Russell ditches literacy and numeracy 'portfolios'

2nd April 2010 at 01:00
Skills should be assessed as modules within English and maths, states Education Secretary

The Education Secretary has dumped the literacy and numeracy testing plans which his predecessor, Fiona Hyslop, intended to be a key part of curricular reform.

Instead of a "portfolio" of evidence gathered from all subjects, Michael Russell simply wants literacy and numeracy tested as modules within English and maths. It will be part of the wider English and maths qualifications at Access, National 4 and National 5. Adult learners will be able to sit the module as a free-standing unit.

Mr Russell said his decision to move away from the concept of a cross- curricular portfolio of evidence of literacy and numeracy had been prompted by his recognition of two problems: the burden it would have placed upon outside bodies, such as the Scottish Qualifications Authority; and its failure to assess literacy and numeracy at different stages.

In a move described as "coming out of left field" by primary heads' president Irene Matier, Mr Russell also announced plans for a "particular focus on a robust profile of literacy and numeracy achievement at key transition stages, such as P4, P7 and S3".

Mrs Matier, president of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, said she could understand the need for "robust" information at the P7S1 stage, but not at P4. If Mr Russell's thinking was that P4 marked the transition from the first to the second level of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), then it was wrong, she suggested.

"Curriculum for Excellence is meant to be a progression, and not all children will move at the same time in each area of the curriculum," Mrs Matier said.

The CfE management board is due to meet on April 22, and Mr Russell said he would present it with a paper containing further details of his plans to assess pupils at P4, P7 and S3.

The announcement on literacy and numeracy was part of a 10-point plan (see box, left) which Mr Russell made clear he felt was sufficient to deal with the arguments of those calling for the implementation of CfE to be delayed by another year.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA), welcomed the move on literacy and numeracy, but said Mr Russell had still not done nearly enough to quell the arguments for a delay.

She conceded: "Whether we like it or not, it is probably going to go ahead and we will be fighting a rearguard action in two years' time when we will be discussing what went wrong."

Ms Ballinger revealed that, before the SSTA's survey of members had closed, around 17 per cent had responded and 97 per cent of those said they were not ready to implement CfE.

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, welcomed the additional support measures, including pound;3 million per year for councils to fund quality assurance and moderation of assessment.

But he warned that councils might well divert this "modest sum" elsewhere, as they are permitted to do under the concordat framework.

He also said that lack of time was an issue, since there were just 10 working weeks remaining before the start of the new school session.

Leader, page 22

Next week: Lindsay Paterson responds


- Secondary heads to ask local authorities and the Scottish Government for tailored support if their schools are not ready to implement CfE next session

- Additional practical materials for teachers

- pound;3 million for councils to support quality assurance and moderation of assessment;

- Literacy and numeracy units to be built into English and maths qualifications, although these skills will still be developed across the curriculum

- Expert groups of subject teachers to develop "excellence and rigour" in each subject

- HMIE to provide further support and clarity

- Headteacher events to share best practice

- A seat on the CfE management board for the National Parent Forum Scotland

- Additional materials for pupils and parents explaining CfE

- A new group, convened by the Education Secretary, to advise on future development of CfE


The Education Secretary, Michael Russell, had a private meeting with four Glasgow secondary heads this week to discuss Curriculum for Excellence. Afterwards, they told The TESS what they thought of his plans.

On changes to the literacy and numeracy qualifications:

- Tom McDonald, Holyrood Secondary: "Other subject teachers were perfectly happy to accept common approaches to reading, writing and numeracy skills, but they were concerned about having to assess them. There were genuine concerns from competent teachers in, say, physics and technical, about assessing literacy."

- David Cumming, Smithycroft Secondary: "I think placing literacy and numeracy within English and maths is very sensible. I had some concerns about the notion of a portfolio. I see the folio fever that afflicts the English department and could see this happening across the school."

- Liz Ervine, Springburn Academy: "This places a lot of responsibility on the principal teachers of English and maths, but it's a sensible move."

On the Education Secretary's invitation to any headteacher, who feels his or her school is not ready, to ask for tailored support:

- Tom McDonald, Holyrood: "I'm not sure this is the right question to ask - it's an unusual question. I would put my hand up and say we're not ready, but I think we're pretty well advanced in our development of CfE. It's an evolutionary process."

- Liz Ervine, Springburn: "Who's the brave soul who's going to put their hand up for that?"

On the proposed "expert groups" bringing together subject teachers and experts in individual fields:

- John Reilly, St Mungo's Academy: "I'd need to see what the make-up of the groups were and what their remit and terms of reference were."

- Tom McDonald, Holyrood: "One health warning on this is that I would not want to pull the best teachers out of the classroom, which is where they need to be."

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