Rushed framework may not be ‘fit for purpose’

9th October 2015 at 00:00
Get teachers’ backing for testing agenda, government ally urges

The Scottish government risks alienating the entire teaching profession if its plans for measuring school performance are “imposed” too quickly, one of the leading backers of the project has said.

John Stodter, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland (ADES) – which has been a key government ally over the introduction of the National Improvement Framework (NIF) – warned that the result would be a system that was “not fit for purpose”.

The plans for the NIF are controversial, as critics fear they could usher in an era of high-stakes testing and league tables.

Mr Stodter said: “People in Scotland, especially professionals, don’t like things being imposed upon them. It’s a national characteristic: Scottish people just don’t like being telt.

“More time needs to be taken to get everybody on board, involved and supporting what could be a pretty significant and sensitive change.”

The Scottish government was wrong to “decide the timetable first”, he said, and should have thought carefully about how to engage the profession and get the education sector on side.

“We know in Scotland we can make very significant change,” he added. “Curriculum for Excellence took ages but it has been implemented and is, as far as I’m concerned, a successful development. We have changed the whole curriculum from 3 to 18 and introduced a new qualifications system.

“Most countries across the world would give their eye teeth to be able to do that. But if you want to make meaningful change, you have to take everybody with you, and that takes time.”

Critical friend

Mr Stodter’s comments are significant because education directors have until now been supportive of the Scottish government’s plans to bring in a new way of measuring the performance of the education system.

The government has even said that the plans were, in part, a response to the call by ADES for “a national performance framework” in the document A 2020 Vision for Education in Scotland, which was released last year.

Unlike the teaching unions and local authorities’ body Cosla, ADES has also refrained from railing against the prospect of national tests in the press. Mr Stodter told TESS the body didn’t support national testing that was “just about taking a measurement”, but it did support national assessments that would be “part of the process of teaching and learning”.

In last week’s TESS, Scottish Parent Teacher Council executive director Eileen Prior said there had been “no meaningful consultation” over the NIF (“National testing agenda ‘motivated by parents’ ”, News, 2 October). She described a series of public engagement events held over the past two weeks as “hastily organised” and “poorly timed” .

TESS attended one of the events last week in Edinburgh, where participants echoed the concerns of Mr Stodter and Ms Prior. One teacher said: “You are talking about a pilot [of national assessments] next year and roll-out the year after – that’s not a lot of time to assess the pilot.”

She added: “If you are talking about being more data-driven and evidence-led, surely you need time to assess the pilot? The assumption is the pilot is going to work. This all seems very rushed.”

‘Ludicrous’ timetable

The EIS teaching union labelled the timetable for implementing national assessments “ludicrous”.

General secretary Larry Flanagan said: “We’re in October now and they’re hoping to have this in place for 2016-17. Given the complexity of the design process, I just don’t see how that’s possible.”

By generating controversy around one detail of the NIF – national assessment – the Scottish government was in danger of failing to get “buy-in” from schools, teachers and local authorities, he added.

The Scottish government published its draft framework on 1 September, at the same time as proposals for national assessments in literacy and numeracy in P1, P4, P7 and S3 were announced by first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

By the end of the year, the Scottish government plans to go out to tender for the contract to develop the standardised assessments in literacy and numeracy. The assessments will then be piloted next year and rolled out across Scotland in 2017.

A spokeswoman said the Scottish government was keen to hear the views of parents, teachers, children and “others with an interest in improving Scottish education” to support the development of the draft framework.

Regional discussion events in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Aberdeen had enabled direct contact with thousands of teachers, parents and other stakeholders, she added.

Testing regime will save councils £1m

The Scottish government will foot the bill for the new standardised assessments in literacy and numeracy, saving councils more than £1 million a year, TESS can reveal.

A survey conducted by TESS earlier this year showed that Scottish councils were spending £1,052,782 a year buying in standardised tests from organisations such as the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring at Durham University.

The new national assessment regime will involve pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S3 being tested in literacy and numeracy from 2017. The decision by the Scottish government to cover the costs will be “well received”, says John Stodter (pictured), general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland.

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