- 11 Jan 2019
Attendees and apologies
Chaired by Deputy First Minister/Cabinet Secretary for Education John Swinney.
The Chatham House Rule applies to this group, so attendees will not be listed.
Items and actions
Panel members were welcomed to the meeting. Apologies were given for the cancellation of the meeting scheduled to take place in June 2018. It was noted that due to the recent resignation of two Panel members, a refresh of the group’s membership is required. Members were thanked for their continued participation.
Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs)
The paper on SNSAs was introduced including comment that, overall, outcomes from the work had been positive and that technical and design concerns have been taken on board. It was noted that further background could be found in the recently published Year 1 Review of the SNSAs.
The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (DFM) invited members to provide their thoughts and perspectives on the SNSAs, reflecting that concerns only appeared to relate to P1 assessments.
Comments from the Panel were as follows:
- that the conducting of SNSAs for P4 and P7 has been relatively straightforward, but that SNSAs for P1 were more challenging
- the proposed refresh to make question content more familiar and the language more appropriate was to be welcomed
- that SNSAs sometimes require the combination of more complex skills (e.g. recall and memory) which can be a challenge for P1 pupils
- it is imperative that the SNSAs align with the Curriculum for Excellence benchmarks
- the commitment to support teachers to fully understand and utilise the data generated by the assessments was welcomed
Changes to Highers/’D’ grades and their effect on school statistics
Papers 2 and 3 were introduced to the Panel. This included the background to the removal of unit assessments at National 5 and work SQA has undertaken to improve this process for Highers. Background was also provided to the extension of ‘Grade D’ National 5 as a means of capturing aspirational learners on the borderline between National 4 and National 5.
A number of points were raised by Panel members:
- the increase in the number of pupils appropriately presented for National 4 is encouraging, and should lead to it becoming a more robust qualification. However, the time in the academic year at which teachers must enter learners into particular qualifications sometimes comes too early in the year if they are borderline candidates
- SQA course assessment materials should be made available sooner than the end of September
- panel members expressed a concern that there is generally a lack of effective communication from the SQA and that the SQA is not aware of teachers’ concerns in relation to national qualifications and awards
- there is a feeling that some course content (e.g. Computing) isn’t relevant to the ‘real world’, that some practical courses, such as Hospitality, have been disadvantaged by a move to a written exam, and that a number of exams are now too long in duration as a result of the removal of unit assessments
- the changes to the National Qualifications has meant that in some subjects, progression between National 5 and Higher is too difficult. This can sometimes lead to a ‘cap on attainment’
- some exams don’t prepare pupils for future learning where assessment is more project-based and there is less focus on examination. In some cases it was felt that SQA course content did not reflect the skills at the centre of Curriculum for Excellence
- some of the changes to Higher courses have made bi-level teaching difficult
- some of the SQA changes have had a positive effect and subjects such as English have benefitted from changes to the National Qualifications
In light of the points raised, DFM agreed that the SQA should involve teachers more in its processes. He confirmed that he would communicate members’ concerns to the SQA.
DFM introduced the paper on empowering schools and explained the reasoning behind the decision not to introduce the Education Bill. That being, that after consultation it was clear that the same outcomes could be delivered without legislation.
Constructive discussions between officials and local government partners took place prior to summer recess, and these led to the production of a joint agreement that commits the Scottish and local governments to deliver outcomes through non-legislative means.
Panel members were advised that a steering group has already been established to implement the joint agreement. It comprises key stakeholders (Scottish Government, COSLA, SOLACE, ADES and Education Scotland) as well as the GTCS, the Improvement Service, the Chief Social Work Adviser and a number of practising headteachers. The group faces a challenging timeline and its approach has already been agreed.
DFM reiterated that the Education Bill will be brought in if insufficient progress is made, but it is hoped that a rational, workable approach to education can be achieved through joint working. He will make a decision at the end of the academic year.
Panel members were advised that Regional Improvement Collaboratives are very much involved in helping to develop an empowered school system.
National Improvement Framework: statutory review
DFM introduced the paper on the National Improvement Framework and stated that the Scottish Government has a statutory duty to review the Framework and publish a plan on an annual basis.
DFM advised Panel members that he is always interested in receiving their suggestions about what should be looked at, what is or isn’t working, or what is needed to give the process more impetus. Panel members were advised to engage with Scottish Government officials if they have any suggestions.
There was a general consensus amongst the Panel that there was no desire to change the direction of the National Improvement Framework. However, it was stated that it might be useful to include more specific references to high quality learning and teaching and associated mechanisms for delivery.
Additionally, one Panel member expressed concern that the information collected through the Framework doesn’t provide evidence of the four capacities. They subsequently asked whether anything would be done in order to cover health and wellbeing outcomes. It was confirmed that the matter of health and wellbeing will be covered next year with the inclusion of a survey. DFM added that the survey data will be useful in supporting efforts to close the attainment gap.
The Chair thanked attendees.
c/o Learning Directorate
The Scottish Government