P1 standardised assessments update: ministerial statement

Statement by the Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

On 19 September last year, this Parliament debated the Scottish National Standardised Assessments and voted in favour of a motion that called for two distinct actions: a halt to P1 assessments and for us to consider the evidence about how best to progress the assessment of pupils in P1.

I understand the views expressed in this Parliament and am alive to the concerns expressed by MSPs and others about the P1 assessments. In the light of the parliamentary motion, I judged the appropriate response was to reconsider the evidence and that if we were to stop P1 assessments, that decision should be based, on independent, expert educational advice.

I therefore commissioned an independent review of the SNSAs in Primary One. The purpose of the review was to take a clear, reasoned look at the evidence and provide an informed way forward. The review would have sufficient scope to endorse the criticisms voiced on 19 September and recommend an end to the SNSAs in P1, should that be what the evidence directed. I set out this approach clearly to Parliament on 25 October.

Taking advice from HM Chief Inspector of Education, I commissioned David Reedy to conduct that review. Mr Reedy possessed the necessary educational experience and expertise to secure professional credibility for this role. Mr Reedy was, for example Co-Director of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust from 2013-2017 and has served as both General Secretary and President of the United Kingdom Literacy Association. As someone who had not been involved in the debate on SNSAs until that point, he was also perfectly positioned to apply the required objective rigour to this review.

Between January and March this year, David Reedy gathered information – conducting stakeholder interviews, inviting written feedback and examining the submissions to and findings from the P1 Practitioner Forum and the Education and Skills Committee’s Inquiry into the SNSA. Crucially, he visited schools to observe the SNSA being delivered to Primary One children in real time.

The review could not have been fully or meaningfully informed, had it not been possible for Mr Reedy to witness children undertaking the assessments first-hand and talk to the teachers involved.

The Scottish Government gave clear advice to schools in September: they should continue to implement the assessments as they had been doing, pending the findings of the Independent Review commissioned to re-examine the evidence at Parliament’s behest.

Continuing to deliver the assessments was encouraged both for reasons of consistency - guarding against the creation of an information vacuum - and to ensure that the Independent Review was considering evidence based on the second year of assessment delivery. This was also undertaken with the recognition that feedback had already been gathered and acted upon to further improve the system – particularly in relation to P1 – following the first year. There would have been little value in examining a position from which the SNSAs had already moved on.

142 P1 teachers, 131 senior school staff and more than 50 wider stakeholders were involved during this phase – and I thank everyone who took the time to submit comments, or agreed to meet with, or demonstrate the assessments to, David Reedy. Their contributions and the sharing of their views was of the utmost importance in helping Mr Reedy form his conclusions.

Those conclusions have been published today – alongside a set of recommendations, both for the Scottish Government and for local authorities. Having been asked explicitly to consider whether the Primary One assessments should be stopped, Mr Reedy’s answer in his independent review is that they should not.

Rather, David Reedy concludes it would be beneficial for them to continue – albeit with important modifications and the establishment of additional guidance and support for practitioners – to ensure they deliver their intended value as low stakes, diagnostic assessments. Mr Reedy acknowledges that the assessments can provide an additional source of objective, nationally consistent information about where a child is performing strongly, and where he or she might require further support.

I do not suggest this review has delivered an unqualified green light to the Scottish Government in terms of P1 assessments. Clearly, the review makes important recommendations about improvement and I am determined to take the valuable learning contained within Mr Reedy’s review and act upon it, to introduce the recommended modifications and safeguards, in order to:

  • further improve the assessment experience for P1s
  • strengthen understanding of the purpose of the assessments
  • ensure practitioners see the benefit of the information the assessments provide

Fundamentally, however, the key review finding which Mr Reedy articulates in his report and the key message that should be taken away from his report is this:

“P1 SNSA has potential to play a significant role in informing and enhancing teachers’ professional judgements and should be continued”

I was reassured to read that Mr Reedy identified “scant evidence of children becoming upset when taking the P1 SNSA” but I acknowledge the significance of his observation that the attitudes of those delivering assessments can influence children’s confidence. We must ensure practitioners are appropriately supported and equipped to deliver assessments in such a way that they are perceived positively by the children undertaking them.

Mr Reedy also considered the compatibility of the assessments with a play-based approach to learning. The review makes a clear and helpful distinction between a pedagogical approach to play-based learning in the early years, which the Scottish Government fully endorses, and which is at the heart of Curriculum for Excellence at Early level, and what David Reedy describes as a 'moment of assessment'. The review confirmed that it was eminently possible – and indeed, valuable - to assess children in the early years through diagnostic means such as the SNSA, while remaining true to the principles of play-based learning. The report states, and I quote, “There are strong examples of schools where headteachers and teachers operate a play-based approach and find no incompatibility between that and the P1 SNSA.”

It is evident that the need for a shared understanding of the aims, purpose and value of the SNSA drives many of the review recommendations. I am happy to commit today, to redoubling our efforts in terms of communications and engagement with practitioners and all stakeholders, to clarifying our messages, strengthening our guidance and ensuring wider access to SNSA training.

Mr Reedy also identified important reservations regarding the length of the literacy assessment and its alignment to the benchmarks. Again, I accept the recommendation to review that assessment and explore with ACER, the company who developed the assessments, the potential for reducing the number of questions presented to primary one children.

Before concluding, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the wider scrutiny of the SNSAs which has run in parallel with the review. As members will be aware, the Education and Skills Committee has now reported on their Inquiry into the SNSAs. The P1 Practitioner Forum I convened last December has produced a number of recommendations for enhancing the P1 assessment experience. In addition, our own annual user review – intended to feed into our cycle of continuous improvement for the assessments – has produced interim findings, ahead of the end of the school session.

I thank the Committee and the P1 Forum, chaired by Professor Sue Ellis, for their thoughtful and detailed consideration of the issues. All of their reports contain valuable suggestions for ways in which to improve aspects of the communications around and implementation of the SNSAs. Importantly, none has made any recommendation to scrap the assessments.

That I believe reflects the evidence - that Parliament required us to consider - and provides the basis and the rationale for the SNSAs to continue be to applied as the Independent Review recommends.

Were further vindication needed, I would direct members’ attention to the learner feedback we have gathered during this academic year, from a question within the SNSA system itself.

  • 91% of primary one children who have undertaken the assessments say they enjoyed the experience

That statistic represents the views of the children themselves.

I accept there is work to be done, but believe that with the improvements proposed we can move forward in the correct direction.

Today I published the Scottish Government’s individual responses to Mr Reedy’s Independent Review, the Education and Skills Committee’s SNSA Inquiry report and the P1 Practitioner Forum, along with a progress report on the SNSA user review for 2018-2019.

In addition, given the clear overlap in focus and read-across between a number of areas raised in the different reports, I intend to publish a summary that draws together all of the actions the Scottish Government will undertake over the coming months. I have published a draft of that action plan today. The draft identifies eight over-arching themes for actions to be taken forward in response to all report recommendations. We will take that draft to the Scottish Education Council for review and feedback; working with practitioners to agree the details of our approach to implementing recommendations before producing a final action plan at the start of the new school year.

Presiding Officer, as Parliament requested, I have reconsidered the evidence. As we approach the end of the second year of delivery, we now have a far clearer picture of the views of both P1 children and their teachers towards these assessments. An impartial review has confirmed the value of the SNSAs. A constructive action plan for enhancing the assessments, consolidating their value and delivering on their potential has been laid out.

I hope that members will join me in accepting Mr Reedy’s findings and in focusing, as we must, on delivering an education system in Scotland which raises attainment for all, closes the attainment gap, and enables all children and young people to fulfil their potential.


Central enquiry unit: ceu@gov.scot

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