Thursday, 11 May 2017

Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy

Are the poor results as an indicative of a failing system as they seem? How worried should parents really be?

Earlier this week, you may have seen the news that the literacy results of school pupils have fallen over the last four years. This was the result of the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, an annual survey which monitors national performance of school children at P4, P7 and S2 in literacy and numeracy in alternate years.

The survey found that found that less than half of Scotland's 13 and 14-year-olds (S2) are now performing well in writing. P4 and P7 pupils also saw a drop in writing performance. The reading ability of P4, P7 and S2 pupils remains broadly similar to 2014 - but lower than 2012 and there has been no reduction in the big gap between the performance of the country's wealthiest and most deprived pupils.

There was little that is good in these numbers, though probably most concerning is the information around S2 literacy.

However, as with everything in education, things are not simple. It’s important to understand that the way the material for this survey is gathered and marked is different to other surveys and assessments. For example, the writing results aren’t calculated per pupil but per individual piece of writing from different subject areas, written with different purposes.

The S2 results are problematic because they are measured against the expectations for S3 pupils.
These results also focus purely on a decline in academic results and do not take into account other problems which are part of the big picture. Dropping numbers of support staff and reduced access to professionally staffed libraries are only part of the story. The education system is also hundreds of teachers short. Additionally, we know that poverty has a massive impact on how kids do at school – and families all over Scotland are struggling. All of this brought together will certainly have an impact on literacy standards.

It’s also important to remember that assessment in itself does not improve learning - and there is a strong argument against standardised assessments. Last week, one of the Government’s senior international advisers attacked standardised testing , saying it causes “ill-being” in students and devalues teacher judgement.

Too much focus on assessment causes stress for both pupils and teachers, tends to cause teaching to the test, and takes time away from learning.

Overall, there was little that is good in these numbers. Perhaps the only positive is the data which shows that pupil engagement with parents and teachers is good. Generally, at least half of pupils have reported that someone at home engages with them about school ‘very often’.

We are entering an era of over assessment. At SPTC, our preference is for a focus on teaching and learning, supported by strong family engagement.

If you’d like to read more about the findings of the 2016 SSLN, you can find the full report here:

The figures about parental engagement can be found in section 8.3, from page 42.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Importance of Fathers

Strengthening Father Child Relationships – what the evidence says
Nick Thorpe of Fathers Network Scotland

WHILE fathers are increasingly in evidence at most school gates nowadays, outdated attitudes about gender roles can sometimes linger both inside and outside the building.

So it’s encouraging to see recent research by the Growing Up In Scotland longitudinal study supporting many fathers’ expectation of increased involvement in their children’s lives – with the finding that father-child and mother-child relationships matter equally for children’s wellbeing.

The report, Growing Up in Scotland: Father-child relationships and child socio-emotional wellbeing, commissioned as part of the Year of the Dad, is based on 2593 couple families from the GUS study, each with a ten-year old child who was asked to grade statements such as “I share my thoughts and feelings with my dad” or “my dad is proud of the things I do”.

Among the results, the researchers found that:
  • ·         84% of father-child relationships are classified as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ in terms of the level of supportiveness.
  • ·         Good couple relationships predict supportive father-child and mother-child relationships

Multiple previous studies have shown that children’s educational attainment and wellbeing is raised when dads are positively involved.

And while this survey did not set out specifically to look at school experience, it did point out educational impacts, as the authors of the report explained at its recent launch at a Fathers Network Scotland seminar in Edinburgh last month.

Dr Alison Parkes, of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow, told the audience at the Royal College of Physicians: “We found that fathers’ supportiveness had independent associations with many other aspects of children’s well-being, extending beyond the home to the child’s experiences at school and with friends.”

Parents whose own level of education and income were lower were more likely to be those where the child has a poor relationship with their father. But a calm, supportive family/home climate reduced the chance of a poor father-child relationship, even after accounting for other factors such as socio-economic status and adverse events.

While the vast majority of children felt well-supported by their fathers, the study recommended that that some families could benefit from better access to parent support, including families with low resources, and families who have experienced multiple adverse events.
Health and welfare services – as well as schools - should strive to engage with fathers as well as with mothers, taking account of fathers’ needs and difficulties over accessing and maintaining engagement with services.

You can read a summary of the GUS report, or watch Dr Parkes’ presentation at:

Following the success of 2016’s Year of the Dad, Fathers Network Scotland is this year working to engage fathers in schools by rolling out best practice from the East Lothian Father Inclusive Toolkit  –please join our network to hear more about this and other initiatives later in the year.

For more information, check out

Thursday, 6 April 2017

What exactly is happening with National 5 next year?

If your youngster is starting S4 soon, and taking National qualifications next session, you will probably have picked up on changes being made that might affect them.  It’s been very difficult to keep up with qualifications over the last few years, so here’s a short, plain English, outline of what’s been happening.

Since the new National qualifications were introduced to replace Standard Grades a few years ago, there has been a lot of worry about the massive number of assessments youngsters were expected to take as they worked towards the qualifications. What made it worse was that, while all of the assessments had to be done (they were mandatory), they were not actually taken into account for the qualification.

So, after a lot of pressure on Government and SQA, it was announced that these unit assessments would be removed for N5. On the face of it that sounds good because it should mean that youngsters can focus on their course assessments and the final exam. (In fact, in our view, many young people should be heading straight to Higher if they have the ability, but that is another issue!)

Sadly it is not that simple – one of the things that was lost as a result of this new approach was an option for young people who did not pass at N5. The only good thing about the unit assessments was that they could count towards an N4 if the N5 was failed.

To plug this gap, the Government has now announced that schools will be able to keep using unit assessments, but only in exceptional circumstances.

What these exceptional circumstances will be, we don’t know. It is likely to benefit only a small number of young people, who unfortunately will have to complete both unit and course assessments (including what is called the Added Value Unit – it is needed to get an N4 pass when you have taken N5 units).

It looks more than likely that there will be more changes over the next few years, and we will do our best to keep you posted.

Monday, 13 February 2017

What does it mean to be a Regional Adviser with the SPTC? One of our Regional Advisers for Glasgow and the west, Claire Slocombe, tells us about her journey and experience in this guest blog.

"When I was little I never dreamed of being a Regional Adviser with the SPTC but then wanting to be Hans Solo was a touch unrealistic so here I am.

I’ve been a bank manager, worked in recruitment and been a maths teacher but the role that has prepared me for this job was being a parent. 

Being a member of my school Parent Council meant I had to get involved in the ‘system’ as a parent.  The might of the ‘system’ meant I sometimes needed help in getting through it and I came across the SPTC. I liked it. I liked it so much that I joined.

Since joining I’ve been working with parents and professionals to increase family engagement in their child’s education. I share what the SPTC have learned in nearly 70 years of working for parents. 

I do this by chatting – lots of chatting, and listening – lots of listening, or delivering Information Sessions I believe is the technical term.  My role is to hear and share ideas with parent groups across Scotland (though thankfully I am not expected to travel across the whole of Scotland) and I learn as much from them as hopefully they learn from me – it is a partnership. 

And partnership between schools, parents and communities, long-lasting effective partnerships is what we are working towards. Thankfully now the ‘system’ has joined the journey towards partnership we are seeing a real drive towards family learning. 

NIF’s, HGIOS4, GIRFEC and lots of other edu-speak will become familiar terms to anyone in this role. As well as getting your head around these be prepared for long evenings and sometimes long journeys.

But at the end of it will be a group of parents who are better prepared to help their children to be the best they can be. Not a bad thought to head home with."

If this sounds right up your street and you live in Moray and Aberdeenshire then get in touch with us, we need a new Regional Adviser to support parental engagement in your area. -

Monday, 17 October 2016

Guest post by Marion Fairweather - Cost of the school day Project Manager, Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland.

Many families across Scotland are living on low-incomes and struggling to meet the basic costs of everyday life. Over the past years the cost of living has increased (between 2007- 2015 the price of food increased by 29%) and now over half the children living in poverty are from families where at least one adult in their household is in work- work is no guarantee against poverty.

In Glasgow the Poverty Leadership Panel established a project, delivered by Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, to look at the cost of the school day and to find out how school costs impacted on low-income families. We worked with eight schools (four primary and four secondary schools), speaking to children, teachers and parents listening to their experiences of the ways that costs affect their experience of school. One of the main findings was that school costs, from uniforms, to school lunches to the summer trip, put pressure on families with already stretched budgets and can result in children missing out on valuable opportunities.

It is around issues like cost that Parent Councils (PCs) and Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) can play an invaluable role in raising parents’ concerns with the school and developing solutions to overcome the barriers that cost can create. From speaking to Parent Councils in Glasgow we know that they are doing great work, for example:

  • ·         Using money in their budget to provide a Halloween disco for free (which allowed lots of children who might otherwise have not attended to come)
  • ·         Running uniform banks providing low-cost new or nearly new uniforms for families
  • ·         Giving all children coming into Primary One a school tie (donated by former P7s)
The Cost of the school day report has also made PCs and PTAs stop and reflect on their own practice- thinking of when and how many fundraising events they have and if these risked putting pressure on low-income families. However, while PCs and PTAs really want to take action to reduce the cost of the school day, consulting with parents can be difficult. There is still a lot of stigma around poverty and it can be difficult for parents to admit that they are struggling to cover costs.

Cost of the school day, together with a working group of PCs and PTAs members from across Glasgow schools, are working to develop tools to help PCs and PTAs consult with parents and a bank of good practice ideas to reduce costs and ensure all children can take advantage of the opportunities open to them in school.

For more information about the Cost of the school day and the work we are doing please contact me at or visit our website at

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

You may have read worrying article in the Herald this week about the poor state of mental health among Scotland’s teenagers -

Following the release of The Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC), a study by St Andrew’s University, the Scottish Youth Parliament has published a report which described the issue of mental-ill-health in Scottish young people as “our generation’s epidemic.”

The report is sobering, bringing to light the extent to which Scotland’s teenagers are suffering with various mental health issues, with a laundry list of possible causes. Exam stress, pressure from school work and managing expectations, unable to switch of from the pressure created by social media, anxiety about the future, distress caused by the scenes of violence and terror we see in the news every day. Depression, anxiety, self-harm, stress, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders; all of these issues can have unthinkable consequences if ignored, so having access to the right support services is essential.

What’s more concerning than the extent of mental-ill-health in teens is how little support there is for young people, who are starting their adult lives with serious mental health issues. The Scottish Youth Parliament are calling for a review of the existing governmental service – The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

Getting the right help and support can make an enormous difference to the longevity, seriousness and outcome of a period of mental-ill-health. There are a number of charities who offer support services for young people will mental health issues, and a huge wealth of information for parents on how best to support their children through a period of poor mental health.

SAMH – The Scottish Association for Mental Health -

Loads of great resources on their website for understanding mental health and ways to help someone who is struggling with poor mental health. We especially like their article which explains various mental health problems in simple terms. 
Understanding the problem is the first step to solving it! -

YoungMinds has a great section dedicated to parents who are concerned about the mental wellbeing of their child or teenager. There is a free helpline, an email support service and guides to help parents cope with looking after the mental wellbeing of a child or young person.

Penumbra provide a lot of free or affordable practical mental health support services, such as one-to-one support, issue based group sessions and sessions in schools and communities. They run sessions that are specifically tailored to young people as well. Again, their website provides a wealth of information to help parents understand, and provide the best possible support.

The Mental Health Foundation provides some advice on how to help your child stay mentally well, and what organisations can help if required.

Finally, if your child or teenager is facing a crisis and in distress, please contact NHS 24 on 111 or your GP directly for immediate help.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Partnership Schools at Webster's High School in Angus

As some of you will know, SPTC is running Partnership Schools Scotland, a pilot project which aims to create and develop partnerships between schools, communities and families to improve outcomes for young people.

Partnership schools have an Action Team for Partnership (ATP) made up of parents and teachers who work together to plan a strategy, events and activities that will build their relationships with families and the local community.

The ATP at Webster’s High School in Kirriemuir, Angus, set a goal for their school to run a charity shop in partnership with pupils, families, school office staff and the local community, to raise funds for the school. Wendy Scott, chair of the ATP at Webster’s, tells us a little bit about how the event worked:

“As one of our Partnership goals we ran a pop up charity shop in one of the towns local to Webster’s. It was a tremendous success not only in the amount of money that we raised - £2360.00! - but it also brought the pupils family, school and community together.

The charity shop was a great way to get parents who would not usually be involved to come along and join in, as we were not asking for money, only items that they no longer needed or used and their time. Because of all the donations, the shop had a great choice of clothing, toys, games, kitchen utensils and books.

One parent commented that she hadn’t been involved with the school or parent council before because she thought they were quite exclusive, but being involved with the charity shop gave her the chance to get to know other parents and she really enjoyed herself.

The pupils enjoyed working with the community, collecting items, stocking the shop and clearing it out again once the week was up. This is something that we would repeat again as it was a great start to our Partnership Schools work.”

The pop-up charity shop is a fantastic example of how a school can make use of its social resources – pupils, families and community partners – to raise funds for the school whilst also building positive relationships.

If you have any examples from your school of great work with families and the community, please share your experience with us in the comments.

Partnership Schools is currently taking place in six local authority areas: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Angus, Perth and Kinross, Falkirk and West Lothian. To find out more, please click here.