Earlier this month, I wrote to every headteacher in Scotland to seek their input on our plans for the National Improvement Framework (NIF). Teachers have been at the forefront of the successes achieved through Curriculum for Excellence; we want to build on that and ensure we have an education system that is continually improving, so that all children have the skills to succeed.
Our ultimate ambition is for Scotland to have a world-class education system. The first minister has made it clear that education is at the heart of the government’s agenda. We want to raise standards everywhere but most quickly where improvement is most needed: we want to close the gap in educational outcomes between pupils from the most and least deprived parts of Scotland.
The draft NIF includes plans for new standardised assessments to provide more consistent information about how children are progressing in their learning. These will focus on reading, writing and numeracy in P1, P4, P7 and S3. The tests will inform teacher judgements and provide additional information as to whether a child has achieved a CfE level.
It is important not to lose sight of the purpose of gathering more information: to enable us all – teachers, parents, government – to know what, how and where improvements might be needed.
Understandably, there’s been a lot of interest in the standardised assessment proposals, particularly from teachers. With CfE embedded in schools, there is a role for finding out more about what is working really well and what we should be doing more of.
This is not about narrowing the curriculum or forcing teachers to “teach to the test”. A new standardised assessment will allow us to be more streamlined, replacing the variety of approaches that exist across local authorities.
Nor is it about adding to teachers’ workload or increasing the burden on children, but reducing them.
This government has absolutely no interest in creating school league tables or returning to the high-stakes testing regime of old. Indeed, to hear everyone using the shorthand of “national testing” is frustrating. What we are putting in place is far from a crude test.
The NIF will draw in a full range of information that, taken in context, will help us to improve attainment and ultimately, I hope, close the attainment gap. It will inform classroom practice and national policy.
Most importantly, it should help us all work out what we might do to ensure that every child has every chance to succeed.
Your views are important and I would urge you to attend one of eight information events, starting on 29 September in Edinburgh and moving on to Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness.
Full details of the events, as well as the framework, can be viewed at bit.ly/NIFEvents.
Angela Constance is Scotland’s Cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning