Tag Archives: Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool

Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool and GTCS’s Professional Standards⤴


Ken Muir 178 x 201

At their meeting on 30th January, the GTCS’s Education Committee received an excellent input on the Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool (SPBT) from Project Manager, Eileen Gill, and Professional Advisor, Colin Sutherland.  

OK, so the SPBT isn’t the catchiest of titles or acronyms, but it masks one of the most important developments taking place just now in Scottish education – one element of several (CfE; GIRFEC; Professional Update; new NQs; GTCS’s revised Standards to name but a few) that align closely with each other and which, taken together, are inter-related elements designed to improve and “future proof” the Scottish education system for all current and future learners.

The SPBT also helpfully focuses on wider aspects of learner achievement and not solely narrow attainment, as used currently by the Standard Tables and Charts (STACS) which it replaces, and much-beloved of press and media in constructing the much-dreaded school “league tables”.

Looking at the progress being made with the SPBT reminds us of the close link it has to GTCS’s recently revised Professional Standards. At the core of all three sets of GTCS Professional Standards (Standards for Registration; Standards for Career-Long Professional Learning; and Standards for Leadership and Management) lie a set of Professional Values (Social Justice; Integrity; Trust and Respect; and Professional Commitment) that can be seen to be threaded through the purposes of the SPBT.

One of the oft-quoted criticisms of STACS (Standard Tables and Charts) was that its comparator school analysis did not adequately take account of the unique features of individual schools, even although they were grouped as being “similar” or having “similar characteristics”. This issue is well addressed with the set of filters in the SPBT that allows the user to ‘drill down’ into the data and view analysis based on features such as gender, age, positive destinations, additional support needs, English as an additional language and  looked after children.

These are important factors that influence the performance of a young person and to have this facility to “isolate” and analyse those factors that are having positive or negative influence on their learners’ achievements will be a real boon for teachers and schools. The use of the filters clearly gives teachers and schools the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the values of Social Justice by ensuring that fair and inclusive policies and practices exist in relation to features such as disability and gender, and to Integrity through helping them to critically examine their practices to effect improvement.

The format and layout of the SPBT, and its facility to allow comparison with a “virtual school”, provide ideal opportunities for individuals and groups of teachers to demonstrate their Professional Commitment to work collegiately and engage in constructive enquiry.  The easy-to-read dashboard which gives an overall picture of achievement data, and the facility to focus on more detailed aspects of learner achievement, supports and encourages professional dialogue at departmental, faculty and whole-school levels. Such professional dialogue and critical enquiry are hallmarks of teachers as professionals, acting in ways that develop a culture of Trust and Respect within the profession and confidence in the eyes of the public.

Will the SBPT bring an end to the publication of misleading and undermining league tables? – Maybe not. However, it will bring an easier and much more sophisticated, professional means of analysing how well all learners perform and how they might improve – and that can only but help improve the future Scottish education system overall.

For more information please visit www.gtcs.org.uk and www.scotland.gov.uk/seniorphasebenchmarking

Kenneth Muir
Chief Executive
General Teaching Council for Scotland


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Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool – the countdown to August!⤴


“It is only through raising expectations and striving for excellence that our children can reach their full potential.”

Brad Henry

colin sutherland nbhs photo 178 x 133I really like this quote, because, for me, it sums up  what Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is all about and relates to what we are trying to do with the Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool (SPBT).  

The SPBT is being designed to align with Curriculum for Excellence by measuring key aspects of our pupils’ performance in schools and will allow us to ask these key questions:

  • What does the evidence illustrate?
  • What can we learn from it?
  • In the light of this analysis, what will we do next? 

The Tool is being developed with input from stakeholders and will continue to be refined and further developed after it goes live in August.

I’ve started the year with a number of visits to local authorities across the length and breadth of Scotland, from Dumfries to Inveraray to Inverness, speaking to colleagues about the SPBT and what they can expect over the coming months.  The project team has also presented to a number of high profile stakeholder groups since the start of the year including the Education Committees of GTC Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the SCQF Forum.

There is a lot happening between now and the end of August and we are currently preparing to release, in April,  the last prototype (the Preview Update) before the Tool goes live  at the end of August. The Preview Update will feature a number of enhancements, such as stage-based versions of the national measures (remembering that the national measures themselves deal with pupils at the point of exit from school, whether that is in S4, S5 or S6) and a way of measuring relative performance in courses. These measures are an important step in meeting the needs of those who will use the Tool.

We’re also organising a series of regional events across the country between April and June in fifteen different locations.   Each secondary school and local authority is invited to send three representatives to receive information from the project team and be taken through practical scenarios during a hands on session with the Tool.  Education Scotland will also speak about how the SPBT will be used by HMI in school inspections.  We’re really looking forward to these events, which will help set the scene for the live launch in August 2014.

Exciting times ahead!

Colin Sutherland is a former headteacher and Professional Advisor to the Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool Project

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Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool: Why the tariff scale matters⤴


We want to empower our people; we want to strengthen them; we want to provide them with the kind of qualifications that will enable them to build up their own country themselves.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

happy teacher in computer classAs I carry out various visits around the country to raise awareness of  the Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool (SPBT), I am increasingly asked about numbers and, in particular, the size of the numbers as they relate to different qualifications and awards.  What these secondary schools and local authorities are referring to is the tariff scale used within the SPBT.

Why do these numbers matter? Firstly, without them it would be impossible to benchmark and so it is vital that we give due credit for achievements and qualifications gained in the senior phase. In designing a benchmarking tool aligned to Curriculum for Excellence it is essential that we recognise the importance of depth of learning and also the importance of breadth of learning. We would have a poor system if pupils had the opportunity only to study for a few qualifications, even if they were at a very high level. Similarly what would be the point of lots of qualifications if they were all considerably lower and did not allow a pupil to fulfil their potential.  Regardless of tariff points the needs of the individual learner should come first.

Secondary schools and local authorities currently have access to a Preview Edition  to gain a better understanding of the Tool and to provide feedback before it goes live in August 2014. This edition contains an early version of the tariff scale, which aims to ensure that adequate credit is given for pupils’ awards and qualifications, taking into account the level (under the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework) and the varied means by which pupils study (for example, Units whether they stand alone or become parts of courses). This draft scale is being tested with the help of colleagues in local authorities and Education Scotland. An explanatory document, together with the draft tariff scale, is now available in the technical notes on the login page for those accessing the Tool.

It must be stressed that the tariff scale is not a reflection of the value of the qualifications to individual pupils. Instead, the Tool focuses on the national measures of improving positive destinations, increasing levels of literacy and numeracy, improving outcomes for all pupils and tackling disadvantage.  In seeking to achieve the best outcomes for each learner, the needs of the individual should be taken into account.  In many cases that will mean undertaking learning on courses or programmes that are not included in the Tool.  We need to ensure that we continue to value the learning and outcomes gained from these courses.

There are so many routes open to our children, far more than throughout  my time in school leadership. Pupils study a variety of subjects in a variety of ways and have the chance for partnership work with local colleges and employers. We no longer expect them to do the same things, including taking the same examinations, at the same time. All of these developments are exciting and reflect the possibilities afforded by Curriculum for Excellence, and it’s thrilling to see how schools’ curricula are constantly evolving to capitalise on all these opportunities and to meet the aims of Curriculum for Excellence.   We should value the diversity of learning opportunities that exist.

What is absolutely essential is that these opportunities continue to flourish and that a system of numbers – a tariff – does not in any way drive a school’s curriculum. Our children deserve better than that.

More information about the project is available at www.scotland.gov.uk/seniorphasebenchmarking

Colin Sutherland, Professional Advisor to the Senior Phase Benchmarking Project

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Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool: Why change is good⤴


measure successIt’s hard to believe the Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool (SPBT) will be going live in secondary schools and local authorities next August. I sit on the project board which oversees the development of the Tool as EIS representative and have been part of many discussions ranging from achievement, to access and even to algorithms! It’s really exciting to know that in just nine months Scotland will have a new way of comparing, analysing and making improvements in the senior phase.

I also provide input into communications and culture change for the project and sit on the teachers’ reference group.  As head teacher of 14 years at Westhill Academy, Aberdeenshire, I try to provide a realistic perspective on what the new Tool will mean for secondary schools.

So what information do I want to share about the SPBT as a ‘guest blogger?’  Well firstly it is VERY different to STACs (Standard Tables and Charts), the system it will be replacing! Like many avid users of STACs I need to accept this, but firmly believe the system we are moving towards is for the better.

Reassuringly, there is a genuine desire by the Scottish Government to use the SPBT for school improvement and not as a way of measuring performance.  We have to make sure that this message is loud and clear to avoid spurious comparisons and nonsensical league tables.

The SPBT provides data on four national measures showing that they are the responsibility of all staff whether senior leader or principal or classroom teacher. For us at Westhill Academy having the data displayed on an intuitive dashboard means that all staff can see our areas of success, or ask searching questions if we need to improve.

I also feel confident that the comparisons made by the new virtual comparator  feature will be more realistic and helpful than the current system.  I am sure we all look at our comparator schools at the moment in STACs and wonder how, and some case why, they were identified.

We all need to be patient!  The complexity of the data and its analysis is for me, mind boggling!  In August 2014 we will have the tool but work will be on-going and further development and refinement will take time particularly on the ‘local measures’ which provide data on curricular areas, subjects and courses.

Lastly, a plea to secondary schools and local authorities to look at the SPBT and provide some feedback.  The team really want to hear your views – the good, the bad and the downright ugly!  This is a major development, the more views and comments submitted, the better the Tool will be for all of us.

Derek Thompson,

Head Teacher of Westhill Academy and EIS representative on the SPBT project board


For more information about the SPBT and how to provide feedback please visit www.scotland.gov.uk/seniorphasebenchmarking

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Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool – the virtual comparator in more detail⤴


“I really reject that kind of comparison that says, Oh, he is the best. This is the second best. There is no such thing.”

Mikhail Baryshnikov

C Sutherland 178 x 133I love this quote, which I came upon during a search, because it ties in so well with what we’ve been developing in the Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool (SPBT).

How can we see how we are doing in various areas of our school life? What have we been doing really well? What do we need to look at further to see what we need to improve?

We have developed what we’re calling a ‘virtual school’ and this will become a key way of benchmarking our performance. This is something that has been of interest during my visits to local authorities. It will be a fair and robust system for every secondary school in Scotland, whatever the background and location and it will most certainly not be the type of comparison which Mikhail Baryshnikov rejects.

So, what are we doing with these ‘virtual schools’? We wanted to consider some key characteristics which go into the makeup of any school. We have selected four: gender balance; staying-on rate; percentage of time spent in mainstream; and deprivation based upon the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). From these four areas the Tool will match ten pupils from around Scotland to every one of the pupils at your school and treat this matched group as the virtual school.

The virtual comparator is a really powerful feature. For example when using the Tool to look at leavers destinations we can instantly see three years of data and the performance of the school compared to its virtual comparator, its local authority and Scotland. Right away, we can ask questions about the school against its virtual comparator and then we can look further, using the filters, to consider how the boys compare to the girls, how our looked after children got on and so on. Other filters include age, positive destinations and additional support needs.

We’ve made a commitment to develop the Tool with input from stakeholders and we are meeting with our teacher reference groups in Glasgow next week to get their feedback on the Preview Edition that was released at the Scottish Learning Festival in September. We’ve had a good level of interest in the release so far with the majority of feedback being about individual measures, the way the data is presented and the fact that data is based on pupils best achievement as opposed to their last achievement.  We are also carrying out extensive work with our partners to develop and promote the Tool and we will provide an update from the project’s statistics working group and the communications and cultural change working group soon.

For more information about the Senior Phase Benchmarking Tool please visit www.scotland.gov.uk/seniorphasebenchmarking

Colin Sutherland

Professional Advisor

Senior Phase Benchmarking Project

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