SNSAs are 'waste of time', John Swinney is told

Teacher says national tests for youngest pupils are 'not fit for purpose', but a head insists they are useful

SNSAs are 'waste of time', John Swinney is told

Scotland’s standardised national assessments are “a huge waste of time” for P1s, a primary teacher has told education secretary John Swinney, hours before a parliamentary vote on the issue.

But another teacher praised the assessments and said they had helped P1s – who are aged four and five – and one group of struggling boys in particular.

Mr Swinney had just addressed the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow this morning when, in a question-and-answer session, a primary teacher from the Scottish Borders said that P1 Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) are "a huge waste of time and money" and "not fit for purpose", and that she expected her view to be widely shared in the primary sector.

She said: “It’s not that I have an objection in principle to the idea of standard assessment – but what I’ve seen in practice is that they don’t work, they’re not suitable and my colleagues around me, I’m sure, feel exactly the same.”

However, a headteacher from a small Lanarkshire school took issue with that point, saying the P1 SNSAs had been enjoyed by pupils and that the information gained had helped teachers to smooth their path into P2.

She said that the school “didn’t find any level of stress at all” in its P1s, and that they “quite enjoyed taking part”. She added that the feedback from the SNSAs was “extremely helpful” and changed how the school supported a small group of boys that had been struggling.

Mr Swinney had intended to spend the whole day at the festival, but changed his schedule after a vote on P1 SNSAs was scheduled for this afternoon.

He said that the contributions from the two teachers "illustrates that we’re not all on one point of agreement” about the assessments.

Also at the Scottish Learning Festival, one of the Scottish government's International Council of Education Advisers said the expert group told the government that it should not introduce SNSAs in P1.

Allison Skerrett, an associate professor in language and literacy at the University of Texas, Austin, said they had questioned if pupils of that age would be ready to show mastery in different levels of literacy and numeracy, and about the potential narrative that could emerge with the early labelling of teachers, schools and children as high- or low-performing.

But now that they were in place, and while “one or two” colleagues remained opposed, she felt that because of the way the tests were being implemented, the world could learn from the Scottish example.

She suggested that the Scottish government should rebrand the assessments because they were not true standardised tests and were more about “benchmarking”.

She said: “Benchmarking is about seeing where someone is at a particular point in time. It carries the message of trying to understand each child’s pathway or learning, and what is needed in terms of support. 'Standardised' gives a different picture of ‘this is what everyone should  know and be doing at this point in time'.”

Professor Skerrett said of the upcoming vote in Parliament today, on halting the tests, that it was too early to decide if the assessments were not working.

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