Scottish schools ‘buying’ tests from English firms

Kezia Dugdale has said she wants to improve standards in schools to achieve better than 'satisfactory'. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
Kezia Dugdale has said she wants to improve standards in schools to achieve better than 'satisfactory'. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach
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CASH-STRAPPED Scottish schools spent millions of pounds buying tests from private firms in England prompting fresh calls for the “chaotic” system of primary testing to be addressed.

New figures obtained through Freedom of Information by the Conservatives show that councils have spent more than £3.6 million over the past three years buying in tests from Durham University and private companies.

We have a chaotic, patchwork system of testing

Tory MSP Liz Smith

It came as Labour leadership frontrunner Kezia Dugdale called for a “national framework” of standardised testing in primaries.

The figures revealed by the Scottish Conservatives show that Fife, Midlothian and West Lothian councils spent the most on tests from bodies which include private companies and Durham University.

“These figures show that we have a chaotic, patchwork system of testing across Scotland’s primary schools which is undermining the ability of teachers to fully assess the basic skills of their pupils,” Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said.

“The fact that local authorities are spending millions of pounds buying in tests from various providers across Britain tells us that many do not have sufficient confidence in the testing system in Scotland.

“At the end of it, we are left without any nationally agreed standard tests which would tell us how schools and their pupils are performing across Scotland.”

Ms Dugdale used a keynote speech in Edinburgh yesterday to brand the current system of buying in exams “inconsistent and inefficient.”

The Lothians MSP stopped short of calling for a return to national testing in primaries.

But she said: “We must have a national framework in which teachers use standardised tests to teach not to report.

“The government says that’s what they want. The unions say that is the right thing, so let’s just do it.”

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Ms Dugdale also called for schools inspections to suspended for a year to overhaul the regime and create more focus closing the gap in performance between schools in wealthier and less affluent areas. This would include more unannounced inspections.

“If closing the attainment gap is not just the most urgent improvement we seek in our schools but the most pressing political issue in the land, then that should be top of what inspections evaluate,” Ms Dugdale said yesterday.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary for the EIS last night warned against a return to national testing.

“The EIS supports the CfE approach to assessment, which is focussed on assessment being used to support learning and not as an imposed benchmarking tool which points towards accountability measures rather than children’s learning,” Mr Flanagan said.

“National testing, and a league table approach to standards, is precisely what has been rejected here in Scotland although embraced by the UK government in England.

“The EIS does not expect a move in this direction from Scottish Government. We are happy to discuss how we generate and make use of data but we won’t entertain a return to failed methods from the past.”

The lack of consistent data on the progress of pupils in primary and early secondary school has been a concern of opposition parties.

A recent Audit Scotland warned in a recent report that “there is no consistent approach to tracking and monitoring the progress of pupils from P1 to S3”.

The most recent Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy also warned that teachers did not use results of commercially published standardised tests or school-based literacy assessments to gauge achievement.

Opposition parties complain there is currently no national way of evaluating and monitoring the progress of pupils. The first national tests which pupils are likely to sit are their National 4/5 exams in the fourth year of secondary.