Standardised Tests in Primary 1 – what’s the fuss?

childcareBy Fiona Grahame

Children in Scotland who enter school at Primary 1 have usually had a least 1 year in a nursery class. Also usually they have attended , before Nursery, playgroup, toddlers, book bug sessions and a whole host of other pre-school groups.

During the Pre-school year and certainly in the months prior to entering Primary 1 staff in the nursery will exchange information so that the school is ready to meet the needs of the children. This is just good practice and is normal in Scotland’s schools.

The Nursery staff assess children on a day to day basis and when a parent picks up their child relevant ‘news’ will be passed on – perhaps the successes the child has had that day or anything that may have worried them. Nursery staff also keep records on the child’s progress and this helps plan play/learning experiences.

On transfer to Primary all this information is passed onto the school. Head Teachers are then able to allocate support staff if there are children with additional needs. It is also good practice that Nursery staff work for a time within the school classroom situation.

So it must be a very rare occurrence that a child enters Primary 1 in Scotland with teachers knowing nothing about their development.

The question then needs to be asked: who are standardised tests in Primary 1 for?

Are they for the teacher? well they already know how well the child is doing and where support is needed because 1. they have the records from the Nursery and 2. they have been assessing the children since they entered their classroom.

Are they for the child? well while a child is sitting a test they are learning nothing. The test merely confirms whether or not a child knows something – learning it is not.

Are they for the parent?  well perhaps if a parent has not been talking to nursery staff prior to school or if they never talk to the teacher, attend parent meetings, look at the mounds of drawings that come home, or involve themselves with their child’s homework. The test will not tell any parent anything they did not already know.

Are they for politicians? well yes – politicians like statistics they can quote to other politicians, the media and other organisations. The statistics gleamed from the standardised tests are just that – numbers to be used to justify or not the policies they are pursuing.

The Liberal Democrats have suggested that Primary 1 pupils have been distressed at taking a standardised test. No teacher of any worth would cause a child distress and I find this a highly questionable claim by the LibDems.

What I would suggest is that the tests are worthless for a pupil’s individual progress. 

They will tell you nothing about a child’s social development – how well they are getting on working in groups, listening to others, joining in and helping one another. You might say – pfft, that means nothing it’s reading and writing that is important.  Personal and social development skills are crucial in a child making progress in school. A child who is happy and confident will come on leaps and bounds in their learning.

And now we come to what is really the issue and it’s not standardised tests. 

In Scotland children are put to formal schooling at between the ages of 4 1/2 and 5 1/2 – this is one of the youngest ages in the world to send a child to school.  In most European countries children start school at the age of 6 – in top performing Finland it is 7.

The later age of starting does not hold children back from learning to read and write etc in fact quite the opposite happens. Children  starting school that wee bit older are more confident socially and can take on the more formal aspects of primary schooling. All those elements of getting ready for P.E., going to school lunches, sitting at assemblies – all of these things can be daunting to a 4 1/2 year old  – and that can cause distress.

So what we should be concerned with in Scotland is not the standardised test in Primary 1 which is basically a waste of good teaching and learning time and only of benefit to politicians. What we should be addressing is the young age which we are sending children into the formal school system.

If the Scottish Government really wants to drive up educational standards and eliminate social inequalities built into the system then it must:

  • raise the school age to at least 6, preferably 7.
  • provide quality nursery education with qualified teachers and staff
  • continue to encourage the sharing of good practice
  • provide safe outdoor spaces for children in our communities
  • stop the cuts to additional needs and support staff
  • trust in teacher/ teaching staff assessments of children 

Standardised tests will do nothing to address the inequalities in the Scottish education system. Teachers use a range of assessments in the classroom – a one off limited test contributes nothing to individual pupil progress.

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5 replies »

  1. Fiona, I’m probably going to be shot down in flames but sad to say there are some parents that just can’t wait to get their bairns off to school. As for tests could it be that it’s the teachers who are terrified of being found out to be poor teachers, let’s face it the EIS does not like any form of ‘appraisement’. My late mother, God rest her soul, once had a stand-off with a new HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspector) that he could take his fancy seating, teaching technique and subject plans and stuff them where the sun never shone. She went to tell him that her prime objective was that every child in front of her would leave her class being able to read (well), count (well) and be able to write their own name and as she taught in a girls school they would be introduced to fun games like hockey, netball they would also have a basic knowledge of sewing and knitting, this was in the 50’s and 60’s.

    One thing though she never had to cater for ‘special needs’ children as they were all packed off to ‘The Special School’ a fact that she railed against for years, as she said, “just because the child needs a wheelchair, there is absolutely nothing wrong with their brains.” My dear sister who was also a teacher and later a Special Needs Teacher said to mum, “in your day you never had to cope with a disruptive pupil through no fault of the pupils’ (ADHD, Autism etc) but classroom teaching is a very different and difficult environment to your day.”

    So, teachers I’m on your side but I’m sure that you’ll agree that before you start to raise ‘attainment levels’ it is necessary to establish a base line from which to start and I tend to agree that 7 would be a more appropriate age to start formal education just so long as it’s preceded by an exploratory type nursery classes, climbing trees, getting dirty and wet, getting their knees skint etc – but I dream for I hear that dreadful cry, ‘Health and Safety’. I fear my school pals would have sent them to an early grave if they saw us clambering through bombed out buildings from the ‘blitz’ next door to my Primary School!!!!

    • I think you have missed the point that teachers already have a whole load of assessment information about a child before the enter P1. Their professional judgement should be valued, not questioned and these tests are extremely limited and will not tackle inequalities in our educational system. But they will cost time and money to administer

      • Broadly I agree but there quite a few children out there that for one reason or another, poverty, substance abuse by parents etc that have never seen the inside of a ‘nursery’ and sadly these are all too often in deprived areas of our cities. Apart from the usual signs of lack of early learning how else can a teacher establish their ‘base line’ from which to start?

        I’m fed-up with Weary Willy asking silly questions and then when the Scottish Government responds they then, along with Labour and Tories try to find fault and all aided and abetted by the Labour dominated EIS. As a matter of interest do we know the exact number of teachers who complained? And two, have the EIS offered an acceptable alternative or are they just going to wait until the next round of International comparisons and then moan again? Finally how do they explain the rising achievements of our children in Highers and University places?

        We can always do better but with Wastemonster slashing the Scottish Government’s budget, where, without full control of the Scottish economy is the money supposed to come from – Theresa and Arlene’s ‘Magic Money Tree’?

      • All children in Scotland get pre -school education – it doesn’t matter where they live and in some case they will be offered 2 years.
        This article is about early education and the introduction of standardised testing in P1. It’s not about the EIS or what their stance may or may not be. I have decades of experience in education, including early years and additional needs.

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