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Highland Council rejects bid to protect teachers from 'pressure' to award good marks

By Scott Maclennan

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School hall set for exams
School hall set for exams

An education committee meeting blew up into heated debate earlier today over what is for Highland Council the painfully embarrassing issue of “attainment and achievement” in schools.

Earlier this week we reported how primary teachers were being blamed for low attainment stats after it was revealed council bosses claimed they “are still cautious when determining whether a pupil has achieved a level.”

The council has been languishing at the bottom of the league tables nationally despite improving results.

The council claims that pupil performance in national standardised assessments (SNSA) is better than in the annual Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels ACEL, which rates numeracy and literacy.

But SNSA and ACEL are different, they account for different measures while the comparison between similar local authorities is not the same as the nationwide picture.

But according to the council the “teachers are still cautious when determining whether a pupil has achieved a level” and there is a need “to improve accuracy of teacher judgement.”

The council claimed that secondary school attainment in the Highlands is firmly in line with the national average – going by similar council areas – while primary school attainment is “improving year on year.”

There was praise and support for the improved picture as well as the ongoing measures to be implemented chiefly centred on standardised, detailed data collection, and support for numeracy, moderation and assessment among others.

But a not insignificant part of the meeting was devoted to criticism of the reporting and Conservative Councillor Helen Crawford by SNP-Independent administration members.


They ignored criticism of the council report by an education source who said it was "despicable" to focus on the press and Cllr Crawford.

She said earlier: “A lot of parents will be disappointed to hear that the response to low attainment is, yet again, to ask our teachers to mark more generously.

“That’s not a solution to failing standards in our schools; that’s just a big sticking plaster.

“I understand that the moderation uplift exercise was done by Highland Council last year. It’s fair enough to have one bite of that cherry, but doing it year-on-year is not on.

“The reality is that we have teachers across Highland who are under immense pressure, and they need more support."


Responding to that Cllr Bill Lobban said: “I think it would be remiss of me not to mention the simply disgraceful slur on the integrity and professionalism of our staff that appeared in the press earlier this week.

“I may be confused, maybe not for the first time, either Cllr Crawford does not understand what this paper says or maybe this is for some political discussion in an election year.”

He then added: “Our primary school teachers are regularly being criticised in this committee and in the press when the reality is – let’s say they are being a little, can I say the word, conservative in terms of their assessment and moderation.”

'I read it as being judgmental'

But Liberal Democrat Jan McEwan said: “I do not believe that experienced teachers would underestimate pupils' achievements in any way – who would benefit? It would definitely not be the children who would be assessed beyond their capabilities.

“Teachers should be left to assess, using their own judgement without fear or favour, and actually I am going back to the wording in the report and I was disappointed with it.

She added: “I think it could have been a bit more holistic, clearer and not so judgmental on teachers because I read it as being judgmental.”

Cllr Crawford drew more fire after trying to submit an amendment to protect teachers from pressure to inflate statistics – but it was defeated by 11-5 with two abstentions.

'Journey of improvement'

Speaking afterwards chairman of the committee John Finlason said: “As part of our ongoing journey of improvement, we are continuing to work on the quality of teacher assessments in the broad, general education phase.

“One of the many ways we are working closely with schools is through our newly established Primary Strategic Network. This a great opportunity to have direct input from representatives from right across the Highlands so that even our smallest schools can have their voices heard.

“We are fortunate to have many excellent teachers here in Highland who work hard to provide a high-quality teaching and learning environment for our children and young people.

“Our continued progression in attainment is encouraging but our next steps need to make sure that the good work taking place in schools is being reflected in the assessments.

“Continued professional development around sharing standards and developing consistent assessment and moderation procedures is an integral part of the work of any school and ASG.”

He added: “I am confident in the ability of all our hard working staff to evaluate what is currently in place and make it even better.”

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