The three Rs are 'fundamental' human rights

22nd May 2009 at 01:00
Secondary teachers are in militant mood over curriculum reform, the prospect of more internal assessment, and literacy and numeracy tests. Emma Seith reports from the annual congress of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association

Secondary teachers have condemned "the concept of literacy and numeracy examinations" - a major plank of the Scottish Government's new plans for assessment.

Delegates also fired "a warning shot", claiming they would fight any attempt to increase internal assessment in schools and saying it was unreliable because it put pressure on teachers to "massage" results.

A Curriculum for Excellence also came under fierce attack at the SSTA conference for being "vague" and "woolly". The delegates, who met in Peebles last week, voted overwhelmingly to ballot for strike action unless more explicit guidance was made available, along with resources and teaching materials.

There was a "continuing lack of necessary details" about CfE, the union claimed, even though the final guidance, in the form of the "experiences and outcomes", had been published last month.

Nor did the union hold out much hope that future guidance would provide answers. Alan Taylor, SSTA executive member and the union's representative on the qualifications steering group, said Building the Curriculum 4, due to be published soon, contained none of the exemplars of timetabling and curriculum design that staff had been waiting for. "When are we going to get these things?" he demanded.

A different question was on the lips of incoming president Peter Wright. He wanted to know if any delegates fancied working in the most illiterate school in Scotland - because if the literacy and numeracy tests for S3 or S4 became a reality, the media would create league tables, he warned.

Literacy and numeracy were not subjects, he argued, but "fundamental human rights". They should be focused on throughout a child's education, not examined when it was "too damn late to do anything about it".

"Summative assessment does not improve achievement - repeat after me, Fiona," he said, referring to Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop.

Any moves to increase internal assessment in the new qualifications framework, due to be published in the summer, would be equally unpopular, the SSTA warned the Government. Delegates voted overwhelmingly to "totally oppose" any attempt to abandon an external examination at SCQF level 4 (Standard grade General level).

"Internally assessed qualifications, no matter how rigorous, do not have the reputation or the guarantee of quality common to all Scottish externally assessed and marked qualifications," said outgoing president Ann Ballinger, who takes up the post of general secretary next month.

Teachers faced pressure to "massage the results" from "pushy parents", headteachers under pressure and misguided local authorities". Ms Ballinger also questioned where staff would find the time to "mark and verify" internal assessments.

Elaine Henderson, an Aberdeenshire delegate, agreed that internal assessment could be misused. She claimed parents already tried to influence teachers when it came to NABs (unit assessments). No matter how professional teachers were, there would always be "issues with the interpretation of standards" which could jeopardise consistency. Pupils, meanwhile, were motivated by external examinations and did not value internal assessment as highly, she argued: "There is a perception these exams really count."

George Sturrock, from Dundee, argued that all youngsters had the right to the same quality of externally-assessed qualifications. He feared that a two-tier system could emerge.

- The NASUWT called off its Scottish conference in Aviemore last week after the wife of a delegate was misdiagnosed with swine flu. A reconvened conference will now be held on October 30 and 31 in Edinburgh.


Graham Souter, Aberdeenshire: "The same as everybody else: A Curriculum for Excellence and the uncertainty as to what's going to happen. Lots of documents have been produced but the way ahead is far from clear."

Alistair Moffat, Western Isles: "The thought of a general education in S1- 3 - I find that frightening. Specialism is the way we find success in life and as schools we are training pupils for life and how to find the specialism that suits them. That's what students need."

Pamela Templeton, South Ayrshire: "That A Curriculum for Excellence is coming in unresourced. They are putting money into some training days but teachers are sceptical of how good they are going to be."

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