National test plans aren’t engaging ‘bored’ parents

23rd October 2015 at 00:00
Spice up presentation of the proposals, SPTC tells ministers

Parents are failing to engage with controversial plans to introduce national testing in schools because the Scottish government is making it sound “really boring”, the head of a national parents’ group has said.

You had to be “a bit of an anorak” to be able to see that the government’s draft national improvement framework (NIF) was actually of interest, said Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC).

“Presentation is everything and this has not been presented in a very accessible or interesting way for the average parent who is not immersed in education,” she told TESS.

The message “It’s not as dull as it sounds” sits at the top of the SPTC’s list of 10 things parents should know about the NIF, highlighted on its Facebook page.

‘This is not how you do it’

Ms Prior made her comments after TESS revealed that recent Scottish government NIF engagement events have failed to draw in the crowds, with sessions in Inverness and Aberdeen more than half empty (see panel, left).

The Central Belt events in Edinburgh and Glasgow fared better but overall roughly a third of seats were unoccupied. TESS attended a twilight event in Edinburgh recently where just 25 of the 50 available spaces were taken.

Ms Prior added: “Parental engagement is not something that can happen quickly. It has to be done at different levels, so through schools and parental organisations like ourselves. Publishing a paper such as the national improvement framework draft is definitely not how you do it.”

The changes were being rushed, she felt. “The procurement process for these tests has already started. That does not feel much like a consultation,” she said.

The education directors’ body ADES has also voiced disquiet over the speed at which the government is trying to introduce the framework. Teachers, it said, could be alienated if the NIF was “imposed” too quickly.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said teachers had failed to attend the events because they were “a rushed job” and “not particularly well advertised”. “There’s no hard proposal so it’s not clear what they are consulting on,” he added.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said: “Teachers are so busy with their day-to-day bedding in of the new qualifications that future changes just don’t seem as important.”

The SSTA will consider all measures up to and including industrial action to prevent the introduction of national literacy and numeracy tests as outlined in the NIF. The EIS is opposed to national assessments in P1, P4, P7 and S3.

Iain Ellis, chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said he did not think parents were fully aware of the NIF engagement events. “Parents are not really aware of what’s happening,” he said. “Their kids are already tested – the vast majority of schools use standardised tests – so I think they are just not clear what the difference is.”

The Scottish government said it was engaging with thousands of teachers, parents and interested parties. Last week it announced that children would also be invited to have their say.

Education secretary Angela Constance said: “The NIF is being developed to give more information about children’s progress in their learning so it is vital that we give them the chance to give their views on how that information should be gathered and used.”

Empty seats

Two events were held in Edinburgh. There were 150 spaces but only 103 people attended.

Three events were held in Glasgow, with 300 spaces and 207 attendees.

Two events were held in Inverness, with 150 spaces and 62 attendees.

Two events were held in Aberdeen, with 150 spaces and 74 attendees.

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