, i.e. within the third level - a broadly comparable proportion.

In P7, the other stage that can be monitored over time, only 2 per cent of SSLN pupils are "not working within the level". This is much smaller than the 23 per cent identified as yet to demonstrate a "good start" on the expected level in the 2008 SSA. Perhaps improvement is being evidenced in the SSLN survey.

Can a more positive response be encouraged to influence practice for the benefit of teachers and learners in Scottish schools?

Tom Macintyre, senior lecturer in mathematics education, Moray House School of Education, University of Edinburgh.

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Tom Macintyre

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