The independent review of the controversial testing of the youngest pupils in Scottish schools has concluded that the national assessments should continue – but the education secretary admits it does not give the government “an unqualified green light” and that improvements are required.
John Swinney – who made a statement on the findings of the review to the Scottish Parliament this afternoon – highlighted the review's advice that the government needed to make clear the purpose of collecting the Primary 1 data and that teachers needed to be better supported to implement the tests.
The campaign: Scrap 'cruel' testing of five-year-olds’
Background: National tests for youngest pupils to continue
The review was commissioned by the Scottish government after MSPs voted in September last year to halt the tests amid reports that the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) were: causing pupils distress; too difficult; time-consuming; and, given the age of the pupils undertaking the assessments, unlikely to provide teachers with reliable information. Schools also said that P1 children lacked the IT skills to navigate the online assessments successfully.
After an investigation that ran from January until March, the review concluded: “P1 SNSA has potential to play a significant role in informing and enhancing teachers’ professional judgement. However, some important issues remain to be addressed including the view from some teachers and headteachers that introduction of the P1 SNSA undervalues professionalism.”
The review was led by David Reedy, former co-director of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust and past president of the United Kingdom Literacy Association.
The review included interviews with teachers and heads, and watching the tests being carried out in schools, as well as examining the information gathered by the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee for its inquiry into the tests, and the conclusions of the P1 Practitioner Forum.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS union, said: “David Reedy’s report, with its 28 recommendations for improvement, would seem to be a clear indication that Scottish government got it wrong on P1 standardised assessments first time around.
“In the rush to introduce SNSAs insufficient time was taken to even ensure that their purpose was communicated clearly leading to a situation where schools are now to be visited with a third set of guidance before the assessments are even 2-years old!”
He added: “An EIS concern with even more guidance is the simple fact that in the first round of assessments 24 out of 32 local authorities set aside the guidelines they had been party to agreeing, leading to many of the problems which teachers reported.
“There is no great confidence that the Scottish government can ensure compliance this time round when it failed so miserably in the past."
Mr Flanagan rejected the suggestion that pupil anxiety about the assessments might have been caused by the attitude of teachers.
He said: “It’s certainly true that many teachers felt under pressure from management to comply with certain approaches to assessments and, as the report makes clear, were understandably unclear as to the purpose of the tests, but to dismiss the concerns of P1 pupils so lightly, or indeed to try to blame their teachers, is quite unacceptable.”
However, Mr Flanagan added: “We do welcome confirmation that the assessments should be only used for diagnostic purposes and we will continue to monitor this aspect of their implementation.”