Wednesday 17 January 2018

Our Summary: Government Consultation on Presumption of Mainstreaming

The Scottish Government has a consultation open on ‘Excellence and Equity for All: Guidance on the Presumption of Mainstreaming.’ We’ll be submitting our own response, but we encourage other parents, especially if you have children who have Additional Support Needs, to make your own voice heard before 9 February 2018.
Aims of the Consultation
The consultation is asking for views on draft guidance for local authorities, teachers, and other education workers. While the guidance is aimed at people working in education, it will also feed into guidance that will then be written for parents and carers.
What is Mainstreaming?
Mainstreaming is the legal requirement for local authorities to work on the basis that they will provide education for all children in a mainstream school, though there are three exceptions to this: 
  • If it would not suit the ability or aptitude of the child;
  • If it would negatively impact the efficient education of other children in the school
  • If it would be too expensive, resulting in unreasonable public expenditure
What Does It Say?
The consultation states that ‘an inclusive approach, with an appreciation of diversity and an ambition for all to achieve to their full potential, is essential to getting it right for every child and raising attainment for all.’
To do this, the consultation looks at four areas:
What the features of an inclusive school environment are. This means that not only is the pupil present and learning at the school, but is also supported to be able to take part in the school community.
How to decide on the right provision for a pupil.
When to make exceptions to mainstreaming.
Guidance on delivering inclusion in schools. 8 key areas are identified to deliver inclusion:
  • Leadership
  • Constructive challenge to attitudes
  • Evaluation of planning process
  • Capacity to deliver inclusion
  • Parental and carer engagement
  • Early intervention, prevention and strong relationships
  • Removal of barriers to learning
These include examples of how individual schools have managed to do so.  
You can view and respond to the consultation at the Scottish Government’s consultation website. It closes on 9 February 2018.

Monday 6 November 2017

Should PEF money be used for before-school football? Absolutely yes.

In response to the news that an Aberdeen school would be using some of its Pupil Equity Fund money on a football-based programme to bring pupils in to school early for training and breakfast, an education "insider" said: "Schools are expected to use their extra money to help pupils from low-income backgrounds with reading and writing. I'm not sure if keepie-up sessions will help.”

Therein lies the combination of snobbery and ignorance that is just too widespread in Scottish education.

Why might football training before school help with attainment?

  • Because physical exercise has a strong link to positive attitude and behaviour, and learning
  • Because the programme also includes breakfast (one of the necessities for good learning)
  • Because young folk who have a sense of achievement are likely to take that positivity into other parts of their lives, including school
  • Because it gives a sense of purpose which may be absent from other parts of their school experience
So perhaps the education ‘insider’ might like to re-think their comments.

Words from Eileen Prior, Executive Director at Scottish Parent Teacher Council

Monday 18 September 2017

Why it’s Important to Know an Octopus Can Walk on Land

This is a guest blog post from Dr Janet Goodall, an academic at Bath University whose research focuses on parental engagement. Janet delivered SPTC's 2017 annual lecture back in March.

We have an achievement gap in the UK, which is based not on ability but on background: children from wealthier backgrounds do better in our system.  It’s a simple thing to say – and a very difficult thing to solve.

We do know some things about solving the problem, and one of them is that the solution doesn’t lie in the classroom.  Schools and staff have done a very good job in narrowing the gap – but the gains that can be made in school have, for the most part, been made.  We need to stop looking in the wrong place for the solution, and look where we can make a difference.

That means we need to be working with parents, and we need to be thinking about the home learning environment.  I don’t mean getting parents into school (remember, the answer isn’t there) and I don’t really mean getting parents to help with homework.  Both of those are good things but we’re already doing that, and we’re supporting a lot of parents – but not, perhaps, the parents who most need support.

If we want to help narrow the achievement gap, we need to help all parents know how to support learning outside of school – in the home, in the car, wherever they are with their children.

With younger children, that can mean letting parents know how important it is to read stories over, and over and over again, to support early literacy; how important stirring a cake and sprinkling decorations can be for developing the muscles that will help the child write, how important noticing print and numbers in daily life, and talking about them, are for being school ready.  Even with teenagers, we know that fifteen minutes of conversation a week with parents, about social media, TV shows or movies, is correlated to how engaged those young people are with reading. 

It’s about letting parents know how important they are to their children’s learning, and working with them to support that learning.

Of course, that means a sea change: schools, and their staff, have to realise how important learning outside the home is, and work to support it.  That’s a new idea for a lot of people in schools, and we need to think carefully about how we do it.

And that brings me to the octopus in the title.
 In David Attenborough’s series, The Hunt, he showed us that an octopus could drag itself out of the water and across land to the next rock pool.  How many thousands – perhaps millions – of parents were answering questions about how far an octopus could go on land, the next morning on the way to school?  That’s a prime example of the home learning environment, and it’s the sort of thing we can all support – and that we need to support, if we want to give all of our young people the best chance at life.

Friday 15 September 2017

SQA Fieldwork - what's it all about?

No, we’re not talking about tattie hoakin’ or anything similar – it’s an interesting piece of work by SQA about what parents, pupils and teachers in schools think about the SQA qualifications our youngsters take in schools, and especially the changes that have been (and are being) made.

Although not written for parents, it is worthwhile taking a look, particularly if you have a youngster coming up to or in Senior Phase at secondary school, or if you are on a parent council at a secondary school.

From our perspective, the key issues for parents (and parent councils) in the report are:
-       The move from Broad General Education (at the end of S3) into Senior Phase (S4 onwards) is still an issue. Many schools are looking for subject choices before the end of S3 – in some cases in S1. This may be for a number of reasons, but many parents fear this, and varying numbers of subject options, are narrowing choice for their young people.
-       Slow pace of learning and ‘treading water’ in S1-3 was also raised often
-       Many young people and teachers feel the pace of learning and the complexity of the subjects goes up too steeply as they start working for qualifications – the aim of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) was that the pace would be even from S1 – 6
-       Parents and young people say they are not clear about the CfE levels, and what they mean for youngsters’ learning
-       Parents overall do not have a clear idea of their youngster’s progress
-       Over-assessment continues to be an issue, with young people feeling under a lot of pressure

-       N4 is discussed a lot: while teachers generally would like to see an exam at the end, pupils are more in favour of different levels of pass (at the moment it is just pass or fail.)
-       There is also a lot about whether N4 is a worthwhile qualification, whether it is valued by young people, parents and employers.
-       ‘Over presenting’ at N5 is also highlighted: teachers say they are under pressure to put pupils forward for an N5 even when they don’t believe it is the right thing. They say the pressure comes from parents as well as head teachers and the local council.
It is interesting that ¼ of schools said that good communication with parents and carers where decisions were being made about N4 or N5 led to little or no parental pressure to put a pupil forward for a qualification the teacher felt was unsuitable.
The report throws up a lot for schools, parents and young people to think about.

From our perspective, the big things are about how schools are communicating with individual parents, and how parent councils can help. There is also a big question mark about how parent councils are making sure the school management are listening to the views of parents (and pupils) about qualifications. If schools that communicate well with parents report that good parental communication removes or reduces parent pressure to put pupils forward at the wrong level, what does that tell us about the other ¾?

Thursday 11 May 2017

Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy

Are the poor results as an indicative of a failing system as they seem? How worried should parents really be?

Earlier this week, you may have seen the news that the literacy results of school pupils have fallen over the last four years. This was the result of the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, an annual survey which monitors national performance of school children at P4, P7 and S2 in literacy and numeracy in alternate years.

The survey found that found that less than half of Scotland's 13 and 14-year-olds (S2) are now performing well in writing. P4 and P7 pupils also saw a drop in writing performance. The reading ability of P4, P7 and S2 pupils remains broadly similar to 2014 - but lower than 2012 and there has been no reduction in the big gap between the performance of the country's wealthiest and most deprived pupils.

There was little that is good in these numbers, though probably most concerning is the information around S2 literacy.

However, as with everything in education, things are not simple. It’s important to understand that the way the material for this survey is gathered and marked is different to other surveys and assessments. For example, the writing results aren’t calculated per pupil but per individual piece of writing from different subject areas, written with different purposes.

The S2 results are problematic because they are measured against the expectations for S3 pupils.
These results also focus purely on a decline in academic results and do not take into account other problems which are part of the big picture. Dropping numbers of support staff and reduced access to professionally staffed libraries are only part of the story. The education system is also hundreds of teachers short. Additionally, we know that poverty has a massive impact on how kids do at school – and families all over Scotland are struggling. All of this brought together will certainly have an impact on literacy standards.

It’s also important to remember that assessment in itself does not improve learning - and there is a strong argument against standardised assessments. Last week, one of the Government’s senior international advisers attacked standardised testing , saying it causes “ill-being” in students and devalues teacher judgement.

Too much focus on assessment causes stress for both pupils and teachers, tends to cause teaching to the test, and takes time away from learning.

Overall, there was little that is good in these numbers. Perhaps the only positive is the data which shows that pupil engagement with parents and teachers is good. Generally, at least half of pupils have reported that someone at home engages with them about school ‘very often’.

We are entering an era of over assessment. At SPTC, our preference is for a focus on teaching and learning, supported by strong family engagement.

If you’d like to read more about the findings of the 2016 SSLN, you can find the full report here:

The figures about parental engagement can be found in section 8.3, from page 42.

Tuesday 18 April 2017

The Importance of Fathers

Strengthening Father Child Relationships – what the evidence says
Nick Thorpe of Fathers Network Scotland

WHILE fathers are increasingly in evidence at most school gates nowadays, outdated attitudes about gender roles can sometimes linger both inside and outside the building.

So it’s encouraging to see recent research by the Growing Up In Scotland longitudinal study supporting many fathers’ expectation of increased involvement in their children’s lives – with the finding that father-child and mother-child relationships matter equally for children’s wellbeing.

The report, Growing Up in Scotland: Father-child relationships and child socio-emotional wellbeing, commissioned as part of the Year of the Dad, is based on 2593 couple families from the GUS study, each with a ten-year old child who was asked to grade statements such as “I share my thoughts and feelings with my dad” or “my dad is proud of the things I do”.

Among the results, the researchers found that:
  • ·         84% of father-child relationships are classified as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ in terms of the level of supportiveness.
  • ·         Good couple relationships predict supportive father-child and mother-child relationships

Multiple previous studies have shown that children’s educational attainment and wellbeing is raised when dads are positively involved.

And while this survey did not set out specifically to look at school experience, it did point out educational impacts, as the authors of the report explained at its recent launch at a Fathers Network Scotland seminar in Edinburgh last month.

Dr Alison Parkes, of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow, told the audience at the Royal College of Physicians: “We found that fathers’ supportiveness had independent associations with many other aspects of children’s well-being, extending beyond the home to the child’s experiences at school and with friends.”

Parents whose own level of education and income were lower were more likely to be those where the child has a poor relationship with their father. But a calm, supportive family/home climate reduced the chance of a poor father-child relationship, even after accounting for other factors such as socio-economic status and adverse events.

While the vast majority of children felt well-supported by their fathers, the study recommended that that some families could benefit from better access to parent support, including families with low resources, and families who have experienced multiple adverse events.
Health and welfare services – as well as schools - should strive to engage with fathers as well as with mothers, taking account of fathers’ needs and difficulties over accessing and maintaining engagement with services.

You can read a summary of the GUS report, or watch Dr Parkes’ presentation at:

Following the success of 2016’s Year of the Dad, Fathers Network Scotland is this year working to engage fathers in schools by rolling out best practice from the East Lothian Father Inclusive Toolkit  –please join our network to hear more about this and other initiatives later in the year.

For more information, check out

Thursday 6 April 2017

What exactly is happening with National 5 next year?

If your youngster is starting S4 soon, and taking National qualifications next session, you will probably have picked up on changes being made that might affect them.  It’s been very difficult to keep up with qualifications over the last few years, so here’s a short, plain English, outline of what’s been happening.

Since the new National qualifications were introduced to replace Standard Grades a few years ago, there has been a lot of worry about the massive number of assessments youngsters were expected to take as they worked towards the qualifications. What made it worse was that, while all of the assessments had to be done (they were mandatory), they were not actually taken into account for the qualification.

So, after a lot of pressure on Government and SQA, it was announced that these unit assessments would be removed for N5. On the face of it that sounds good because it should mean that youngsters can focus on their course assessments and the final exam. (In fact, in our view, many young people should be heading straight to Higher if they have the ability, but that is another issue!)

Sadly it is not that simple – one of the things that was lost as a result of this new approach was an option for young people who did not pass at N5. The only good thing about the unit assessments was that they could count towards an N4 if the N5 was failed.

To plug this gap, the Government has now announced that schools will be able to keep using unit assessments, but only in exceptional circumstances.

What these exceptional circumstances will be, we don’t know. It is likely to benefit only a small number of young people, who unfortunately will have to complete both unit and course assessments (including what is called the Added Value Unit – it is needed to get an N4 pass when you have taken N5 units).

It looks more than likely that there will be more changes over the next few years, and we will do our best to keep you posted.