Are league tables on the way in Scotland?

11th September 2015 at 01:00
Government’s national testing plans are ‘dangerous’, critics warn

government plans to collect national data on the percentage of children reaching expected levels in reading, writing and numeracy brings the possibility of school league tables much closer, it has been warned.

Teachers and primary school leaders said the proposed design of the National Improvement Framework would make the compilation of school-by-school tables more likely.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of Scotland’s largest teaching union the EIS, told TESS that the Scottish government was “not sufficiently aware of the dangers of the system” it was planning to introduce.

“With the National Improvement Framework, Scotland is heading towards a data-driven education system where you start looking at targets, talking about failing schools and take a league-table approach; where schools and councils are castigated for failing to meet their targets just on the basis of a percentage figure and with no analysis of the challenges faced in that area or the circumstances of a school,” he said.

“What action are they going to take when they find that schools in the East End of Glasgow are not achieving – which is what they will find because these schools are in the areas with the greatest levels of poverty?

“Are they going to reduce class sizes? Are they going to put in additional teachers? I bet they don’t. A lack of resources is part of the problem schools face just now. What they will do is tell schools they have to do better.”

Of primary concern

Primary school leaders, meanwhile, said they would resist any move by the government to collect data that could be turned into league tables.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of primary school leaders’ body AHDS, said: “Any system introduced by the Scottish government needs to focus on individual learners and next steps for their learning – that’s why it’s called the National Improvement Framework, not the National Measurement Framework. Any design should guard against the creation of league tables which oversimplify the task of education and provide a focus that is not helpful for moving education on.”

The plans are contained in the government’s draft National Improvement Framework, published last week. This confirms that national tests in literacy and numeracy will be introduced for children in P1, P4, P7 and S3 from 2017. It also states that the government plans to collect information from councils about the proportion of children in those years achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and numeracy.

The EIS told TESS it would consider industrial action if the new assessment regime added to teachers’ workloads. But for the time being the union wanted to “maintain a dialogue to influence direction of travel rather than getting into a stand-off”, Mr Flanagan said.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) has already threatened to strike if the national literacy and numeracy tests go ahead. SSTA general secretary Seamus Searson said the tests were “another imposition on an already overworked and underpaid secondary teacher workforce”.

A means of control

Until now the EIS has been measured in its response to the plans for a National Improvement Framework. However, the devil was in the detail and the framework was “not the softly, softly approach” that had been promised, Mr Flanagan said.

The plans were not about helping teachers to identify next steps for their pupils but an attempt to benchmark the system, he insisted, adding: “What this comes down to is the Scottish government wanting to be in charge and not trusting the local authorities.”

In a briefing paper, the union said the plans marked a shift away “from individual pupils and towards a macro approach, which usually feeds into a sterile political point-scoring narrative that only serves to undermine quality education”.

The plans contained in the draft framework show that from 2017 teachers will be expected to deliver the new national literacy and numeracy tests between May and June.

At the same time of year, beginning in 2016, the government plans to collect national information from councils about the proportion of pupils achieving the appropriate Curriculum for Excellence level for their age and stage for reading, writing and numeracy in P1, P4, P7 and S3.

The paper envisages that teachers will eventually use the new literacy and numeracy tests “as part of their approach to assessing children’s progress”.

Where possible, this data will be broken down to show pupil progress by level of deprivation. That information – along with the test results – will be published every December in the annual framework report.

Judgement day

The government said that only a snapshot of pupils’ performance would be available this year because of limited information, but by 2016 the information published would include “national teacher judgement data”.

There are also plans for a youth health and wellbeing survey to be launched in 2017 after a pilot in three local authorities.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “As the first minister said, we’re committed to publishing more information about children’s progress at different levels of CfE in primary and lower-secondary school.

“However, we have also committed to consult on the detail and format of publication to ensure we provide it in the appropriate context, because ministers have made it clear they have no desire to see crude league tables that distort rather than enhance our understanding of children’s attainment and progress.”

To view the government’s draft National Improvement Framework visit bit.ly/SmarterScotland

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