The Great P1 Testing Stramash

As a football fan, and a native of Greenock, I always felt a great connection with the celebrated sports journalist and fellow Greenockian, Arthur Montford.  Famed for his bold checked sports jackets and enthusiasm for football, Arthur was elected Rector of the University of Glasgow when I was an undergraduate there.  His campaign was peppered by quotable quotes from his TV commentator’s lexicon: “Up go the heads”; “Disaster for Scotland”; “What a stramash”!  The latter has always been my favourite, being so descriptive of the hectic penalty box.

During the week, Arthur’s phrase came to mind as I read about the Reedy Report on P1 testing, the Cabinet Secretary’s response and the further response of interest and pressure groups.  The review by David Reedy, who was co-director of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust and both general secretary and president of the UK Literacy Association, followed upon a defeat for the Government in Parliament in September where opposition parties passed a motion calling on ministers to “halt” them for P1 pupils.

Personally, I am less concerned about having the tests as such (or not), although I do wonder what information additional to the class teacher’s knowledge of the pupils can be provided by them.  My experience of my own children going through P1 is that I have been blown away by the depth of the teachers’ knowledge and understanding of my children’s strengths, developing skill set and next steps to progress their learning.  In my opinion, there is too little professional trust in our system and too much accountability by measurement.  The logical end point from the latter is that the stuff that can be easily measured becomes the most important stuff, while other more empirical areas are given less emphasis.

The BBC Website tells me that, following the Reedy Report, Cabinet Secretary John Swinney observed that “some important issues remain to be addressed”, including over the purpose of collecting data at a national level and what it should be used for, calling for a “clear and irrefutable statement of the purposes and uses of data”.

I am very concerned about the “uses of data”. I fear that in the not too distant future, we shall see league tables of primary schools constructed by the media in the way that they are for SQA examination performance at National 5 and Higher.  God forbid that our primary colleagues, and schools, should be subjected to the same invidious sort of treatment as the secondaries receive with little reference to context, challenge and starting point; God forbid that the wonderfully, creative experiences provided in the primaries should become compromised by a perceived need to “improve the test results.”

Iain 14th June 2019

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