This article appears as part of the Lessons to Learn newsletter.

Highland Council blames teachers for poor attainment stats

A couple of days ago, several people got in touch with me to let me know about a story in the Inverness Courier. You can read it here and we’ve followed up with a bit more reporting on the matter, which you can read here.

The short version is that a council has blamed teachers for poor attainment stats, but as always there’s a bit more to it than that.

So, what is actually going on? I’ll try to explain.

In Scotland, literacy and numeracy stats are produced in the form of something called Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels data, or ACEL for short. The information comes from teachers, who report on whether or not their P1, P4, P7 and S3 students are meeting their expected level (for example, most P7 pupils should complete Level 2). This judgement is meant to be based on a range of evidence.

One source of information is the Scottish National Standardised Assessment (SNSA), a standardised test system imposed by Nicola Sturgeon that has been both controversial and problematic since it was introduced. Investigating the development of the policy was actually my first proper introduction to journalism – I used FOI requests to reveal that the whole thing was based on just four emails from two individuals.

There are have plenty of problems with the tests since then including concerns about the impact of the tests on some children, revelations about completion rates, pressure from international experts, and an episode in which the SNP ignored the will of the Scottish Parliament to protect their flagship policy.

Now, officials in Highland Council have used the test data to blame teachers for their region’s poor education figures. Put simply, they claim that the computer says pupils are better than is being reflected in grades from teachers, and so to improve the stats they are going to “improve the accuracy of teacher judgement”.

At a council meeting, a motion to protect teachers from pressure to inflate grades was also rejected.

One teacher from the area told me that the council is complaining because teachers won’t ‘cook the books’ the way officials want them to.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with ACEL.

Pretty much any teacher will tell you that there are long-standing issues with the data, not least the fact that more than a decade since CfE was introduced, we’re not actually entirely sure that standards are uniform across the country. I’ve argued for years, and still believe, that the failure to properly exemplify the various levels (and trust me, we asked again and again for it at the time) is one of the key failures of CfE implementation.

Read more:

Council officials blame primary teachers for poor attainment statistics

What’s more, this kind of system was always open to the kind of top-down pressures now evident from Highland Council, where teachers are ‘encouraged’, directly or indirectly, to artificially inflate results. There’s actually a pretty good argument to say that this was the whole point of the SNP scrapping the old, reliable system and replacing it with ACEL.

So this might be the first time we’ve seen this sort of policy written down, but nobody seriously believes it is the first time it has been deployed.

NUS rally at the Scottish Parliament

Yesterday I stopped by the NUS Scotland rally taking place outside the Scottish Parliament, which was taking place in opposition to cuts across the further and higher education sectors.

I interviewed the NUS Scotland President Ellie Gomersall a few weeks ago and we talked about the way in which cuts are affecting students, even when they’re not the ones directly in the firing line. Staff working conditions, she told me, are students’ learning conditions.

That slogan was prominent once again yesterday, and the students were being supported by representatives from the lecturer trade unions, EIS-FELA and the UCU. As things stand, colleges are facing a crisis that looks like it can only get worse, and 1200 undergrad places are about to be lost after the SNP’s failure to protect them.

In the last couple of years, data gathered by the NUS has highlighted just how difficult things have become for some of Scotland’s students: have a look at their Cost of Survival report from last year, and the Broke Students, Broken System report that came out at the start of this month.

And according to some, this is all before the really serious cuts kick in… 

The Herald: The Herald:

In Case You Missed It…

On Sunday we ran a story about my visit to the forest school that takes places in Glasgow’s Linn Park. I’ve always been very much drawn to the idea of outdoor learning – probably because I learned so much in the outdoors during many years in the Scouts – so it’s an environment in which I’m comfortable, but even I was surprised by how much I enjoyed my time there.

Read more:

Glasgow forest school: 'Children aren’t meant to be sitting at a desk all day'

This sort of approach to education is becoming increasingly common, and data gathered by the parent group CONNECT shows that parents are increasingly interested not just in their kids being outdoors, but in having them learn about the natural world as well. The report from their recent survey on Learning for Sustainability is online now, and you can see it by clicking here.

Almost every respondent said that the environment and sustainability are important to them, but 72% didn’t know that all children have an “entitlement” to Learning for Sustainability. More than half wanted more opportunities to be involved in eco projects with the school and just 2% complained that schools do “too much” work on the environment and sustainability.

Is this something that is important to you? Let us know.

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