‘Deeply flawed’ P1 test won’t close attainment gap, says head

Primary one tests have proved to be a controversial subject. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Primary one tests have proved to be a controversial subject. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto
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John Swinney’s primary one tests are “deeply flawed” and will lead to judgments on children being based on flimsy evidence, a leading headmaster has warned.

Rod Grant of fee-paying Clifton Hall School, Edinburgh, has written a blog warning that the controversial tests will not help close the attainment gap.

In an article for the school Facebook page, Mr Grant reacted to this week’s parliamentary debate on the controversial tests claiming politicians had displayed “staggering ignorance” of what the tests were.

“As with many things happening in education in Scotland, the implementation of National Standardised Tests is deeply flawed,” he wrote.

“I listened, with considerable interest, to yesterday’s entire debate, occasionally shouting at my screen as politician after politician displayed staggering ignorance (or was it mere politicking?) of what a standardised test of the kind that P1 pupils are being asked to complete actually is.

“Standardised tests in literacy and numeracy provide a score which relates to a pupil’s natural ability on a given day. That’s it. Tests such as these offer no greater indication than that mere fact. If we believe intelligence is not ‘fixed’, if we believe children’s abilities can ‘grow’ then we need to understand that the score a child attains on any single day is unlikely to reflect anything other than that simple fact.”

Despite the tests being billed as “standardised assessments”, Mr Grant claimed they were not the same for all children as they could sit them at different stages in their primary one year. In addition, children were allowed to sit the tests within different time periods.

Mr Grant wrote: “For lots of reasons, I have to ask the question what will the results of these tests do for improving education in Scotland? What will they do for closing the attainment gap? I’m a teacher and I can’t see any benefit in using these tests in the way they are being used. The scores produced will not reflect the abilities of the nation’s Primary 1 children. And if they don’t do that, what’s the point?”

On Wednesday, opposition politicians united around a Conservative motion calling for the tests to be halted, defeating Mr Swinney and the SNP by 63 votes to 61.

Despite the vote Mr Swinney instructed schools to carry on delivering the tests while he reflected on the outcome of the vote.

Mr Grant went on to say: “It might be nice if one day politicians of all persuasions would actually listen to the facts. No teacher is against assessment. No teacher is against tests, per se.

“They won’t cause unnecessary stress on pupils [an opposition red herring] but they will cause unnecessary stress on the teaching profession (and on parents too) because judgements will be made. And the judgements that will be made will be based on flimsy evidence lacking in academic rigour.”

Mr Grant added: “Mr. Swinney would do well to take heed of the will of Parliament. I was under the impression we lived in a democracy, after all.”