Do the maths

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Referring to your lead article (8 October) on “flaws in new exam system” and the overload of 
testing in upper secondary, it’s worth acknowledging that our school system has historically produced an inordinately long tale of underperformance, mainly due to poor literacy (reading in particular) and numeracy skills (especially fluency in mental agility) which are difficult for the 
secondary system to address 
effectively enough.

Testing towards the end of secondary is actually too late to make enough of a difference for many pupils, yet that’s where most of the assessment focus takes place.

It’s like running a bath unattended to find it’s gone too cold to use because it wasn’t being monitored well enough throughout the pouring period.

It would be more beneficial for pupils to be tested on key literacy and numeracy skills in their 
earlier stages of primary to help ensure they have the targeted support they need, when it matters more to them (ie early intervention).

The earlier levels of Curriculum for Excellence are crucial, yet it’s only recently that schools are being given clearer advice on assessing progress and achievement to help teachers understand the bigger picture of progression, with the advice designed to support teacher confidence when “making holistic judgments” about progress.

Over the past few years, a number of primary head teachers have privately expressed their concerns to me about a lack of progression (for numeracy in particular), with the guidelines being too vague and open-ended for newly qualified and inexperienced teachers, and it’s my perception that numeracy skills have actually worsened.

If Curriculum for Excellence won’t take the lead, then more schools need to, with more formal testing of key reading and numeracy skills at the earlier primary stages, and with enough rigour (while done supportively) to confidently identify those children who’d benefit from targeted support.

For numeracy, these skills could be fluency (rather than finger counting) of addition and subtraction within ten towards the end of P2, and adding and subtracting within 20 towards the end of P4 (I could suggest other key measures).

Ensuring more pupils had these types of key skills by these stages (and similar ones for 
literacy, particularly reading) would help make subsequent assessment down the line a more celebratory (even holistic) type of experience for more pupils than it currently is.

Tom Renwick

Maths on Track

Gilmour Road

Edinburgh

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