I agree with Conrad on this. While Ms Dugdale’s claim is literally true, it is a single statistic taken out of context. The addition of another single statistic relating to pupil/teacher ratios demonstrates how facile and unconstructive this kind of decontextualised statistical ping-pong is.
There is a huge amount of data available relating to our schools and these now cover many years, so that trends can be discerned if they are there. However, having been a teacher in schools for 39 years, and with a degree which included mathematics, there are very few statistically significant conclusions which can be drawn. Essentially, the gathering of such statistics is about making improvements, not about blaming.
In addition, the statistics relate not only to the Scotland level, but also at the local authority, individual school and subject department levels. The variation in outcomes within a school can often be greater than the variation across Scotland on some measures. So, data have to be interpreted carefully, and, if Ms Dugdale or anyone else is sincerely interested in improvements, she/he would be better engaged in engaging in a nuanced discourse, seeking to agree suitable courses of action.
For example, it has been clear for many years that the divergence in attainments by children becomes evident from fairly soon after birth. Rebalancing the distribution of resources from the upper stages of education to post-natal, preschool and the early years of primary school, would be effective, but the changes would take five years or more to become clear. Politicians and media are not prepared to do that. The Ferret’s fact checking would serve us better if it looked at these longer trends.
If we look at Pupil/Teacher ratios, for example, in schools in the more affluent areas whose pupils tend to gain more and higher graded qualifications than elsewhere, the ratios are generally higher. The myth of the smaller class size as a vehicle for improvement is seen not to be universally true. Smaller class sizes are effective in the earlier years and in areas which have high SIMD scores. In addition, the ratio should not be about just teachers. By providing more classroom assistants, significant improvements can be achieved. Giving Head Teachers the power in their staffing budgets to determine the numbers of teachers and/or classroom assistants to be utilised, provides a very focussed way of dealing with specific issues in her/his specific school.
Envoy: the much trumpeted ‘decline’ in outcomes for ‘writing’ seem to me to be more due to the difficulty teachers are having in interpreting and applying the measurement criteria, than in any significant fall in attainment.