Monday, 17 December 2018

SNSA - Fife Council Votes To Withdraw

Thursday's full Council meeting saw Fife vote to withdraw from P1 SNSA. After a process that saw a vote to withdraw back in October, which was then overturned at the Education & Children's Services Committee then following a call-in to the Scrutiny Committee by my colleague Cllr Richard Watt we got to last Thursday. 

Going through the debate again and questions being asked of lead officers who attended the Council meeting a vote was held. Tabled by the Labour group and agreed by the rest of us, with the exception of the SNP, Fife Council vote to withdraw the testing of Primary 1 children using this method of assessment.

I was nominated by Cllr Watt to speak to the call-in item two weeks ago at the Scrutiny Committee where I outlined why I believed these assessments are not appropriate for Primary 1 pupils and why I believe it is possible for the local authority to withdraw. The link to what I said at Scrutiny can be found here - http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2018/12/p1-snsa-scrutiny-committee.html

Below is the text of what I said on Thursday followed by some links following the vote. I absolutely believe this was the correct decision. The more that I researched this the more convinced I have become that no Primary 1 pupil should be sitting a numeracy assessment of 32 minutes and a literacy assessment of 44 minutes. This goes against the philosophy of Curriculum for Excellence and is not conducive to the learning of such a young child. 

Speech to Council:

SNSA

Today, for the fourth time I am speaking out against P1 SNSA. Having spent a considerable of time these past couple of months reading the evidence, which continues to grow, as to why these assessments are completely unsuitable, educationally flawed and potentially damaging to the well-being of Primary 1 children, I am yet further persuaded that we must halt SNSA for P1 now. 

There are two parts to what I will say today. The first being the case against SNSA for P1 and the second why I believe Fife Council can withdraw from these assessments. 

Play Scotland has stated that it is “tests of opportunities, exploration and everyday adventures” that matter not academic tests in Primary 1. One of the earliest documents produced for the Early Years was Building the Curriculum 2 which stated “A key message is that approaches to fostering learning need to be flexible to take account of the needs of the child, and will change as children develop”[2]. Unfortunately, these assessments are not flexible and they take up time where tests of opportunities and exploration could be taking place instead. Even worse, feedback from teachers in Fife released under the FOI have cited that alignment with Experiences & Outcomes and the benchmarks for P1 are difficult to see and that “assessments are narrow and do not reflect the principles of CfE”.

Very explicit examples of concerns about SNSA here in Fife are within the 700 pages of the FOI request. I would urge that you look at it. 

Whilst claims of distressed children have been dismissed by more than one councillor I would direct them to the Scottish Government’s own SNSA User Review which notes at paragraph 30: “Some teachers reported that children found the assessments upsetting.” 

Is it any wonder? On the Scottish Government’s own User Review, the average time for the assessments are 32 mins for numeracy and 44 mins for literacy. How are these administered in a busy classroom of 30 P1 children? In Fife, despite claims of no assessment windows, the feedback is clear “tests carried out en masse” and “The Council set out the timings” continuing “It was decided by management with minimum notice given to staff”. “All pupils have to complete them in May regardless of readiness” – that confirms what the Scottish Government’s User Review states – that 16,000 assessments were taken in one day in May across the country. Others commented the impact on learning and teaching with a SFL teacher having to take groups of children to do the assessments. 

The amendment passed in this Chamber in October requested a report be brought to the Education & Children’s Services Committee outlining if withdrawal from the assessments in P1 was possible. A report was duly presented, containing, I might add, a fair bit of content that was completely irrelevant to the question being asked. We were presented with “positive” and “less positive” takes on the assessments, along with how many children had sat the assessment and how many had been withdrawn – 1 child, but that may be because a survey carried out by Connect found that 70% of parents had no idea their child was sitting an SNSA.

Is it possible? There is nothing in the report to suggest it is not possible. Having sought legal advice, the Directorate notes there are two key points to consider. The first is that there is “there are no specific regulations enacted or statutory guidance issued imposing a legal duty to carry out P1 SNSA.” Instead it was “anticipated that education authorities would therefore adopt the assessment scheme without the need for regulations imposing these”. That of course would require an amendment to the Education Act as the Education Secretary in his missive to local authorities of 4thSeptember provides advice that “SNSAs, in common with virtually all aspects of the Scottish curriculum and its delivery, are not provided for in legislation. This means that they cannot be seen as compulsory”. 

The report further states that the Council would have to demonstrate that it had evidence that such “withdrawal was a reasonable and proportionate step” and also “that it had alternative means of assessing the children it is obliged to educate.” 

The Directorate’s own response notes that P1 “SNSA appears to be the least strong and effective of all the year groups at which SNSA is undertaken”. It also states that “a significant number of schools remain to be convinced of the immediate advantages of using SNSA at P1”.  Leading to the question that does any of this constitute a need to withdraw or is it about identified areas for improvement?

What is this improvement? The Scottish Government has made much of the fact that around one third of questions will be replaced – an improvement? Possibly, but that was already in the pipeline long before the User Review so they knew something was not working. Secondly, the idea of replacing “problematic” questions, or what could be described as teething problems could be argued as a case to continue if it weren’t for the fact that thousands of these assessment questions were already carried out with children prior to SNSA going live. 

The User Review also suggests there could be better ways of “incorporating the SNSA into the teaching”. Thereby, inferring there must be something wrong with the current implementation by class teachers. 

Does Fife have an alternative means of assessing the children it is obliged to educate? Yes, it does. A tried and tested method which not only assessed literacy and numeracy as SNSA does but which looked at cognitive, physical and emotional development in a child in P1, these tests were also far shorter. 

The report claims that the new assessment will produce potentially highly valuable information that will accord with national standards. However, it is difficult to feel at all convinced by this claim when Scotland’s largest teaching union states that at best they assess between 5% and 10% of the skill set covered in P1. The tests are being carried out in the most part near the end of the year by which time class teachers will have used numerous other assessment methods and therefore forms no baseline. 

That is not GIRFEC and it is not what the play-based learning philosophy of Curriculum for Excellence was ever supposed to be about. 

These assessments by their very name “standardised” and “national” indicate they are just a huge data gathering exercise by the Scottish Government which puts both teachers and pupils under pressure. Pressure that no 5 year-old, should be facing. I support the motion. 

______

Media Coverage






 The Scotsman 


 Herald Scotland


  
The Telegraph
 




Thursday, 13 December 2018

Communication - Are We Being Inclusive?

Last week I attended an elected members event over in West Lothian on the topic of Inclusive Communication. The workshop was run by Sense Scotland - http://www.sensescotland.org.uk
So, who are they? -
 Sense Scotland is a charity set up by the parents of Deafblind children some 30 years ago.

Until last week's workshop I considered I was someone who was pretty good at communicating - anyone who knows me, knows me to be vocal, opinionated and confidents in expressing my opinions through either the spoken or written word. However, how do we communicate our message to someone who may have a barrier to traditional (or perhaps, typical) methods of communication? To begin with I would state that over the past 20 years I have communicated with individuals on a fairly regularly basis who have and do experienced barriers to regular channels of communications. My best friend at university (who I haven't seen so much in recent years but who is still a friend) was visually impaired. She had been sighted until around 16 year old when her eyesight rapidly deteriorated leaving her over 90% blind. That was my first experience of spending time around a person with barriers to communicate. I quickly learned the skills of guiding and the dos and do nots of shopping, partying and hanging out with a blind person - yes, they do require assistance but no the assistant in the shop or the guy in the bar doesn't need to speak to me when she has a question - being blind does not mean needing a voice to buy you a coffee. I also learned the perceptions of others who are unsure and uncertain of how to approach anyone with a communication barrier. My friend was working through her final year when advised that the university did not think she was quite ready to graduate as her blindness meant she would not be able to absorb the tough work load. It was not her though who wasn't ready it was them - the university. Their lack of suitable software, readers, adaptations was what was going to cause the delay not her lack of ability. In the end she won the battle and graduated at the same time as the rest of us and from that day on has never let her visual impairment hold her back and has now risen to a very senior position in a well known multinational. 
Over the past 20 years I have met other individuals who have experienced barriers to communicate, I had a friend who was deaf, another who is partially sighted and having spend the best part of 3 years teaching children with a variety of additional support needs (ASN) I am well versed in how one form of communication does not fit all. Having also traveled extensively to parts of the world where English is not the mother tongue of the majority of the population I have been aware of the need to vary my tone, my sentence structure, my accent and the speed at which I speak. As a teacher you use your voice to get the message across, your eyes to ensure you have everyone on task and your ears to ensure the classroom is not distracted.  Therefore, with all those experiences I thought I was pretty damn good at communicating to everyone! 

Well I realised that was possibly not the case. Sense Scotland provided us with a definition of Inclusive Communication - "sharing information in a way that everybody can understand". 

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

P1 SNSA - Scrutiny Committee

Following writing about the Council motion and amendments to request Fife withdraw from SNSA in P1 - due to the many and varied reasons expressed by teaching staff, headteachers, unions and parents across Scotland and the 700+ responses released in the Freedom of Information request, seeing the Council decision to withdraw voted down at the Education & Children's Services Committee (E&CS), we reached today (still with me?). 

Whilst an amendment was presented at the E&CS Committee the religious representatives voted with the SNP group meaning the amendment failed to pass. Given the outcome of the Council vote which requested a withdrawal, if possible this result was therfore seen as questionable. The amendment put forward was:

Councillor Helen Law, seconded by Councillor Kathleen Leslie, moved that:- 
* This Committee notes a decision of full Council in regard to SNSA assessment in P1 in Fife and agrees to suspend undertaking SNSA P1 pending the outcome of the National Review. 
* Committee recommends to the Scottish Government as part of the Review all P1 staff should be consulted and allowed to contribute anonymously. 
* That Fife has a positive record on education and raising attainment. 
* The Committee agrees to return to the PIPs assessment in Fife. 

The motion passed at the E&CS Committee arrived at the Scrutiny Committee due to my colleague Cllr Richard Watt requesting a call-in following that decision. This required the support of 20 councillors, which he received (cross-party). Therefore, it had to be discussed further. 

Here are the links to my previous comments on P1 SNSA:




This morning the Scrutiny Committee met and although I am not a member of that Committee I was nominated to speak in place of the person who placed the call-in. I was given 5 minutes to present, what I (and others) believe are the arguments against P1 SNSA, the content of the officers report to the E&CS Committee - and the potential implications (or otherwise) if Fife was to withdraw. 

The amendment at full Council in October requested that Fife withdraw, if possible. It asked for a report by officers on this. We were presented with a report which nowhere said we could not withdraw. There was a discussion around the legal framework, if somewhat ambiguous in places, it did not anywhere say it was not possible to withdraw. We know that not all local authorities are carrying out these tests but more to the point there is nothing in the legislation that makes such assessment compulsory (this was clarified in the Scottish Government's own missive to local authorities in September).

The motion noted noted that it disagreed with the E&CS Committee decision and referred it back to full Council. 

I believe this was the correct outcome and I thank all councillors who supported and voted for this motion and all those who supported the call-in. 

Here are some of the key points from this morning - the text of what I said to the Scrutiny Committee follows (and covers in more detail).

The  text of the motion I presented is at the bottom of this post. along with some additional key points which are listed here: 

1. An argument was presented that 1,872 pupils had not yet sat SNSA in P1 and would somehow "miss out" - my response is - if something is not working then you do not continue with it for the sake of continuing. Secondly, SNSA only assesses around 5% of the CfE level data. 

2. The data is passed back to teachers - we know this does not always happen. We also know that parents, in surveys conducted, have noted that they are often in the dark about this assessment - one survey showed 70% of parents did not know when their child was doing SNSA.

3. There was a comment that the data was for here in Fife and not going back to the Scottish Government - if that is the case then why was it stated that Fife feeds in around 7% of the data and why call it "standardised" if it is not? One of the key points previously made was this would provide data for the national picture - so which is it? Does it or does it not?

4. The tests can be done anytime and don't take too much time - on the Scottish Government's own User Review it states that literacy takes an average of 44mins and numeracy 32mins - revealing why they have taken up so much time, keeping a P1 sitting for that long is not an easy feat for anyone. 

5. There was a comment that "improvements" could be made - lets remember this - thousands of trial test questions were run in schools prior to the roll-out. Any problems should have been flagged up then. Additionally, the point was made that the User Review was replacing questions but this was being done prior to that so that is not an argument. 

6. In addition to me presenting, the Convenor of the E&CS Committee also did as did an EIS representative and then members of the Committee were invited to ask questions of us and of officers.   It then proceeded to a motion and amendment. The motion was presented by the Labour group and supported by 3 of the 4 political groups, the SNP presented an amendment - keen were they to hold-up another half-baked and failing policy by their political leaders at Holyrood. 

7. That the cross-party vote at Holyrood was irrelevant to this - no, that was due to the evidence that MSPs had (and which continues to grow) - as councillors, we are also representing the electorate and the majority of the electorate here in Fife voted for parties which do not support P1 SNSA.

Statement to the Scrutiny Committee:

Curriculum for Excellence is built around five levels. The first level being the Early Years – which includes the two years before a child goes to school and Primary 1. This was understood to be a play-based learning philosophy – something which parent led body, Connect believes is being lost they have stated – “SNSA continues the formalisation of the early level of the curriculum to the detriment of many.”

On 6th November the Education & Children’s Services Committee examined the agenda item on SNSA following an amendment passed at Council on 4thOctober. This amendment was supported by 3 of the 4 political groups and called for a withdrawal of participation in SNSA for P1 children, if possible. 

This decision was based on growing international evidence, the voices of classroom teachers and some SMT that had been shared in an FOI request, written and verbal communication with elected representatives across Scotland, dialogue with trade unions and organisations such as Upstart Scotland and Connect (Scottish Parent Teacher Council). 

Very explicit examples of concerns about SNSA here in Fife are within the 700 pages of the FOI request. For the benefit of anyone present today who has not read any of these responses I will provide you with a quote from Fife:

It is not an overstatement to say that I feel I have betrayed relationships and harmed them with our children, particularly our most vulnerable, by putting them through these tests. They are completely inappropriate.”

I would ask that you look at the feedback – this is only one example of many. 

Whilst claims of distressed children have been dismissed by more than one councillor I would direct them to the Scottish Government’s own SNSA User Review which notes at paragraph 30: “Some teachers reported that children found the assessments upsetting.”

There were 4 points to the amendment which was duly voted for by a majority of councillors. For the purposes of today the second and third bullet points, as referenced in these papers at 1.2 & 1.3 will form the basis of the argument that the decision made at Committee was incorrect.  1.1 notes play based assessment and 1.4 was a request made on which I am sure we are all looking forward to being briefed on at the next Council meeting. 

1.2. noted concerns raised by teachers and parents about the introduction of SNSA, the view of the Scottish Parliament and already adopted approaches to assessment in Fife. If we examine the report brought to Committee 2.1.3 states around one third of primary HTs were asked to respond to the experiences in their schools. 2.1.5 & 2.1.6 provide a carefully selected list of “positive” and “less positive” responses. What the report does not provide is explicit concerns of parents and teachers – “less positive” could imply “negative” but are a world away from the feedback in the FOI – a quote in it from Fife which possibly gives a little insight is “dreadful. A serious impact. We struggled for weeks”.Or another “literacy was far too difficult and not in line with benchmarks”.And “there was far too much reading before a question was asked”.

The Scottish Parliament which is the legislative body in Scotland passed a motion in September which noted “the level of concern that has been raised by teachers and other educational professionals regarding the introduction and delivery of new testing arrangements for Primary 1 pupils…and that, in light of these concerns, calls on the Scottish Government to halt the tests in P1.”

This was passed by all opposition parties in the Scottish Parliament – or to put it another way – it was passed by those representing over 50% of the electorate. Yet, this local authority report fails to make mention of the vote by Scotland’s parliament. 

1.3 is where we get to the nub of the matter. At full Council the majority of councillors voted that they “believe(s) that Fife should withdraw from participation in SNSA for P1 children” – that is explicit. This statement added the postscript “if possible” – is it possible? Yes, the Directorate frames this in its own response. Having sought legal advice there are two key points they note. The first is that there is “there are no specific regulations enacted or statutory guidance issued imposing a legal duty to carry out P1 SNSA.” Instead it was “anticipated that education authorities would therefore adopt the assessment scheme without the need for regulations imposing these”. That of course would require an amendment to the Education Act as the Education Secretary in his missive to local authorities of 4thSeptember provides advice that “SNSAs, in common with virtually all aspects of the Scottish curriculum and its delivery, are not provided for in legislation. This means that they cannot be seen as compulsory” – 1.3 asks to halt P1 SNSA if possible – clearly it is. 

The report states that the Council would have to demonstrate that it had evidence that such “withdrawal was a reasonable and proportionate step” and also “demonstrate that it had alternative means of assessing the children it is obliged to educate.” 

The Directorate’s own response notes that P1 “SNSA appears to be the least strong and effective of all the year groups at which SNSA is undertaken”. It also states that “a significant number of schools remain to be convinced of the immediate advantages of using SNSA at P1”.  It does not state that withdrawal would not be a reasonable and proportionate step. More evidence would need to have been provided.

Does Fife have an alternative means of assessing the children it is obliged to educate? Yes, it does. A tried and tested method which not only assessed literacy and numeracy as SNSA does but which looked at cognitive, physical and emotional development in a child in P1, these tests were also far shorter. The report claims that the new assessment will produce potentially highly valuable information that will accord with national standards but it is difficult to feel convinced by this claim when Scotland’s largest teaching union states that at best they assess between 5% and 10% of the skill set covered in P1. Indeed, it is deeply troubling to note that the Scottish Government’s own User Review data indicates the majority of tests nationally were taken in May (over 16,000 assessments in one day) – a criticism that is also noted in comments received from Fife teachers in the FOI that they were instructed when to carry out the assessments. And I quote – “All pupils have to complete them in May regardless of readiness.”

To conclude – “Council believes that Fife should withdraw from participation in SNSA for P1 if possible” – there is nothing in this report to state it is not possible. 


Link to Scrutiny Committee papers can be found here:














Monday, 19 November 2018

Business Education - Is This The End For The Department?

Earlier this year I wrote about my concerns following cuts to high school budgets in Fife by the SNP-Labour Administration at the Council. Of particular concern was the future of the Business Education Department at Queen Anne High School in Dunfermline. I was made aware of a plan that would see the future of the department under threat of closure. 


Following the Summer break and the beginning of the Autumn term the question came up again. Despite writing to the Education & Children's Services Directorate (most recently waiting over 3 weeks for a reply) I have still received no assurance that this vital department will remain open. Indeed, the possibility of closure appears to be quite definite judging by the evasive responses I have had. 

Two weeks ago I brought the matter to the attention of the local media again and following on from that I was contacted by a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament who has now set up a petition. At this stage I would absolutely urge any concerned parent or affected pupil to contact both the school and the Education Directorate and seek an assurance that the department will remain open.




The link can be found here: https://www.dunfermlinepress.com/news/17218463.queen-anne-high-fears-for-future-of-business-subject/?ref=mr&lp=9

Last week I followed this up with a letter to the Dunfermline Press

Dear Sir 

Last week I once again raised concerns about the future of the Business Education Department at QAHS (DP 8/11/18). Having finally received a belated reply from Head of Education & Children’s Services, Shelagh McLean it appears there is still no clarification. 

I note that Phil Black has commented that “Queen Anne has a rich curriculum, fully in line with national expectations and there are no plans to change that.” By that I would then presume he must mean the Business Education Department will continue to run during the next academic year then?

The department, I have been informed, has a cohort of nearly 30 National 5 pupils who should have the opportunity to return and study Administration Financial Services or Business Management. It also has National 4 pupils who may choose to work towards National 5 next year and of course, a Higher class who would also have the opportunity to progress to Advanced Higher – which would be of specific importance for some university entrance requirements.

Therefore, to continue with this “rich curriculum” surely that must mean the opportunity for pupils to continue to study throughout the senior phase subjects within the Business Education Department? 

I would urge any concerned parents and affected pupils to ask for clarification that this vital subject will continue to run. 

Mr Black states that “the school already offers a range of subjects not offered elsewhere”, if Business Education is to cease, Queen Anne High School will be the only high school in Fife not to run this range of subjects. 

 Yours






There is now a petition to keep the Business Education Department open. The link can be found at:


Monday, 5 November 2018

Micro-Management & Scottish Education

"Teachers in Scotland are currently operating within a system of severe micro-management, where everything that occurs does so under an umbrella of ‘super’vision."
I couldn't agree more - whether it be Regional Improvement Collaboratives (going ahead despite a shelved Education Bill) or SNSA testing of P1 (its apparently not statutory but local authorities are expected to carry them out) there is culture of micro-management and despite claims of empowering schools the opposite is happening. The Scottish Government decides and local authorities are expected to do as they are told and no-one is to question.
Tomorrow the Education & Children's Services Committee meets in Fife, on the agenda is SNSA in P1 - councillors are asked to "note the report". Thats it - note it and swiftly move on. This is despite all parties, with of course the exception of the SNP who carry out the bidding of their government at Holyrood, voting to call a halt to these tests. 
We are also asked to agree for Fife to move onto Phase 2 of the Regional Improvement Collaborative which is going to empower school and teachers (but in fact is another top-down initiative from the SNP Government) - a Collaborative that was part of the now shelved Education Bill - but continue we must.
I would suggest a read of the text below. Rod Grant is able to speak out - many educational professionals no longer feel able to about their concerns - most recently seen by an anonymous letter from a teacher to the Education Secretary.

'Scotland's Schools: an environment of mistrust operating in a culture of silence.'
Teachers in Scotland are currently operating within a system of severe micro-management, where everything that occurs does so under an umbrella of ‘super’vision. I have often argued that environment and culture is everything in a school. If you get the climate for learning and teaching wrong, everything falls apart. That seems to be what is now happening in Scotland.
Let us look at the evidence. 
First, teachers work in a system which does not allow them to utter any public criticism. A teacher’s first loyalty is to their local authority and each is expected to toe the party line. In such a system, there is little opportunity for individuals to create cultures of change or to improvise on methodology or approach. We end up with a system that has a one-size-fits-all mentality.
Secondly, there is little attraction to senior leadership posts amongst classroom teachers. You may find this hard to believe but there are currently 15 secondary schools ‘sharing’ head teachers in Scotland and an astonishing 390 primary schools doing likewise, despite the fact that there are currently 412 teachers with Headship qualifications who have chosen to do something else. As recently as last month, there were 92 head teacher or depute posts being advertised in Scotland. But then who would want the top job when the successful candidate (if there were any) has to operate in a climate of mistrust, where there is an intense scrutiny of data on assessment and programmes of learning? That’s not leadership, that’s management on behalf of big brother.
Thirdly, an indication that all is not well is something that is occurring now that I have never seen in my 30 years in schools. Teachers are writing ‘anonymous’ letters to the First Minister or posting criticisms on websites set up to give teachers their voice. The word anonymous says it all really. I can put my name to all criticism because I work outside the confines of what has become a political arena. Politics should play no part in our children’s education but it does and it does so on a daily basis. We have letters describing the frustrations of bureaucracy, of the pressure to conform and today a letter which states that the teacher has been compelled to change reporting comments or grades in order to make the school’s results look more positive. That is nothing short of farcical.
And now, as a result of years of mismanagement and interference, we have the very real prospect of industrial action.
And, let’s be clear, the situation in Scotland could be so very different. We could give teachers the respect they deserve by making their roles more autonomous. The Scottish Government is very good at saying they trust teachers’ professional judgement and then seem to do everything they can to disempower teachers’ professional judgement; standardised tests in Primary 1 the most recent example.
We need to develop a true culture of trust where teachers are empowered to deliver the curriculum in the way that their professional judgement leads them. We need the focus to shift away from lesson observation, from constant and overpowering appraisal and from the requirement of reams of written data on assessment. I’ve heard so much utter nonsense about how everyone in power is seeking to tackle bureaucracy, whilst at the very same time requiring more data and more analysis of data so that it can work out what is going wrong.
What is going wrong is chiefly to do with real-terms cuts in education budgets, the resultant lack of support and auxiliary staff, an over-reliance on teachers’ goodwill; an environment of mistrust operating in a culture of silence. 
Apart from anything, Scotland’s children deserve better. And the children would be better served by teachers who are properly resourced and who are allowed to get on with the job in hand without extreme external interference.
However, hope reigns. At the end of a recent discussion about future career choices with pupils at the school, one young girl paused for thought and said, ‘A teacher’. But then she has only seen an environment where teachers are trusted, properly resourced and whose professional judgements are valued; an environment of trust operating in a culture of openness.
Rod Grant
Headmaster
5th November 2018

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Kirkcaldy High Street - Closure of Marks & Spencer

The announcement just over a week ago that Marks & Spencer is to leave Kirkcaldy is another blow to an already struggling town centre. Hikes in parking charges, high business rates, free parking at the retail park and changes in consumer purchasing trends, have all hit the high street. 

Hearing Marks & Spencer though is to leave comes as a bigger concern as it being there is undoubtedly what draw footfall to the town centre and in turn leads to business at other, often smaller, retail outlets. 

At next week's Kirkcaldy Area Committee a motion has been tabled by Cllr Richard Watt and I calling for a full and frank discussion. There is already much talk being generated by councillors and local people - the views are wide and varied. Whilst I have some initial thoughts on what has gone wrong and what can be done about it, I very much believe in hearing the voices of local people - therefore, prior to next week's meeting I am looking for thoughts and feedback from people on what they think. 

The Fife Free Press is currently running a survey on the future of the town centre. The link can be found here - https://www.fifetoday.co.uk/news/business/survey-your-opportunity-to-shape-the-future-of-kirkcaldy-high-street-1-4819431


Here is the text of what will be debated next week:

This committee notes with disappointment the closure of the M&S retail store on Kirkcaldy High Street and the lack of a report from officers requested on 30th January on a variety of measures to improve the viability of Kirkcaldy High Street. The committee requests:

• Esplanade redevelopment is suspended until a credible business plan showing third party buy-in and tangible economic benefit to Kirkcaldy is produced.

• A report detailing feasibility and associated cost of removing all parking charges from car parks serving the town centre is brought to the next committee.

• A report detailing possible concessions of town-centre non-domestic rates is brought to the next committee.

• A series of TROs detailing the de-pedestrianisation of the High Street are brought for approval to the next Kirkcaldy Area committee.

****

Monday, 15 October 2018

Primary 1 Assessment - Continued - Comment to Media - October 13 2018

Following on from Fife Council voting to halt Primary 1 assessment I was asked to provide a comment to The Courier.

An SNP MP claimed councillors voting to halt these tests was "political vandalism". Below is the text of the press comment and a link to the article. 

A letter to the media is also attached here. 

https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/fife/744218/fife-councillors-accused-of-political-vandalism-for-move-to-stop-p1-assessments/

Previous comments on Primary 1 assessments can be found at:

http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2018/10/primary-1-assessments.html

http://www.kathleenleslie.co.uk/2018/10/primary-1-assessments-continued.html

A link to the hundreds of concerns raised about Primary 1 Assessment and released under a FOI can be found at this link - https://beta.gov.scot/publications/foi-18-01829/

Press Release:

“These comments are quite simply, astonishing. Last week Councillors from all parties, with the exception of the SNP called for a halt to these tests. This was not some political grandstanding but was based on the evidence presented by teachers to the Education Secretary and the SNSA (the body responsible for setting these tests). There are hundreds of email responses from teaching staff across Scotland calling for a halt to these damaging and unnecessary assessments.”

“The early years of Curriculum for Excellence is supposed to be a play-based learning environment. Instead, with these new tests we have teachers trying to sit with one pupil and do the test whilst trying to also teach the rest of the class. Pupils have become upset and demotivated when instructed to do the assessment and don’t understand what is happening.”

“One response from a Primary 1 teacher in Fife said that the school had had to buy in supply staff simply to cover the hours it was taking to get the test done and with no apparent explanation as to what it was aiming to achieve.”

“These tests are conducted online and immediately disadvantage any child who does not have a grasp of computing skills on entering school, they bare no relation to what is being taught in the classroom and are anything but standardised. Staff have reported that the system generates easier questions if required and some children will simply guess the answer as they find it so stressful.”

“Monitoring the learning of Primary 1 children is not about standardised assessment but about nurturing the social, emotional and cognitive development of the child. There is no evidence to suggest such testing will do anything to raise attainment. I would suggest that Mr Chapman has a read through the email responses to his Education Secretary and instead of attacking opposition politicians he starts listening to what teachers and education professionals are saying.”

“Concerns raised by councillors seemed to be mocked as ‘scaremongering’ by the SNP group who appeared to be oblivious to the growing calls for a halt to these assessments. They claim education is their number one priority but refuse to listen to the concerns of teachers. It really is quite incredible.”


Cllr Kathleen Leslie
Scottish Conservative & Unionist
Group Education Spokesperson

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Letter

Dear Sir 

At last week’s Council meeting three motions were presented, all asking for a halt to Primary 1 Assessments. Following a lengthy debate, an amendment was voted for by all, with the exception of the SNP group. The amendment called for the Executive Director of Education & Children’s Services to prepare a report asking how withdrawing from these assessments can be achieved and that Council asks the Scottish Government to withdraw requirements for P1 assessments. This followed on from a Holyrood debate led by Scottish Conservative MSP Liz Smith, calling for a halt to P1 assessment, which was supported by Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens and saw the SNP government defeated. 

These tests are carried out online, immediately disadvantaging any pupil who arrives at school with little or no knowledge of using a computer, these pupils quite often being from deprived backgrounds. The tests eat into teaching time and have resulted in some schools having to buy in supply staff. More worryingly though, children have been left distressed, crying and feeling demotivated. How do we know this? 

One only has to read through the hundreds of responses from teaching staff in a recently released FOI request, to discover the sheer scale of concerns being expressed. Interestingly, but possibly unsurprisingly these comments appeared to be immediately mocked by the SNP group as scaremongering. 

Whilst SNP councillors in Fife claimed there are little if any complaints about Primary 1 tests they should perhaps go and read through the hundreds of emails available on the FOI request, I certainly have. That way they may familiarise themselves with the very real and genuine concerns and be seen to actually listen. 

This attitude though is so typical of the SNP both at the local authority level and their failing government at Holyrood. Centralisation being the key theme. Scotland has seen more and more powers devolved over the past decade but that has been coupled with a government that has sought to increasingly centralise and remove local accountability. 

Fife Council sent a clear message to the SNP government last week; Primary 1 assessment needs to be halted. Lets see if they are listening. 

Yours







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