On one level, the much-heralded report from the first Scottish Survey of Achievement contains few surprises. Pupils' performance dips progressively as they move through the 5-14 stages, S2 still hogs the headlines as a stick with which to beat the executive, girls are better at reading than boys (although not in numeracy) and there are signs of improvement depending on how you see the statistics.
It is certainly of note that the P3 and P5 stages continue to perform strongly and the results from future SSA surveys will tell us whether the executive is right to believe that this is due to the more pronounced emphasis on early learning. Hopefully, this may even feed into an energised S2. But, we are usefully reminded, secondary schools are having to cope with very different attitudes by the time pupils reach 14. And, the survey also found, pupils get less confident in their abilities as they get older.
The SSA promises to be a better tracker of how pupils are performing than the unreliable teacher assessments in the 5-14 survey and the Assessment of Achievement Programme which did not provide local authority information. There is no doubt the SSA is a much better analytical tool.
But there will have to come a time for fundamental rethinking of the 5-14 levels and the targets that pupils are supposed to reach, as some education directors have already begun to do. The bar for achievement is actually set quite high : 65 per cent of SSA test answers have to be correct for pupils to be at least 'well established' at each level; the others will be deemed to have 'failed.' But this is a good start.