Questions and Answers

This page is a collection of questions and answers covering the National Standardised Assessments for Scotland.

Assessments in Scotland Q&A

How are children currently being assessed in Scotland?

Assessment is a central part of everyday learning and teaching for children and young people. Teachers gather evidence on an ongoing and informal basis through asking questions, observing children working together and making comments on their work. Children may assess their own work or that of their classmates. Some assessment is more formal, such as projects, investigations, case studies and tests. The assessment of children’s progress throughout primary school and in secondary S1–S3 is based on teachers’ views: their “professional judgement”.

In making these judgements, teachers draw on their professional knowledge and understanding of the child, drawing on a wide range of assessment information. Their judgements are informed by the published benchmarks for literacy & Gàidhlig, Literacy and Numeracy Benchmarks and Numeracy & Mathematics. These provide clear information about what children and young people should be able to do and demonstrate by the end of a Curriculum for Excellence level.

Why is assessment important?

Learners, parents, carers, teachers and headteachers need to know how individual children and young people are progressing, where they are doing well and where they need further support.

Assessment information can be used by teachers to make decisions about the next steps in learning and to help parents better understand how they can support their children at home. It can be used by headteachers to understand how to improve learning opportunities for all children and young people in the school.

National Standardised Assessments for Scotland Q&A

Why were national standardised assessments introduced?

To give every child and young person a better chance of reaching his or her potential, parents, carers and teachers need objective, consistent information about how well learners are progressing. This information is used to identify strengths and to understand and act upon areas where learners need further support. At school, local authority and national level the education system needs information to indicate which learning and teaching approaches are working best and where changes need to be made.

What will the assessments involve?

The NSAs are an assessment and reporting system delivered through an online platform, an NSA Service Desk for teacher support and a training programme for teachers and school staff.

The assessments cover aspects of reading, writing and numeracy. Children and young people are assessed once a year and are presented with a range of questions via the online interface.

How will the assessments affect children and young people?

Assessments are just one element of a wider range of evidence used by teachers to understand how children and young people are progressing. The assessments will be designed so that if a learner is struggling with the questions, they will get easier, and if a learner is doing well questions will become more challenging. In this way, the assessments will establish learners’ ability without them having to face lots of questions that are too easy or too hard for them to answer. Learners will not have to prepare for assessments. There will be no additional workload for learners or teachers. The assessments should not distract from core learning.

Does this mean that ongoing classroom assessment should no longer be used?

No. Ongoing assessment is, and will continue to be, a central part of everyday learning and teaching. The standardised assessments provide an excellent source of evidence for teachers to use when assessing learners’ progress in reading, writing and numeracy. Teachers will continue to draw on the full range of assessment activity when considering children and young people’s progress and planning the next steps in their learning.

Does this mean national testing?

No. The NSAs are not a national testing regime. The standardised assessments are not “high stakes tests”. The outcomes do not determine any key future outcomes for students, such as which school they go to, or whether they can progress to the next level. There is no pass or fail. Learners are not expected to revise or prepare for assessments. They will simply continue to undertake routine classroom learning activities.

When will the assessments take place?

Individual teachers and schools, with guidance from their local authorities, will decide on the most appropriate time during the school year for children and young people to take the standardised assessments.

The Scottish Government has been clear that there is no need for all learners within a class, school or local authority to undertake the assessments within the same “window” or block of time. Teachers’ professional judgement is key. Decisions on when assessments should be administered for children and young people should be driven by educational arguments and based on the needs and interests of the individual learner.

How long do the assessments take?

The assessments are as short as possible and are age and stage appropriate. There is no time limit. This is to ensure children and young people do not feel unnecessary time pressure when undertaking the assessments.

P1: In most cases it will take P1 learners less than 30 minutes to complete an assessment.

P4/P7/S3: On average, allow up to 40 minutes to complete the assessment. Some learners will need more time, but many will finish in less than 30 minutes. Remember that learners can return to complete an assessment after a break.

Classroom management and IT provision should be carefully considered before administering the assessments as this can affect time taken.

Are assessments marked by class teachers?

No. The assessments are delivered online, using technology that provides outcomes automatically. The system quickly and automatically generates information for teachers on where a learner has done well and where further support may be required.

Who is developing and delivering the assessments?

The Scottish Government has commissioned AlphaPlus Consultancy Limited to develop and deliver the phase two National Standardised Assessments for Scotland. AlphaPlus Consultancy Limited are an education services organisation based in Manchester, which specialises in standards, assessment and certification.

The development of the MCNG assessment content has been brought in-house to the Scottish Government. A panel of GME practitioners has been recruited as content authors, to produce bespoke assessment items which ensure the needs, priorities and learning pathways particular to the Gaelic Medium Education sector are appropriately reflected.

As for phase one, an Education Scotland chaired Quality Assurance panel reviews and signs off every question in both the SNSA and MCNG content banks, prior to inclusion in the assessments.

Who takes the assessments? Q&A

Which children and young people will take the assessments?

The assessments are taken by all children and young people in P1, P4, P7 and S3.

Aren't P1 children too young to be assessed?

There is widespread recognition that children’s early development and their progress during the first year of school are crucial for their later success. The information generated by the assessments provides schools with useful information to ensure the right support is in place to secure good outcomes for children and plan for future learning. The assessments are age and stage appropriate.

An independent review of the SNSA for P1s in 2019, found that the assessments had the potential to play a significant role in informing and enhancing teachers’ professional judgements and should be continued. The review reported evidence of schools operating a play-based approach and finding no incompatibility between that and the P1 SNSA.

The NSAs have been designed to be straightforward and engaging for P1 children.

Post assessment feedback from P1 learners in 2021/22 showed that 92% were ‘happy’ with their assessment experience.

We know that GME learners arrive in P1 with different levels of knowledge and experience of the Gaelic medium. Some children will come from a Gaelic speaking family; some will have attended a Gaelic medium early learning and childcare setting; and some will be entirely new to Gaelic Medium Education.

The Measaidhean Coitcheann Nàiseanta airson Foghlam tron Ghàidhlig for P1 are age and stage appropriate and designed to assess progress within the learning context of total immersion. The adaptive nature of the assessments accommodates both those who are entering GME at P1, and those who have experienced GME previously/in early learning and childcare settings.

What should parents/carers do if they do not want their child to undertake the assessments?

The standardised assessments are part of every day learning and teaching. The assessments provide teachers with diagnostic information to help them plan next steps in children’s learning. As with other methods of assessment in schools, there is no legal basis for a parent/carer to withdraw their child from the NSAs.

If parents/carers have specific queries or questions about their child undertaking the assessments they should discuss those issues with their child’s school. If their concerns remain and they wish to opt their child out of the assessments, it is for the school to decide whether to grant that request, as they would for any other aspect of learning and teaching.

Why do children in GME not take SNSA assessments in P1 and P4?

In GME, children and young people need to experience high quality, total immersion learning until they have achieved a secure foundation and level of fluency in Gaelic that will enable them to progress further. Acquiring skills in reading and writing English is then planned for within the curriculum.

As P1 children in GME will not have experienced formal learning of the literacy and English experiences and outcomes and children in P4 will be at an early stage of undertaking such learning, they will not be expected to take the English medium Scottish National Standardised Assessments.

Why do children and young people in GME P7 and S3 have to take both MCNG and SNSA assessments?

GME learners in P7 and S3 will be required to take the English medium Scottish National Standardised Assessments in reading and writing, in addition to the Measaidhean Coitcheann Nàiseanta airson Foghlam tron Ghàidhlig in reading, writing and numeracy. This reflects the fact that children and young people in GME access the curriculum in a distinct way to those in English medium education. Progress in each medium of learning therefore requires to be assessed and understood separately.

Children and young people in P7 and S3 will take the national standardised assessment for numeracy in only one medium. As a general rule, we would expect this to be a Gaelic medium assessment. We recognise, however, the need for a flexible approach for those young people who, depending on their school’s curriculum by the end of S3, may be accessing numeracy and mathematics through the medium of English. In such circumstances, it is likely to be more appropriate to undertake the English medium Scottish National Standardised Assessment for numeracy.

What about children and young people who require additional support with their learning?

We ensure the assessments are as inclusive as possible and accommodate the needs of children and young people who require additional support with their learning. The system is accessible to those who already use technology to help them learn, or other methods of communication such as speech to text. Any additional support which is made available to children and young people through daily learning, should be made available during the standardised assessments.

Practitioners who work with children and young people with complex additional support needs will use their knowledge and understanding of the learner and their needs, strengths and challenges to reach a decision, with parents, on whether or not the use of standardised assessment is appropriate.

How can parents/carers help their child?

Parents and carers have a key role to play in helping their child to progress in their learning. Teachers should keep parents informed about how their child is progressing, and how parents can support their child's learning at home. Parents and carers should talk to the school if they have any concerns or questions about their child’s learning or progress.

The standardised assessments should be seen by children and young people as just another aspect of daily learning. There is no need for parents to prepare children and young people for assessment or practice any specific tasks or activities.

Assessment outcomes Q&A

What does the Scottish Government do with the NSA outcomes?

At a classroom level, the information provided from children and young people’s assessments will help teachers to understand how learners are progressing in those aspects of reading, writing and numeracy presented within the assessments. Training and guidance are provided to help teachers interpret and use the assessment outcomes.

School level data will be available to teachers and local authorities to help them tailor their own improvement planning.

Scottish Government will have access to anonymised, national level data only. This is to help identify trends and drive national policy and improvement priorities. Use of this national level data will help identify strengths and areas for improvement in particular aspects of literacy and numeracy and will, in turn, inform the type and level of national support required.

Will children and young people get to see the outcomes?

Children and young people do not get to see the outcomes after they complete the assessments. On completion, outcomes from the assessments are made available to teachers immediately. Teachers will use this information, along with evidence from a range of other sources, to identify strengths and areas for improvement to inform plans for next steps in learning. High quality assessment practice requires that children and young people receive feedback from the full range of assessment activities to ensure understanding and active participation in their own learning.

Will parents/carers get to see the outcomes?

Parents and carers will not routinely see the outcomes after children and young people complete the assessments. The reports produced by the online assessment system are intended to support teachers’ professional judgement of a child’s progress. Teachers will use this information, together with evidence from a range of other sources, to form the basis of discussion with parents/carers about children’s progress in learning.

Does the Scottish Government publish the outcomes?

The Scottish Government has access to national level assessment data only. This is to identify trends and drive national policy and improvement priorities.

Literacy and numeracy performance data is collected and published at national, local authority, school and stage level on an annual basis, through the Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Levels (ACEL) official statistics. As the key indicator of learners’ progress prior to national qualifications, ACEL data places primacy on teachers’ professional judgement.

What's New Q&A

Why are the SNSA and the MCNG now housed on the same platform?

As the contract for delivery of phase one of the MCNG expired in July 2021 and the contract for SNSAs expired in July 2022, the Scottish Government was required to put the service out to competition.

The decision was taken to establish a combined assessment platform for phase two delivery of the National Standardised Assessments for Scotland (NSA). The new system will house both the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA) and the Measaidhean Coitcheann Nàiseanta airson Foghlam tron Ghàidhlig (MCNG) as two distinct assessment sets.

While the assessment system differs in appearance from the previous versions, the same core functions and services are available.

Why are the standardised assessments now called National Standardised Assessments for Scotland (NSA)?

NSA is the collective name for the SNSA and MCNG. The assessments for the Gaelic Medium Education cohort and SNSA are now more closely aligned, due to the move to a shared approach to the assessment design, standardisation principles, and reporting functionality. In recognition of this consistency in approach, both assessments are now housed on the same platform.

Where can I find out more?

Further information about the National Improvement Framework used in Scotland can be found on the Scottish Government's website.

Further information about support for the growth of Gaelic education can be found in The National Gaelic Language Plan 2018–2023.

Further information about Gaelic Medium Education can be found on Gaelic Medium Education: Support your child’s learning – simple tips in Gaelic and English | Learning at home | Parent Zone.

If you have any other questions, comments or concerns about the way in which children’s progress is being assessed as part of the National Improvement Framework, please email: