School literacy and numeracy tests are the result of “flawed thinking” and leave pupils “confused, anxious and bored”, a senior figure at Scotland’s largest teaching union has warned.

Andrea Bradley, Assistant Secretary (Education and Equality) at the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), also said Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) were of limited value and took "valuable" time away from learning.

Her remarks, which were published in Children In Scotland (CIS) magazine, come amid concern over a new contract to deliver SNSAs and Measaidhean Coitcheann Nàiseanta airson Foghlam tron Ghàidhlig (MCNG), their Gaelic medium equivalent. The agreement could see the taxpayer foot a bill of up to £17 million.

Taken online in P1, P4, P7 and S3, the assessments were originally introduced amid worry over sliding pupil scores in areas such as maths and science. There is no pass or fail and children do not have to prepare or revise.

SNSAs are designed to support teacher judgement of pupil progress against key literacy and numeracy milestones. Figures for the proportion of children reaching the expected level relevant to their age and stage are then reported in the Scottish Government’s Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Level (ACEL) data.

READ MORE: SNP under pressure as headteachers pan P1 tests

Ministers insist the assessments provide “nationally consistent, objective and comparable” information. But they have proved highly controversial, particularly at P1 level.

The Herald told recently how a 2021 survey carried out by the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland (AHDS) found fewer than a third of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that P1 SNSAs were useful. Nearly 46 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed, with more than one in five (22.8%) saying they were “neutral” on the matter.

Asked to outline what he thought many primary school leaders would like to see happen to P1 SNSAs, Greg Dempster, AHDS General Secretary, said: “Not have them. Either just maintain the P4 and and P7 ones, or continue to produce the P1 SNSA, but make it up to individual schools and teachers whether they wish to use it. Because there are some that see a benefit in it.

"If they were made available but the requirement to conduct them was taken away, that would be aligned with the empowering schools agenda.”

HeraldScotland: EIS Assistant Secretary Andrea Bradley has strongly criticised Scottish National Standardised Assessments.EIS Assistant Secretary Andrea Bradley has strongly criticised Scottish National Standardised Assessments.

Echoing his views, Ms Bradley said in her CIS piece that there were problems with SNSAs on several levels.

She wrote: “Since 2017, members have reported that learners have been confused, anxious and bored while sitting the assessments; that the tests take valuable time away from quality learning and teaching; that their administration has been onerously labour intensive; and that the results are of meagre worth in informing their professional judgement of children’s progress within only a very narrow range of skills for literacy and numeracy.

“Some examples: the writing assessment can’t assess a child’s writing skills, only their use of spelling, punctuation and grammar, and the ‘learner reports’ are found by many to be wholly unwieldy, especially when teachers are wading through the associated results data for a class of 33.

“The matter of teacher professional judgement is a crucial one. A cornerstone principle of Curriculum for Excellence is trust in teacher professional judgement.

“Similarly, in an empowered school system, the expectation (as reflected in the guidance on Empowered Schools, co-authored by the Scottish Government), is that teachers will be fully involved in decisions relating to learning, teaching and assessment for their pupils.

“Yet, teachers have little to no say in whether SNSAs - a series of computerised tests - are appropriate as a method of assessment to use with the learners that they know well.”

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Ms Bradley said she was “doubly” perplexed that AlphaPlus, the new contractor brought in to deliver the tests, is the same firm that helped to develop 2020’s alternative certification process following the cancellation of exams. It led to thousands of pupil results being downgraded and sparked street protests. Ministers eventually U-turned and reverted to teacher-judged marks.

Ms Bradley wrote: “Last year, during another Covid wave and while schools were closed during the post-Christmas lockdown, the EIS wrote to the Scottish Government urging that the SNSAs and associated ACEL data collection be put to one side in recognition of the challenges that schools were facing in maintaining their Covid response at the same time as trying to move forward on education recovery.

“Only S3 was exempted from the assessment regime in recognition of the pressure that Secondary teachers were under to deliver the Alternative Certification Model. The expectation remained that P1, P4 and P7 children sit the tests and that their teachers and support staff devote precious time to the process.

“Even amidst the ravages of a global pandemic, and the appeals from the teaching profession to change tack, the Scottish Government stayed stuck on SNSAs.”

HeraldScotland: AHDS General Secretary Greg Dempster says school leaders also have concerns about SNSAs.AHDS General Secretary Greg Dempster says school leaders also have concerns about SNSAs.

Ms Bradley also wrote that a review of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) published last year by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) “gave unequivocal advice that the Government should change approach”.

She added: “SNSAs, the OECD stated, lack articulation with the aims of CfE and are an unreliable data source for evaluating the impact of the curriculum on learners.

“Based on a wealth and breadth of knowledge of education systems internationally, the OECD say Standardised Assessments are falling far short of the mark in supporting children’s learning with regards to the four capacities of CfE… Even against the advice of the OECD, the Scottish Government is digging in and digging deeper into its pockets in defence of SNSAs, extending them into Gaelic Medium Education. Knowing them to be of little educational worth, we are left to ponder if they hold some political value instead.”

READ MORE: Teacher confidence 'collapsed during Covid pandemic'

Responding recently to AHDS concerns about the tests, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “In providing nationally consistent, objective and comparable information, Scottish National Standardised Assessments can provide a helpful additional source of information for teachers when considering children’s progress.

“David Reedy’s 2019 review of SNSAs for P1 was clear the assessments should continue and that they had the potential to play a significant role in informing and enhancing teachers’ professional judgements.

"He also found no incompatibility between a play-based approach and the P1 assessments. Data from the 2020-21 SNSA staff survey shows that teachers are increasingly finding the SNSAs helpful in their teaching and learning.”