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:

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