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.

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