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SSLN Frequently Asked Questions



Background to the Survey

Q: What was the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN)?

A: The SSLN was a sample-based survey which monitored national performance over time in literacy and numeracy at P4, P7 and S2. It provided a snapshot of Scotland's achievement in literacy and numeracy at a specific point in time and allowed for comparisons over time to be made. The information from the survey informed the development of dedicated resources to facilitate improvements in learning and teaching.

Schools and Pupils involved in the survey

Q: How many schools were involved?

A: All schools in Scotland, excluding special schools, were asked to register for the survey each year. Schools with insufficient pupil numbers were not required to participate.

Q: How many pupils participated in the survey?

A: 3 pupils in each of P4 and P7 and 14 pupils in S2. Nationally, about 4,000 pupils participated in the survey at each stage.

Q: How were pupils selected for participation in the survey?

A: Pupils from each school were selected to take part using random sampling administered by the Scottish Government's Education Analytical Services Division. This ensured a representative picture of pupil performance was gathered at a national level for each stage.

To minimise the burden on schools, a small sample of pupils at each of the survey stages (P4, P7 and S2) were selected to complete the survey. The sample was drawn at random and was checked to ensure that it was approximately representative of the population. The steps in the sampling process undertaken for the survey are summarised below:

Step 1: A list of all pupils from participating schools was created using data from the Pupil Census1 from the previous September (e.g. for the 2016 SSLN, data from the Pupil Census completed in September 2015 was used).

This list contains each pupil’s stage, gender and deprivation category2. The list also contains details on the school the pupil attends including a unique identifier, local authority details, the type of school (primary, secondary or through school) and how many pupils are at each survey stage within the pupil’s school. The pupil list does not contain pupils’ names or details on their attendance, ASN status, academic record or other personal information.

Step 2: Statistical software was used to assign a number to each pupil. The software then used this number to randomly select the required number of pupils from each school whilst ensuring an even gender split as far as possible.

Step 3: Checks were run on the sample selected to ensure that the pupil sample is approximately representative of the population.

Step 4: Each sampled pupil was then assigned a unique SSLN identifier to ensure anonymity.

Step 5: The sample was then split by local authority and sent to each LA ScotXed Coordinator where they matched the sample to pupils’ names before removing the unique identifier and sending the samples out to each participating school.

Q: Were pupils with Additional Support Needs (ASN) or English as an Additional Language (EAL) included in the sample selection?

A: Pupils with ASN or EAL attending a mainstream school were part of the population of pupils which the survey results represented and so were eligible for sampling. Sample pupils were selected at random from each school so it is likely that some ASN and EAL pupils would be selected for participation.

To ensure the survey results truly reflected the population of P4, P7 and S2 pupils across Scotland, schools were encouraged to allow any ASN or EAL pupils selected in their sample to participate. Results of sample pupils at each school were combined with results from all the other pupils participating so that we could assess performance at a national level, not for individual schools or local authorities.

If the school felt that completing the survey would be distressing for any pupils selected in their sample, the pupil could be withdrawn at any time, including during the survey. Special schools were not required to take part in the survey.

Q: How were teachers selected for participation in the survey?

A: At primary schools, one class stage (P4 or P7) was selected per school and all teachers at that stage were included in the teacher sample. For secondary schools, S2 teachers were selected using stratified random sampling within curriculum areas.

Q: Did taking part in the survey affect pupils' learning?

A: Assessment is a regular part of pupil learning. Participation in the survey involved no longer than 2-3 hours and provided pupils with an opportunity to practice their skills in a new setting.

Q: What did schools so if a selected pupil had Additional Support Needs (ASN) or English as an Additional Language (EAL)?

A: Schools were asked to judge whether additional support is necessary for any of the pupils selected to take part. Pupils should be given the level of support they would normally have for assessments in class. For example, where pupils are usually provided with a scribe or photographic enlargement of materials, teachers may also provide this support within the SSLN. However, pupils must complete the survey in English or Gaelic; translations of the assessments into other languages were not provided.

Schools were free to withdraw any pupils for whom participation would cause undue stress at any time, including during the survey.

Q: Why were there so few pupils in each school participating in the SSLN?

A: Following feedback from teachers involved in SSLN trials, the survey sampling strategy was designed to minimise the burden on schools. Due to the small number of pupils participating per school, it was important that all schools participated so that we were able to produce nationally representative results.

Q: Could parents do anything to help children prepare?

A: There was no requirement for parents/carers or schools to prepare participating pupils for the survey. The survey was administered by classroom teachers.

The components of the survey

Q: What does the survey involve?

A: The assessments used in the survey were a mix of written, online and interactive. The survey measured the wide range of knowledge, skills, capabilities and attitudes across learning identified in the Curriculum for Excellence experiences and outcomes. The assessments were designed to reflect the CfE requirements that pupils have achieved breadth, challenge and application of learning.

Pupils selected to take part in the numeracy SSLN:

  • completed written assessment booklets
  • participated in an interactive teacher/pupil assessment and,
  • completed a questionnaire

Pupils selected to take part in the literacy SSLN:

  • completed assessment booklets, paper-based and online
  • participated in a group discussion, or
  • submitted class-based written work
  • completed a questionnaire

Teachers selected to take part in the SSLN:

  • completed a questionnaire


Q: What did the interactive assessments involve?

A: For numeracy they were in the form of an interactive teacher/pupil assessment. This covered a subset of numeracy experiences and outcomes. For literacy, they involved a facilitated group discussion to assess listening and talking.

Q: Why were there questionnaires for pupils and teachers?

A: The pupil questionnaire focused on pupil attitudes and experience in class. The Pupil Questionnaire results helped inform the evidence base on what factors for example, pupil engagement, were linked to attainment.

The teacher questionnaire focused on how Curriculum for Excellence has been implemented. The teacher questionnaire results provided useful feedback on practical implementation on Curriculum for Excellence in schools.

Publication of national results

Q: Did schools receive results for their own pupils?

A: Results for individual pupils were not available. The results for individual pupils formed part of a much bigger jigsaw. It is only when the results of all the pupils participating were put together that we were able to build up a picture of overall performance across Scotland.

Q: Are school and local authority breakdowns available?

A: School and local authority level breakdowns were not produced. The survey design was structured to minimise the burden on schools following feedback from teachers and in line with our broader approach to data collection in Scotland's schools. As a result, only a small number of pupils were selected to participate from each school. The sample size at school and local authority level was too small to produce reliable school or local authority level results.

Information on teaching practice informed by the survey

Q: What were the benefits of schools participating?

A: School participation in the SSLN provided valuable information on literacy and numeracy performance at P4, P7 and S2 for the whole country. Findings also informed targeted resources for practitioners, used to support classroom-level improvements in learning and teaching.

Q: How can schools and teachers build on the information from the survey?

A: Professional learning resources were developed each year by Education Scotland, based on the SSLN survey findings. This information was developed for teachers, schools and local authorities to support and inform improvements in learning and teaching practice in the classroom. These professional learning resources provide both an overview and further detail on children and young people's strengths and areas for improvement in numeracy. It also provides guidance and advice to help inform learning and teaching practice in line with the SSLN's main survey objectives.


Other assessments and surveys in Scotland

Q: What were the links between the SSLN and the new NQ Literacy and Numeracy Units?

A: The Literacy and Numeracy Units will develop and assess a similar set of skills to those assessed through the SSLN. Young people will undertake these qualifications in S4. The Units will also be available to adult learners.

Q: What was the difference between the tests used by some local authorities and the SSLN?

A: The SSLN was a national sample survey aligned with Curriculum for Excellence. It provided information on national performance in literacy and numeracy at P4, P7 and S2. The tests used by some authorities gather information for the authority use only.

Q: Does Scotland still participate in international surveys?

A: Yes. Scotland continues to participate in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) which is widely recognised as the key international measure of educational achievement in maths, science and reading. Scotland has withdrawn from participation in TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), greatly reducing the burden of national survey participation on schools. The latest PISA results can be found here:


The role of organisations involved in administering the survey

Q: What role did Scottish Government have in the survey?

A: Scottish Government, Education Analytical Services Division had key responsibility for the project management, design, analysis, delivery and reporting of the SSLN.

Scottish Government, Assessment and Qualifications Unit had policy responsibility for the focus and direction of the SSLN to ensure that it complies with Curriculum for Excellence and Ministerial requirements.

Q: What role did SQA have in the survey?

A: SQA had responsibility for all operational aspects of the SSLN including the development and trialling of assessment tasks, printing and distribution of survey materials, the administration of the survey in schools and data capture of the survey results. SQA was also responsible, with Education Scotland, for developing criteria for assessing literacy and numeracy at first, second and third levels for the survey.

Q: What role did Education Scotland have in the survey?

A: Education Scotland had responsibility for developing criteria for assessing literacy and numeracy at first, second and third level for the survey. Education Scotland also produced professional learning resources for schools from information provided by the SSLN.

Data protection

Q: What happens to the information collected?

A: Information was collected for statistical and research purposes only. Names and addresses were not collected as part of the survey. All data is held securely and no information on individual pupils, schools or local authorities will be published. The collection, transfer, processing and sharing of SSLN data was done in accordance with the Data Protection Act (1998). We also comply with the National Statistics Code of Practice requirements and other legislation related to safeguarding the confidentiality of data.

Q: Where do I get more information?

A: If you require more information on the SSLN, please contact us at


Useful Links

For further information please use the following links:


1 Further detail on the pupil and teacher census can be found at

2 There are three SSLN deprivation categories: the least deprived 30 per cent, the middle 40 per cent and the most deprived 30 per cent. These are defined by the relevant Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation and are based on each pupil’s home postcode.