Cabinet secretary for education Shirley Anne Somerville said that teachers were finding them increasingly useful.
Ms Somerville also pledged that she would “not take over the day to day running of the SQA” as it continues to administer exams over the coming year, but would keep a close working relationship and challenge the organisation where necessary. The SQA is due to be scrapped and Education Scotland reformed, however Ms Somerville said this could take some time if the government is to take a “collaborative approach” to the reforms.
Speaking to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, Ms Somerville also revealed that she had known about the situation about equality failings in the SQA “a few weeks ago”, despite it only being made public last week, but said the publication of the report had not been the SQA’s decision. SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson appeared in front of the education committee last week, a day before the report was made public.
In response to questions from MSPs over the data from the standardised assessments being used to create “crude league tables” of schools, Ms Somerville said the government’s intention was not to produce league tables of schools.
The recent OECD report into Scotland’s education system recommended that testing only a sample of children for literacy and numeracy could be a better way of determining pupil achievement. Standardised tests were introduced by the Scottish Government in 2017, as part of efforts to close the attainment gap, with youngsters being tested in primary one, four, seven and in S3 in secondary school.
Ms Somerville said: “The purpose of the national standardised assessments is primarily formative, it's there to provide a very important and valuable diagnostic information to teachers on children's progress. They were never designed to be the measure of everything in Curriculum for Excellence.
"So I've looked very carefully at what the OECD have have said, I've looked very carefully at the information that was gathered in the review of the standardised assessments, and we are seeing an increased use of them by teachers and they are finding them more useful, as the years have have gone on. I think that is another important part that we need to look at is what are they there for, and are teachers finding them useful for what they are designed to do? And, as we see from some of what's coming through from teachers, they are finding them useful as part of that formative assessment.”
The SQA was criticised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for not routinely assessing its policies against the public sector equality duty. The duty, a legal requirement placed on all public bodies, obligates them to consider how decisions affect people who are protected under the Equality Act.
Ms Somerville was asked if she thought it was acceptable that SQA chief executive Fiona Robertson had “omitted to mention” the issues when she appeared before MSPs last week.
She said: “I would absolutely like to make clear it was not the SQA’s decision on the timing of the publication.”