The Scottish government’s focus on raising the attainment of disadvantaged pupils, coupled with the introduction of standardised testing, could lead to pupils with special needs being sidelined, a children’s organisation has warned.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has staked her reputation on closing the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils and on introducing standardised tests in literacy and numeracy to Scottish schools for the first time this year so children’s progress can be measured.
The tests will be taken by pupils at three different stages of their primary schooling, and once in secondary.
However, Children in Scotland warned: "With the current focus on closing the attainment gap, pressure to raise attainment and measure progress via standardised assessments is at odds with creating an inclusive education system. We are concerned this will lead to a narrow view of achievement."
Barriers to an inclusive education
It added: “A culture of target-setting and performance indicators also impacts on staff and can be a barrier to them feeling able to put in the time and flexibility required to create an inclusive environment for pupils.”
The charity, which made its comments in response to a government consultation on the presumption that children with additional needs should be educated in mainstream schools, is calling for greater clarity as to how these two agendas can be addressed by schools simultaneously “to the benefit of all students”.
The call came as England's Department for Education announced that it was going to begin trialling a new test for eight- and nine-year-olds next month to make sure primary school children know their times tables up to 12 by heart.
Schools standards minister Nick Gibb said the test would help teachers to identify pupils who were struggling but the NAHT heads’ union said children’s primary years were already cluttered with tests and checks.
The introduction of the Scottish government’s new testing regime is controversial due to fears that teachers will begin teaching to the test and the curriculum will narrow.
However, the Scottish government insists the tests will not be high-stakes because there will be no pass or fail and they will not lead to league tables because the government will only have access to data “at a national level”, and will not collect detailed information about the performance of individual pupils or schools.
The Scottish government has been contacted for comment.