Concern over decision to axe key Scots pupil survey

Keir Bloomer attacked the ending of vital schools survey
Keir Bloomer attacked the ending of vital schools survey
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The Scottish Government’s decision to scrap an annual survey of children’s basic literacy and numeracy skills will make it “impossible” to tell if standards are getting worse, one of the architects of Scotland’s national curriculum has said.

Keir Bloomer, a member of the group of education experts that wrote Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, said it was “disturbing” that the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) had shown a sustained fall in pupils’ performance.

The ​chair of the Commission on School Reform said the latest literacy results published earlier this week suggested there was something “seriously wrong” with children’s reading and writing skills.

He added that the SNP’s decision to scrap the SSLN, conducted every year since 2011, meant the chance to keep tabs on standards in reading and writing in Scotland’s schools was being “thrown away”.

The latest results of the survey showed that less than half (49 per cent) of Scotland’s 13 and 14-year-olds are performing well in writing, a decline of 15 per cent on 2012. The SNP’s political opponents described the figures as “shameful” and accused ministers of failing a generation of children.

This year’s results will be the final SSLN, as the Scottish Government has decided to scrap the measure. Data on literacy and numeracy will instead be gathered through national standardised testing being introduced in primary and secondary schools.

Mr Bloomer said the sudden switch to a new system would mean that ministers would lose the ability to see if their education policies were working – meaning that school standards may drop significantly without anyone knowing.

“The value in measures like the SSLN is that they show how standards are changing. When one measure is replaced by another, comparison over time becomes impossible,” he said.

“The only way to overcome this difficulty is to run the two measures in parallel for a few years so that it becomes possible to see how the results compare. The government has refused to do this.

“In short, a high-quality measure of performance that gives valuable, if disturbing, information is being replaced by one that is, at best, unproven and the ability to see whether standards are rising or falling is being thrown away.”

Liz Smith MSP, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, said: “Keir Bloomer and parents across Scotland are quite right to be completely baffled as to why the SNP has decided to drop this survey at this stage of the development of the Curriculum for Excellence. It has provided excellent data over a sustained period of time. The recent statistics have made difficult reading, but that is no excuse to drop [it].”

Tavish Scott, education spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said the Scottish Government should rethink its decision to scrap the SSLN surveys.

“Abolishing them stops one of the few objective methods that tell everyone how education is performing. Reintroducing Thatcherite school league tables is the usual SNP response – they should find someone else to blame,” he said.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are replacing the SSLN with a collection that will provide more data than ever on children’s progress under Curriculum for Excellence.

“Unlike the SSLN, the new arrangements allow people not just to see the national trends but also how their local schools are performing. And it will give teachers and parents data on the attainment of their own children, something the SSLN survey simply cannot do.”