Fresh concerns over 50% hike in cost of primary school standardised testing 

Scottish Government backtracks on previous contract tendering cost claims 

THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT has admitted that the per year cost of standardised testing will be far higher than originally promised. 

Plans to reintroduce standard tests throughout primary school and into early secondary school from this August has faced criticism from teaching unions and politicians over a lack of an evidence base. 

At a time of tight financial budgets, the plan also faced questions over the cost of tendering for an outside body to manage a new multi-million pound testing system. Now fresh freedom of information responses obtained by lecturer and CommonSpace columnist James McEnaney reveal a 50 per cent increase in yearly costs.

“Standardised testing causes unnecessary stress for pupils and staff, it is not backed up by evidence and now it seems that the Scottish Government’s policy comes with ever increasing costs.” Ross Greer

In November 2015 the Scottish Government told CommonSpace the cost would be £10m across a five year period - however new figures show the system will in fact cost £3m rather than £2m per year of the contract. 

The SNP previously described such tendering, in the case of CalMac ferries, as “the most expensive exercise in futility”. The bidding process involves complex legal and financial arrangements, so that the government meets competition law when encouraging non-government agencies to bid for government work. 

One such bureaucratic document for standardised testing, the ‘pricing schedule’ document released under FOI, priced the three year tender at just over £9m, as the total cost for the numeracy, reading, and writing tests - including the £2.755m ‘management fee’. A spokesperson for the Scottish Government admitted that the previous figure had been “liable to change”. On a £3m a year cost, standardised testing would cost £15m over five years rather than the original £10m estimate. 

“As we made explicitly clear [previous figures] were indicative only and therefore liable to change”. Scottish Government spokesperson

Education has been a dominate issue of political debate at Holyrood since the election, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calling on parliament to back her education plans. However, the specific proposals like standardised testing have faced repeated criticism. 

CommonSpace previously reported that evidence for the plan amounted to just four emails, and none of that evidence was explicitly in favour of extra testing. 

Read more – Exclusive: The four emails that led to @ScotGov's controversial standardised testing plan

Education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens Ross Greer criticised the plans: “Standardised testing causes unnecessary stress for pupils and staff, it is not backed up by evidence and now it seems that the Scottish Government’s policy comes with ever increasing costs. It’s clear already that the data will result in a return to a league table culture for schools, only causing more stress for pupils, parents and in particular staff. 
 
“Testing is not the answer and the government should instead commit to investing in more resources to reverse the cuts of the last decade, especially in Additional Support Needs, where over 500 teachers and hundreds of support staff have gone since 2010.”

The Liberal Democrats’ education spokesperson Tavish Scott MSP, added: “£15m would be better spent on properly funding the pupil premium, which is proven to lift attainment among children from disadvantaged backgrounds, rather than pitting classroom against classroom through the creation of league tables.”

“Imposing national standardised testing on schools was always a bad idea that was pursued for political rather than educational reasons.” James McEnaney

However, a Scottish Government spokeswoman defended the cost plan: “The cost of this contract is expected to be £9m over three years. As we made explicitly clear, the cost figures quoted in the Financial Memorandum to the Education (Scotland) Bill were indicative only and therefore liable to change once the specification and contract were finalised.

“We have robust processes in place to keep a tight rein on activity, costs and risks to secure the best value we can for the taxpayer.”

McEnaney, who sourced the latest FOI evidence on the testing plans, warned that the project is likely to lead to further cost increases: “Based on the now-released tender documents it seems that the cost of five years of tests will be as much as 50 per cent higher than the government's original estimates. That money would be better spent elsewhere. Imposing national standardised testing on schools was always a bad idea that was pursued for political rather than educational reasons.

“If John Swinney is serious about tackling educational inequality then he should abandon plans to fritter away millions of pounds on this ridiculous vanity project and instead concentrate on replacing the thousands of teaching staff lost over the last decade.”

Standardised testing - through a A-F grading model - was previously abandoned by Jack McConnell’s Labour-Liberal Scottish Executive back in 2003. 

Picture courtesy of Ryan McGilchrist

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