A Scottish government-commissioned report into controversial national P1 literacy and numeracy tests has found that classroom teachers were poorly prepared for the introduction of the tests.
The report, published today, says that some teachers were unaware of exactly what the tests were designed to assess and of key features, including that children could practice the tests beforehand and take a break midway through.
The issues are raised in the report of the P1 Practitioner Forum, which included primary teachers, and was set up to by the government to look at the assessments after the Scottish Parliament voted in September to “halt” the tests in the first year of primary.
The campaign: Scrap 'cruel' testing of five-year-olds’
Background: National tests for youngest pupils to continue
The tests – called the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA) – were introduced for the first time during the 2017-18 school year, in P1, P4, P7 and S3.
However, the P1 tests, in particular, have come under fire from teachers for being too hard and causing children to become distressed. The Play Not Tests campaign launched last year also argues that standardised testing of young children has “little or no statistical value”.
Responding to the new report, education secretary John Swinney said that the P1 assessments would now be reformed and that improved guidance for teachers would be introduced to help them support children during the assessments.
According to the report, some classroom teachers had been given “little or no information” about the tests, “children were simply extracted from their class”, and the teachers were “unaware” of exactly what was being assessed.
The report said: “Forum members had different kinds of engagement in SNSA. Some Forum members did not execute the SNSA themselves and a few had been given little or no information about their children’s reaction to the SNSA or what the assessment could show. This is obviously not ideal. Even those Forum members who implemented the SNSA with their own class did not always appreciate the range of implementation decisions they could make.”
One forum member commented: “I was amazed about what other people had been told. I didn’t know we could stop mid-way, that there were practice activities they could do beforehand or that I could let children choose what [technology] to use.”
The report said that the current training strategy for teachers, involving webinars, video materials and tutor training materials, was “poorly advertised” and that local authority meetings “did not always reach P1 classroom teachers”.
There was no printed manual that described what the SNSA offered or how it worked, the report said.
It continued: “The digital training materials are available on the SNSA website, which can only be accessed from an approved IP address (i.e. at school or via a VPN link to the school server). This does not offer sufficient ‘reach’ across the profession and teachers who are committed full-time in school cannot easily access training that is only offered at specific times or via the school intranet.”
The report also recommended that teachers be told explicitly that if a child were to become upset during the tests they had “a professional and moral responsibility to intervene”.
The report said: “Although many educators would find this advice unnecessary, some Forum members feel that, given media stories about this, the instruction should be explicitly stated.”
The P1 Practitioner Forum – chaired by the University of Strathclyde academic Professor Sue Ellis – met on four occasions, with 29 per cent of members classroom teachers; 29 per cent school management; 29 per cent from organisations allied to schools like Education Scotland, councils or unions; and 3 per cent academics.
An analysis of their initial views of the SNSA showed that 44.5 per cent of the comments were broadly positive about the tests, 50 per cent were broadly negative and 5.5 per cent were neutral.
Some positives about the tests highlighted by forum members included that it had been "interesting and useful" to observe how individual P1 children engaged with the various SNSA items. This could let teachers see, for instance, which children enjoyed challenging questions and which were unsettled by them, they said.
Meanwhile, although some teachers said they lacked training and information on the tests, another member of the forum said: "We had a really good training session from the local authority beforehand so I knew what it was all about.”
Ultimately, however, the forum recommended:
- Stronger guidance to inform how teachers interact with, and support, children during the SNSA
- Guidance on how the SNSA can be delivered in a way that is compatible with a play-based classroom environment
- Implementation guidance and training which is available online, outside of the SNSA system, so that all educators can access it at a time that is convenient
- A publicly available rationale setting out the possible uses and purposes of the SNSA within the broader assessment framework of Scottish schools – to ensure the assessments are not perceived as “high stakes”
Mr Swinney said the Scottish government would “work to make immediate improvements”.
He said: "I would like to thank the forum for their recommendations, which are grounded in the realities of teaching P1 and are informed by their own experiences and professional knowledge.
“We will work to make immediate improvements where we can to enhance the experience of both learners and educators and ensure the assessments can continue to be delivered as part of everyday learning and teaching.
“Standardised assessments are an effective additional tool to support teacher professional judgement and identify next steps in a child’s learning."
Professor Ellis urged people to “listen carefully” to the group’s recommendations, adding: “They offer plenty of good ideas about how to make the SNSAs work in practice and the report contains useful advice as well as recommendations for the future."