Published: secret expert advice on school tests

The Scottish Government has been forced to release emails showing that it rejected expert advice on the reintroduction of standardised testing in schools.

Ministers tried to keep the emails secret but were ordered to make them public by the freedom of information watchdog, Rosemary Agnew. They are being published today by The Ferret in partnership with CommonSpace.

A year ago the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced plans for new standardised tests in reading, writing and numeracy for primary years one, four and seven, and secondary year three. The move has come under fire because of fears it could be use to compile school league tables.

CommonSpace reported in November 2015 that the Scottish Government had only received four pieces of written advice in emails from experts. But until now most of the advice had been kept secret.

The ten pages of advice released today include three emails from Sue Ellis, Professor of Education at the University of Strathclyde. She argued that a writing test was unnecessary because “writing levels are so closely linked to reading”.

Ellis also warned against introducing tests based on the Scottish curriculum. This “risks creating a narrow, reductive and inflexible curriculum that links poorly to research and emerging knowledge,” she argued.

Ellis has accepted that some of her suggestions were rejected. “There are certainly aspects of my advice that were not accepted,” she said.

Extract from emails abour school tests
Extract from released email

The emails were obtained by lecturer and CommonSpace columnist, James McEnaney, after a one-year freedom of information battle. “The public finally knows the truth,” he said.

“The SNP’s standardised testing policy is supported by an outrageously limited amount of written advice and, of the recommendations that they did receive, several were rejected.”

Opposition parties have attacked Scottish ministers for their lack of research. “The government’s national standardised assessment policy, always shambolic, is now revealed to be contrary to the limited advice they did receive,” said Scottish Labour education spokesperson Iain Gray MSP.

“The fact that that ministers had to have this information dragged out of them by order of the Information Commissioner shows that they know perfectly well that they are making critical policy on schools up as they go along, and they have tried to hide it.”

Ross Greer MSP, education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, urged the government to put aside unnecessary additional assessments. “This latest evidence will add to the very reasonable concerns expressed by parents, teachers and academics about the potential negative impact on youngsters from this continued pursuit of national testing,” he said.

The Scottish Government stressed that it listened to many views in deciding its approach to standardised testing. “We continue to engage on policy development and implementation as a matter of course and the assessment materials will be thoroughly pre-tested in schools across a number of local authorities before they are introduced in August 2017,” said a government spokesperson.

“Teachers will use the results to see how children are progressing and to help tailor future learning plans and support for individual children. The results will provide just one source of information for teachers to consider, along with a range of other evidence, when deciding whether individual children have achieved Curriculum for Excellence levels.”

Read the released emails on Documentcloud here.

Photo thanks to Alberto G via CC by 2.0.

Notable Replies

  1. 403 Forbidden when I click to see the emails

  2. Sorry Ian. We had a bit of a technical difficulty with this one. Should be fixed now.

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