The announcement (your report, 2 September) about new standardised national tests is deeply disappointing and we have already heard concerns expressed by head teachers, teacher unions and parents about inevitable league table comparisons between schools.
Judith Gillespie (Letters, 3 September) is quite right to suggest that if the SNP government really wants to close the attainment gap and raise standards in literacy, “it has to focus effort and resources on areas of disadvantage from the very earliest days”.
The research and evidence to back this up is there in abundance. Children and young people who do not achieve expected levels of literacy are likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds where only one in five parents find the opportunity to read to their children regularly and an estimated 14 per cent of children from lower income homes rarely or never read books for pleasure. Literacy skills gained from shared reading experiences in the early years and fostering a love of reading can help break the vicious cycle of deprivation and disadvantage and provide children with the greatest tool of all for wider learning.
The SNP’s Scottish Attainment Challenge is commendable and it is this kind of initiative that will assist communities and parents in supporting their children’s acquisition of literacy.
But literacy development is complex and this should be reflected in the kind of “tests” used to measure achievement and progress.
Nicola Sturgeon states that the new standardised tests on literacy will “provide reliable evidence of a child’s performance” but is this the case?
Standardised tests are widely recognised as being limited in their scope and, at best, provide only crude measures of literacy attainment – such tests rarely reveal anything to the teacher of which they weren’t already aware.
In addition, they often fail to reflect cultural and linguistic norms and – in our increasingly plural society – we should take care lest we set unfair tests for children.
The great strength of formative assessment, as promoted and practiced through Curriculum for Excellence, is that the teacher can gather a rich variety of evidence on learning each and every day and can use this to plan accordingly for their learners.
National testing is unlikely to add much in terms of raising literacy standards and closing the attainment gap but it does have the potential to do some damage.
The discourse of “failing schools” is already creeping in to the debate and is surely at odds with the aspirations for social justice set out by the SNP and the values and principles of the Scottish education system which, up to this point, has been markedly different from the English system.
Sadly, it looks as if Nicola Sturgeon has succumbed to political pressure and has taken her eye off the social justice ball.
Judith Gillespie is spot on when she says that levels of educational attainment are inextricably linked to levels of advantage and disadvantage in homes and in communities.
Time will tell whether the changes proposed by the Scottish Government are purely educationally based or in part politically driven by constant attacks on the education system by articles in the media and repeated ad nauseam in letters columns by correspondents who appear to have a somewhat limited knowledge of the depths and complexities of this particular issue. This does not include Judith Gillespie, but Wednesday’s issue shows that as soon as one bandwagon grinds to a halt another starts rolling.
However, now that changes have been proposed, can we expect to see less of the ritual burnishing of brass necks by Liz Smith, whose Tory Party has been responsible for the harsh austerity measures which have driven hundreds of thousands of children into greater degrees of poverty, and Kezia Dugdale, whose Labour Party voted for a welfare benefits cap?