Two Years On and Counting (+ Reading + Writing)
by a Scottish secondary school teacher (if you read to the end you’ll see why s/he has to remain anonymous)
Almost two years ago – the year the Scottish Government introduced SNSAs (Scottish National Standardised Assessments, popularly known as the P1 tests) – I withdrew my Primary One child from sitting them. Here’s why I did it and why it hasn’t made a jot of difference to his progress.
I withdrew him from taking them not because I thought he would struggle – on the contrary, I’m sure he’d have done well by its narrow measures. I did it as a political protest because as a teacher myself I fundamentally disagree with P1 testing on pedagogical principle.
They are a waste of valuable resources in terms of teachers’ time and the Scottish Government’s use of taxpayers’ money, especially at a point when local authorities’ budgets are being slashed (e.g by £31 million this year in North Lanarkshire Council alone). This is having a domino effect on the removal of non-statutory education resources and services.
At a time when free music lessons and pupil support assistants are being cut, I cannot fathom why the Scottish Government perceives it justifiable to “invest” millions of pounds of public funds into a vanity project which neither the teaching profession nor the research nor comparisons with high achieving education systems internationally tell us is needed to improve children’s attainment.
These tests were brought in as one of many national approaches to tackling the poverty-related attainment gap – a wholly admirable aspiration. While I believe their introduction was well-meaning, it was incredibly misinformed due to its ignorance of how young children (specifically from age 0-8) learn best and at such varied paces.
When I first started teaching over a decade ago, an experienced colleague nearing retirement told me that one of his career frustrations was that every newly appointed Education Minister needed to be seen to be making their mark. I nodded in agreement but didn’t fully understand what he meant at the time.
I do now though and, in my opinion, this is exactly why the Government introduced these tests. It would take a very brave politician, one without an eye on trying to retain their seat at the next election, to introduce any policy which they risk not being in office to claim the credit for.
That’s why I believe the P1 assessments were introduced in 2018 with a P4 check-up. it’s so the Scottish Government can try to claim in 2021 that the P1 SNSAs were responsible for any advancements recognised in the P4 tests.
Never mind the impact of fully qualified, experienced professionals, with all of their higher order thinking skills, relationship-building abilities, intuition and empathy – people who have spent nearly 30 hours a week with their pupils for almost a year. No, any positive change must be attributed to the introduction of these 20-40 minute robotically conducted and calculated tests!!! Seriously, P1 SNSAs are about as useful to teachers as taking a handbrush to your carpets after you’ve just vacuumed the house.
From an outsider’s perspective, I get it. It seems logical: test pupils to establish where they are at so teachers can identify what they need to work on. Nothing wrong with that, surely?
On the surface it seems the obvious thing to do but if you read the abundance of neurological, psychological and educational research on child development (or if you have ever worked with 4-6 year olds) you will know that there are a myriad of other factors at play which make this approach unreliable and much more complex than when testing older children e.g. whether their sleep was interrupted the previous night, whether they are feeling sick, whether they are worried about something, whether they fell out with their friend in the playground at lunchtime, whether they’re recovering from an operation, whether their parents are getting a divorce, whether they’re wet, hungry or needing the toilet, etc etc etc.
Who in their right mind would opt to fund this micro-snapshot rather than ask the human being who has spent the last 8 months with these children?
I’m surprised that P1 teachers aren’t more furious as I think these tests completely undermine their professional judgement. But then again, they can’t say anything without risking being disciplined as there is no protection in the General Teaching Council’s Standards, which don’t enable them to openly express a professional opinion without risking disciplinary action for going against their employer’s policy (but that’s for another blog).
Upstart’s kindergarten model, like that of the successful Nordic countries where children leave school with better attainment, higher literacy rates and greater well-being indicators, holds the only answer.