Opposition leaders quiz Sturgeon on testing after expert distances himself from reforms


Government faces concerns over direction of education testing reforms 

FIRST MINISTER’S QUESTIONS was dominated by calls for the government to rethink its approach to education reforms. 

SNP proposals to give head teachers more input into spending decisions and bringing back standardised testing in primary and secondary schools has been central to government claims it will reduce the ‘attainment gap’.

While the government claims these changes will bring gradual change, opposition leaders and some education experts have warned that the changes could backfire and miss the key barriers to tackling educational inequality. 

Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie, calling for a focus on investment over structural changes, said: “The Greens have never argued that a lack of standardised testing or reviews of governance structures are the root of the problem, and the Greens have never supported the stripping of local authorities’ power to make decisions about such matters.

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“We have consistently argued that resources are at the core of the question. If we want to recognise the thousands of teachers who have been lost in Scotland, the hundreds of additional support needs teachers, school librarians and classroom assistants who are needed, and the lack of resources that are available to our local authorities, is it not clear that resources have to be at the core of the solution, if that is what has been causing the problem?”

The education changes have been controversial since they were first announced – with CommonSpace finding there was next to no evidence to support the reintroduction of testing. 

Government education advisor Professor Andy Hargreaves was the latest to raise concerns, warning – in Holyrood Magazine reports – that “More testing means the testing replaces the judgement.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, however, stood by the policy. “Patrick Harvie and I have something of a disagreement when it comes to education reform; I certainly concede that,” she said. 

“It is vital that we have more rigour in how pupils’ performance is assessed and how that is reported publicly.” Nicola Sturgeon

“It is important that we do not strip local authorities of their responsibilities — that is not our intention — but that we give schools greater flexibility, autonomy and control. Much of the evidence says that, along with the capacity of teachers, the quality of learning and the involvement of parents, ensuring that is how we drive improvements in education. That is why we are taking forward the reforms.

“It is vital that we have more rigour in how pupils’ performance is assessed and how that is reported publicly. That is why we are introducing standardised assessments — not to replace teacher judgment but to inform teacher judgment and have more rigour about such things.”

Defender of the “rape clause” and Tory leader Ruth Davison also claimed that “the SNP Government has presided over falling standards and has failed utterly to ensure that we have enough teachers in our classrooms to turn that situation around.”

However, Sturgeon denies this and said she would be “pointing to the £120 million of additional resource that is now in the hands of headteachers to drive further improvement” as evidence that schools are being funded properly.

Picture courtesy of Scottish Parliament TV

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