Dundee set for clash with teacher unions

20th March 1998 at 00:00
Pledge to push through 'more effective and consistent use of national testing'

Dundee is about to test the resolve of the teacher unions to stick by their policy on national testing.

The city's education committee agreed on Monday night to depart from the former Tayside Region approach, negotiated with the unions, of allowing schools almost total discretion over "whether and when" to test pupils.

Authorities have come under pressure from the Education Minister to speed up testing in the first two years of secondary after what is said to be "disappointing" progress. The last full-year returns show that while testing is well entrenched in primaries, in secondaries 1 and 2 only 9 per cent of pupils were tested in reading, 5 per cent in writing and 8 per cent in maths.

Tayside came under particular fire from the previous government for its sluggish performance.

Dundee will now insist that all schools should use national tests for primary and early secondary pupils as part of an overall strategy to raise pupil achievement. Professional discretion will be confined to the timing of the tests.

The authority acknowledges this policy change to ensure "a more effective and consistent use of national testing" is subject to consultation, though not necessarily agreement, with the teacher unions.

But Graeme Campbell, area officer with the Educational Institute of Scotland, warned: "The authority had better come up with some more persuasive arguments than they have to date." Mr Campbell said teachers should have discretion on "whether and when" to test. These decisions should be school-based, dependent on workload and resources. Each school's development plan, drawn up with teacher input, should determine the position.

"That system works well enough in our view," Mr Campbell said. "There is a danger that education authorities are now having a knee-jerk reaction to the various pronouncements emanating from the Inspectorate in general and Douglas Osler (the senior chief inspector) in particular. It is regrettable that Dundee appears to be flying in the face of the consensus on national testing among education authorities, teachers and parents."

But Anne Wilson, Dundee's director of education, made clear there was little likelihood of the council backing down. "It should no longer be an option for schools to say: 'We have our own assessment process and we are not having national tests.'

"We are now saying that, while of course assessment should not be entirely about national testing, the tests should be used to confirm the assessments the school has already made. All teachers will therefore be required to use national tests and professional discretion comes in when decisions are being made about the most appropriate moment to administer the tests."

Dundee believes, that national test results are an essential ingredient in the battery of information needed to keep a check on standards. The city has launched a project called READ (Raising Early Achievement in Dundee), which focuses on literacy in the early years, and intends to mount an offensive to improve attainment in the upper primary and secondary stages.

Mrs Wilson acknowledges that many Dundee pupils face considerable social and economic disadvantages. The authority's schools have shared with Glasgow the ignominious position at the foot of the Standard grade and Higher tables since exam results began to be published.

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