No one doubts that literacy and numeracy are the bedrocks of education. Without these skills, it is almost inevitable that young people's chances of making a decent, productive life for themselves will be gravely diminished. But, astonishingly some might think, there is no clear consensus on how a person's literacy and numeracy skills should be assessed, as is made clear by the recently-published reports from the Scottish Qualifications Authority on its progress towards developing such skills (p1).
The main teachers' unions have steadfastly opposed the introduction of separate tests of literacy and numeracy - but the idea has attracted politicians and employers. The original format of the qualification has undergone a significant revamp under Michael Russell, the Education Secretary, who recognised the difficulties posed in requiring pupils to submit a portfolio of different pieces of work across departments.
The challenge of devising credible qualifications is nevertheless still huge, according to the SQA's findings. Teachers are deeply divided over fundamental elements of the new qualifications. In literacy, should examinable texts include the "txt-speak" of the mobile-phone generation? How important are grammar, punctuation and spelling? Or should the test examine talking and listening skills as well? In numeracy, should pupils rely on calculators?
The answer to these questions is obvious: let them all be part of the rich tapestry that is literacy, and throw in the calculator for good numerical measure (it is after all part of the "real" adult world employers are fond of telling us they inhabit). These varieties of "texts" should be the ingredients used to differentiate exam performance at Levels 3, 4 and 5 - another "quandary" posed in the SQA research which is really no quandary at all. It's simple, really.
Neil Munro, editor of the year (business and professional magazine).