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The Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN)

SSLN Latest

The results of the SSLN 2015 (numeracy) survey were published on 31 May 2016. The SSLN 2016 (literacy) survey took place in May 2016 and the results will be published May 2017.

Results from the last literacy survey, which took place in May 2014, were published on 29th April 2015. Please see the 'Statistical Reports & Professional Learning Resources' section below to access the results.

SSLN 2001-2015 pupil questionnaires additional analysis was released in July 2016. This presents five years of previously published data with additional trend analysis and graphs.

Statistical Reports & Professional Learning Resources

Statistical reports are published by the Scottish Government in the spring following the survey field work. They provide headline summary results with commentary for pupil attainment alongside pupil and teacher questionnaire results. The reports are available in web format and as a pdf. Supplementary tables containing full data tables are published alongside the statistical reports in excel format. The survey design document for each survey is also published in pdf format and contains further details on the design of the survey.

SSLN 2015 - Numeracy Results

SSLN 2014 - Literacy Results

SSLN 2013 - Numeracy Results

SSLN 2012 - Literacy Results

SSLN 2011 - Numeracy Results


Education Scotland has provided a number of Professional Learning Resources based on an in depth analysis of the SSLN results to help practitioners develop the literacy and numeracy skills of their pupils. Most recently, literacy workshop and Number and Number Processes resources were published in April 2015.


Survey background
Frequently asked questions
Useful links


Survey Background


The Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) is an annual sample survey which monitors national performance in literacy and numeracy in alternate years, for school pupils at P4, P7 and S2. Findings from the survey are also used to inform resources for practitioners to facilitate improvements in learning, teaching and assessment at classroom level.

The SSLN was developed to support assessment approaches for Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). The guidance for assessment for CfE is set out in the Assessment for Curriculum for Excellence: Strategic vision and Key Principles and Building the Curriculum 5: A Framework for Assessment (and its supporting suite of publications).

The numeracy survey consists of a set of written and practical assessments and questionnaires for both pupils and teachers. The first SSLN numeracy survey took place in May 2011, with results published in March 2012. Approximately 11,000 pupils and 5,000 teachers participated in the 2011 survey. The second numeracy survey took place in May 2013 and the results were published on the 30th April 2014.  The third numeracy survey took place in May 2015 and the results will be published in May 2016. 

The literacy survey assesses pupils' reading, writing and listening & talking skills. The survey consists of paper and online reading assessments for all participating schools. Pupils from half of schools submit written work for assessment of writing and pupils from the remaining half of schools participate in a group discussion exercise for assessment of listening & talking. Pupils and teachers were also asked to complete a questionnaire.The first literacy survey took place in May 2012, with results published in April 2013. The second literacy survey was carried out in schools in May 2014 with results published in April 2015. The third literacy survey will take place in May 2016.


Survey Components


The assessments used in the survey are a mix of written, online and interactive. They are designed to assess the wide range of knowledge, skills, capabilities and attitudes across learning identified in the CfE experiences and outcomes. Assessments are also designed to reflect the CfE requirements that pupils have achieved breadth, depth, challenge and application of learning.



In addition to the assessments, there are two questionnaires used in the SSLN: one for pupils and one for teachers. The Pupil Questionnaire collects information on factors that are likely to affect learning, such as pupil attitudes and experiences in class. The Teacher Questionnaire collects information on CfE implementation and teachers’ experiences in the classroom.



As part of the evaluation process a school feedback questionnaire also seeks comments from schools participating in the survey.  Results of this survey are used to inform developments to the survey which we hope will improve the experience of participating for all those involved.



SSLN assessment materials have been developed specifically to be in line with the aims and purposes of CfE. Each year we will need to trial some new materials to be used in future surveys. To reduce the overall administrative burden on schools, trialling takes place alongside the main survey.



To minimise the burden on schools, a small sample of pupils at each of the survey stages (P4, P7 and S2) is selected to complete the survey. The sample is drawn at random and is checked to ensure that it is approximately representative of the population. The steps in the sampling process undertaken for the survey are summarised below:

Step 1: A list of all pupils from participating schools is created using data from the Pupil Census1 from the previous September (e.g. for the 2016 SSLN, data from the Pupil Census completed in September 2015 is used).

This list contains each pupil’s stage, gender and deprivation category2. The list also contains details on the school the pupil attends including a unique identifier, local authority details, the type of school (primary, secondary or through school) and how many pupils are at each survey stage within the pupil’s school. The pupil list does not contain pupils’ names or details on their attendance, ASN status, academic record or other personal information.

Step 2: Statistical software is used to assign a number to each pupil. The software then uses this number to randomly select the required number of pupils from each school whilst ensuring an even gender split as far as possible.

Step 3: Checks are run on the sample selected to ensure that the pupil sample is approximately representative of the population.

Step 4: Each sampled pupil is then assigned a unique SSLN identifier to ensure anonymity.

Step 5: The sample is then split by local authority and sent to each LA ScotXed Coordinator where they match the sample to pupils’ names before removing the unique identifier and sending the samples out to each participating school.


The sampling of secondary teachers for the teacher questionnaire is carried out in a similar way using data from the Teacher Census1. Teachers are sampled based on subject taught rather than gender or deprivation category.



1 Further details on the pupil and teacher census can be found at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/School-Education/Summarystatsforschools

2 There are three SSLN deprivation categories: the least deprived 30 per cent, the middle 40 per cent and the most deprived 30 per cent. These are defined by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 2012 and are based on each pupil’s home postcode.




Background to the Survey

Q: What is the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN)?

A: The SSLN is a sample-based survey which monitors national performance over time in literacy and numeracy at P4, P7 and S2. It provides a snapshot of Scotland's achievement in literacy and numeracy at a specific point in time and allows for comparisons over time to be made. The information from the survey informs the development of dedicated resources to facilitate improvements in learning and teaching.

Q: When will the survey take place?

A: The survey takes place in May each year, alternating between numeracy (2011, 2013, 2015…) and literacy (2012, 2014, 2016…).


Schools and Pupils involved in the survey

Q: How many schools are involved?

A: All schools in Scotland, excluding special schools, are asked to register for the survey each year. Schools with insufficient pupil numbers are not required to participate.

Q: How many pupils participate in the survey?

A: 3 pupils in each of P4 and P7 and 14 pupils in S2. Nationally, about 4,000 pupils participate in the survey at each stage.

Q: How are pupils selected for participation in the survey?

A: Pupils from each school are selected to take part using random sampling administered by the Scottish Government's Education Analytical Services Division. This ensures a representative picture of pupil performance is gathered at a national level for each stage.

Q: Are pupils with Additional Support Needs (ASN) or English as an Additional Language (EAL) included in the sample selection?

A: Pupils with ASN or EAL attending a mainstream school are part of the population of pupils which the survey results represent and so are eligible for sampling. Sample pupils are selected at random from each school so it is likely that some ASN and EAL pupils will be selected for participation.

To ensure the survey results truly reflect the population of P4, P7 and S2 pupils across Scotland, schools are encouraged to allow any ASN or EAL pupils selected in their sample to participate. Results of sample pupils at each school are combined with results from all the other pupils participating so that we can assess performance at a national level, not for individual schools or local authorities.

If the school feels that completing the survey would be distressing for any pupils selected in their sample, the pupil can be withdrawn at any time, including during the survey. Special schools are not required to take part in the survey.

Q: How are teachers selected for participation in the survey?

A: At primary schools, one class stage (P4 or P7) is selected per school and all teachers at that stage are included in the teacher sample. For secondary schools, S2 teachers are selected using stratified random sampling within curriculum areas.

Q: Will taking part in the survey benefit pupils' learning?

A: Assessment is a regular part of pupil learning. Participation in the survey will involve no longer than 2-3 hours of a pupil's time and will provide them with an opportunity to practice their skills in a new setting.

Q: What should I do if a selected pupil at my school has Additional Support Needs (ASN) or English as an Additional Language (EAL)?

A: Schools are asked to judge whether additional support is necessary for any of the pupils selected to take part. Pupils may be given the level of support they would normally have for assessments in class. For example, where pupils are usually provided with a scribe or photographic enlargement of materials, teachers may also provide this support within the SSLN. However, pupils must complete the survey in English or Gaelic; translations of the assessments into other languages will not be provided.

Schools are free to withdraw any pupil for whom particiaption would cause undue stress at any time, including during the survey.

Q: Why are there so few pupils in each school participating in the SSLN?

A: Following feedback from teachers involved in SSLN trials, the survey sampling strategy has been designed to minimise the burden on schools. Due to the small number of pupils participating per school, it is important that all schools participate so that we are able to produce nationally representative results.

Q: Can parents do anything to help children prepare?

A: There is no requirement for parents/carers or schools to prepare participating pupils for the survey. The survey is administered by classroom teachers.

Q: When is the next SSLN taking place?

A: The next SSLN will be the literacy survey in May 2016. Online registration has now closed for this survey. If your school has not registered, survey materials will be sent to the SSLN co-ordinator according to the contact details we have on record from the previous survey. If your SSLN co-ordinators contact details have changed since last year or you have any questions regarding your school's participation in the 2016 survey, please contact ssln@sqa.org.uk


The components of the survey

Q: What does the survey involve?

A: The assessments used in the survey are a mix of written, online and interactive. The survey measures the wide range of knowledge, skills, capabilities and attitudes across learning identified in the Curriculum for Excellence experiences and outcomes. The assessments are designed to reflect the CfE requirements that pupils have achieved breadth, challenge and application of learning.

Pupils selected to take part in the numeracy SSLN:

  • complete written assessment booklets
  • participate in an interactive teacher/pupil assessment and,
  • complete a questionnaire

Pupils selected to take part in the literacy SSLN:

  • complete assessment booklets, paper-based and online
  • participate in a group discussion, or
  • submit class-based written work
  • complete a questionnaire

Teachers selected to take part in the SSLN:

  • complete a questionnaire

Q: What will the interactive assessments involve?

A: For numeracy they are in the form of an interactive teacher/pupil assessment. This covers a subset of numeracy experiences and outcomes. For literacy, they involve a facilitated group discussion to assess listening and talking.

Q: Why are there questionnaires for pupils and teachers?

A: The pupil questionnaire focuses on pupil attitudes and experience in class. The Pupil Questionnaire results help inform the evidence base on what factors for example, pupil engagement, are linked to attainment.

The teacher questionnaire focuses on how Curriculum for Excellence has been implemented. The teacher questionnaire results provides useful feedback on practical implementation on Curriculum for Excellence in schools.


Publication of national results

Q: When are the survey results available?

A: Results are published each year in the Spring following survey participation.

Q: Will schools receive results for their own pupils?

A: Results for individual pupils will not be available. The results for individual pupils form part of a much bigger jigsaw. It is only when the results of all the pupils participating are put together that we are able to build up a picture of overall performance across Scotland.

Q: Are school and local authority breakdowns available?

A: School and local authority level breakdowns are not produced. The survey design was structured to minimise the burden on schools following feedback from teachers and in line with our broader approach to data collection in Scotland's schools. As a result, only a small number of pupils are selected to participate from each school. The sample size at school and local authority level is too small to produce reliable school or local authority level results.


Information on teaching practice informed by the survey

Q: What are the benefits of schools participating?

A: School participation in the SSLN provides valuable information on literacy and numeracy performance at P4, P7 and S2 for the whole country. Findings also inform targeted resources for practitioners, used to support classroom-level improvements in learning and teaching.

Q: How can schools and teachers build on the information from the survey?

A: Professional learning resources are developed each year by Education Scotland, based on the SSLN survey findings. This information is developed for teachers, schools and local authorities to support and inform improvements in learning and teaching practice in the classroom. These professional learning resource provides both an overview and further detail on children and young people's strengths and areas for improvement in numeracy. It also provides guidance and advice to help inform learning and teaching practice in line with the SSLN's main survey objectives.


Other assessments and surveys in Scotland

Q: What are the links between the SSLN and the new NQ Literacy and Numeracy Units?

A: The Literacy and Numeracy Units will develop and assess a similar set of skills to those being assessed through the SSLN. Young people will undertake these qualifications in S4. The Units will also be available to adult learners.

Q: What is the difference between the tests used by some local authorities and the SSLN?

A: The SSLN is a national sample survey aligned with Curriculum for Excellence. It provides information on national performance in literacy and numeracy at P4, P7 and S2. The tests used by some authorities gather information for the authority use only.

Q: Does Scotland still participate in international surveys?

A: Yes. Scotland continues to participate in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) which is widely recognised as the key international measure of educational achievement in maths, science and reading. Scotland has withdrawn from participation in TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), greatly reducing the burden of national survey participation on schools. The latest PISA results can be found here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/School-Education/PISA


The role of organisations involved in administering the survey

Q: What role does Scottish Government have in the survey?

A: Scottish Government, Education Analytical Services Division has key responsibility for the project management, design, analysis, delivery and reporting of the SSLN.

Scottish Government, Assessment and Qualifications Unit has policy responsibility for the focus and direction of the SSLN to ensure that it complies with Curriculum for Excellence and Ministerial requirements.

Q: What role does SQA have in the survey?

A: SQA has responsibility for all operational aspects of the SSLN including the development and trialling of assessment tasks, printing and distribution of survey materials, the administration of the survey in schools and data capture of the survey results. SQA is also responsible, with Education Scotland, for developing criteria for assessing literacy and numeracy at first, second and third levels for the survey.

Q: What role does Education Scotland have in the survey?

A: Education Scotland has responsibility for developing criteria for assessing literacy and numeracy at first, second and third level for the survey. Education Scotland also produce professional learning resources for schools from information provided by the SSLN.


Data protection

Q: What happens to the information collected?

A: Information is collected for statistical and research purposes only. Names and addresses are not collected as part of the survey. All data is held securely and no information on individual pupils, schools or local authorities will be published. The collection, transfer, processing and sharing of SSLN data is done in accordance with the Data Protection Act (1998). We also comply with the National Statistics Code of Practice requirements and other legislation related to safeguarding the confidentiality of data.

Q: Where do I get more information?

A: If you require more information on the SSLN, please contact us at ssln@gov.scot.


Useful Links


For further information please use the following links: