Heads scorn assessment plans

20th November 2009 at 00:00
Outgoing president of School Leaders Scotland defends profession in attack on CfE proposals

The pent-up frustrations of secondary headteachers over Curriculum for Excellence burst to the surface yesterday when the outgoing president of School Leaders Scotland launched a scathing attack on the new assessment plans.

Carole Ford used her final presidential address to fire a furious broadside at virtually all aspects of the proposed assessment regime, accusing the Government of riding roughshod over the professional views of heads and going so far as to describe some of it as "unethical".

The language of her attack was unprecedented as she laid into the leaders of CfE, whom she accused of departing from the undertaking to reduce the assessment burden.

Ms Ford, the head of Kilmarnock Academy, told the annual SLS conference in Cumbernauld: "In only one particular do the proposals meet that aim: the elimination of an external examination at National Award level 4. But in all other respects, there is no diminution in assessment; for many schools changing from Standard grade courses, there may well be a substantial increase.

"All pupils aiming for level 4 or 5, in every subject, will be sitting unit assessments at regular intervals, and re-sitting them if they fail. In addition, all pupils will be required to produce coursework for every subject, even in those where this approach has been tried and failed."

But Ms Ford reserved her most withering scorn for any attempt to measure how successful pupils were as responsible citizens, effective contributors and confident individuals. "In a recent TESS report, we were condemned as a profession for failing to have developed a means of measuring these capacities," she said. "As one educational psychologist would have us believe, all human behaviour is measurable.

"This would be worrying if it were true. I am trying to imagine a Richter scale of confidence and how it might be applied. And how damaging to your confidence would it be to be told you had a low score?

"The idea of measuring, rather than acknowledging and recording achievement, is a pipedream. I would have serious doubts about the ethics of trying to do so."

Ms Ford reinforced the reservations of heads about the plans for assessing pupils' literacy and numeracy in all subjects. This "will not deliver a credible measure of either skill, will put a serious strain on senior managers who will have the responsibility of co-ordinating this system and will detract from teaching and learning time, as the evidence is drafted, re-drafted, sifted and selected, and finally despatched to the SQA.

"The CPD implications are enormous - the prospect of training a grumpy physics teacher to spot a level 4 piece of literacy, or a sensitive art teacher to determine a level 5 in numeracy, beggars belief."

She said it was particularly serious that there was no formal measure to test literacy or numeracy "until the 10th year of a child's education, at the earliest" (in S3), and "no accountability in the first seven years".

Ms Ford said the way heads were being treated over CfE would not encourage recruitment or retention, the problems of which were highlighted in a report two weeks ago.

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