National testing will ‘undermine’ drive to close schools gap

MSPs have been warned new examinations will 'undermine' Sturgeon's drive to close schooling gap. Picture: Steven Brown
MSPs have been warned new examinations will 'undermine' Sturgeon's drive to close schooling gap. Picture: Steven Brown
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A return to national testing for younger pupils will undermine Nicola Sturgeon’s flagship pledge to drive down the gap between rich and poor areas of Scotland, MSPs have been warned.

One of the country’s leading education experts has warned that the move, which will see youngsters in P1, P4, P7 and S3 tested nationally, is a “retrograde” step and is likely to cause alarm among parents.

Brian Boyd, Emeritus Professor of education at Strathclyde University, said the move will result in “teaching to the test” in classrooms, in a submission to Holyrood’s education committee.

“The aim of closing the gap will be undermined,” he added.

The Scottish Government hopes that national testing will bring about a “cultural shift” in Scotland’s education system.

Ms Sturgeon argues the gap in classroom standards cannot be addressed until ministers get the full picture of pupil performance across Scotland which testing will provide. But Prof Boyd said: “It is difficult to see National Standardised testing as anything other than a retrograde step, out of sync with the vision of Curriculum for Excellence.”

The last time national testing was introduced in the 1990s was “born out of a lack of trust” in the teaching profession, he added.

“It is very difficult to accept that National Standardised Testing is anything other than an undermining of the professionalism of teachers,” he said.

Prof Boyd also played down the claim that the new system would allow teachers to know how well individual pupils are doing in relation to the Curriculum for Excellence levels.

“National Standardised Testing will not give you that information because it operates at the system level, not at the individual level,” he added.

It will also usher in the return of league tables, despite minister pledging not to publish these.

“National Standardised Testing is, at best, a distraction and, at worst, an approach which will undermine the government’s aims,” Prof Boyd went on.

“It may also lose the support of parents. The stress of such tests – especially at P1 – will, as it did in the 1990s, cause alarm among parents.”

The First Minister and Labour leader Kezia Dugdale have said education will be the key battleground upon which the forthcoming Scottish Parliament election will be fought.

Labour says additional revenues from its proposed 1p rise in income tax would go on education.

Ms Sturgeon has said she wants to be “judged” on her ability to cut the education attainment gap between the rich and poor areas of Scotland.