National Improvement Framework: Voice Scotland's response (OR2170) to Scottish Government's online survey
"In the Programme for Government on 1 September 2015 the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP, announced the publication of a draft National Improvement Framework. This document can be found here.
"We would like you to use this survey to share some of your thoughts on the draft Framework."
What are the benefits of a National Improvement Framework?
At page 30 of the Official Report of the Education and Culture Committee dated 23 June 2015, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Ms Angela Constance states that “We now need to have an agreement on standardised assessment so that we can get that line of sight from what is happening at local level to what is happening at national level”.
While the idea of uniformity of approach appears logical on the face of it, Voice have serious concerns that the national collection and publication of data on attainment could lead to the opposite of what is intended, as schools would look to performing well in tests rather than focussing on individual pupil achievement.
Whilst a national consistency of approach could potentially be gained, it is unclear from the draft National Improvement Framework how such consistency would in fact benefit individual learners. The above quotation supports the view the Scottish Government are in fact the primary beneficiary of the Framework rather than pupils and teachers.
We consider that we should be concentrating resources on pupils achieving and working to their potential and we should be removing barriers that stop them doing that. There will always be a gap in attainment between learners because they are all different. If the system supports the additional needs of learners whatever they might be then it can help them achieve and work towards that potential.
What are the challenges?
We consider it to be inevitable that, as soon as data is collected nationally, then FOI legislation would allow ‘interested parties’ to compile comparisons or ‘league tables’ at authority and national level, which we think may prove counter-productive in terms of closing any attainment gap. Schools will be compared on results only rather than whether pupils are happy and working to potential.
It is unclear what form of testing is under consideration and any caveats required in interpreting the data. We are concerned regarding the compatibility of such testing with Curriculum for Excellence, under which schools are moving away from reporting on individual experiences and outcomes to more holistic approaches. Curriculum for Excellence must remain at the centre and the importance of teacher judgement must be recognised.
Additionally, the question arises as to how the reasons underlying the data are to be explored to identify the actual challenges involved, to contextualise the data and ensure that hasty false presumptions are not drawn. Testing will not in itself show “the whole story”.
The Financial Memorandum relating to the Education (Scotland) Bill, as introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 23 March 2015, states within the Costs on Local Authorities section that the proposed equity and attainment provisions are envisaged to create an additional cost, which would be minimal if any, and should be absorbed within existing budgets. In light of the requirements of that section of the Bill and the reducing budgets of local authorities, we consider that there will indeed be costs for local authorities in implementing the Bill. It is unclear from the draft Framework what taking “action where it is needed” will entail and what “support will be provided”. These require to be elaborated upon.
There is also the question of additional burdens on teachers and increased workload which would arise as a result of implementation of the Framework, at a time when teachers are already feeling the strain as local authorities trim budgets and schools find themselves with little or no room to absorb additional tasks. Where will the time come from for these assessments to be completed, marked and diagnostic results evaluated? Will local authorities in fact discontinue their own local assessment exercises which are used for internal purposes? There is a risk here of double the assessment activity taking up time which could be put to better use in teaching and learning. We believe classroom teachers, support for learning teachers and school management can provide better evidence and support for pupils that national standardised assessments.
Additionally, any system implemented will require to be compatible with the IT infrastructure in place within schools. We are concerned that there will be significant difficulties in practice in this area.
What support is needed to ensure the National Improvement Framework improves outcomes for children?
The benefits for individual learners need to be made clear. Testing in itself will not bring about the improvements desired. There will clearly be resource implications for Scottish Government in following through with any supports. Full analysis of the challenges at play in relation to results received will be necessary to understand what supports are in fact required. The nature of supports should be decided at local level, given that deprivation issues will require tailored approaches depending upon the local context.
With regards to standardised assessment for S3 pupils, preparations for exams must be their priority. Care must be taken to ensure that the implementation of the Framework does not have an adverse effect upon learning and teaching.
We note that Stage 2 of the Framework would add additional elements, in particular to introduce data on the early years. As an education trade union representing all education professionals, including early years workers, we also look forward to hearing further regarding Stage 2 in due course.
Previous Voice official response on NIF:
Senior Professional Officer (Scotland)