John Swinney tells teachers not to fear Scots test shake-up

Deputy First Minister John Swinney. Picture: Jane Bradley
Deputy First Minister John Swinney. Picture: Jane Bradley
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John Swinney has defended the Scottish Government’s plans for new national school tests and insisted they will not add to the burden on teachers – as he faced vocal opposition to the proposal at a union’s annual gathering.

The Deputy First Minister and newly appointed Education Secretary faced heckling in Dundee yesterday from some delegates at the meeting of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) as he set out what he said was a need for the standardised assessments.

He insisted the tests were “not about adding to the burden, creating league tables, or having a finger-pointing culture” but were to gather data to find out how best to support young people.

He told delegates the assessments would be short, age-appropriate and marked automatically – as he gave wider assurances on his “commitment” to cut teachers’ workload.

His speech came the day after the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, backed a move to boycott the plans.

They voted in favour of a motion to ballot members on a boycott of the administration and reporting of the test results if ministers impose an “unacceptable” system.

Ministers say the data is vital in helping close the attainment gap in schools.

Swinney told the meeting at the Caird Hall that his “driving mission” was to raise standards and close the gap.

To applause, he said: “If you find that it is difficult to close that attainment gap because of congestion within the curriculum then that is an issue that I commit to you today I will address.

“I recognise that if we want to close the attainment gap we have to liberate teachers to enable teachers to do that.”

He said: “We must have bold objectives in Scottish education, but we also must support those bold actions with practical steps.”

But he faced dissent when he turned to the new standardised assessments. As the minister set out “why we need standardised assessments” he was met with loud cries of “we don’t”.

Afterwards EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said: “Mr Swinney was left in no doubt that any return to a target-setting, league table approach to education would be fiercely resisted.”