John Swinney ready to ignore Parliament over P1 tests

Education Secretary John Swinney has signalled he will press ahead with controversial tests for P1 pupils even if the government loses a vote on the measure in the Scottish Parliament this week.

Opposition MSPs are expected to band together to defeat the SNP over tests for five-year-olds on Wednesday, but Mr Swinney suggested the government would ignore the vote, saying that a parliamentary motion was “not binding”.

Teachers say the new national assessments have pupils in tears, and unions have backed calls for a boycott of the tests by parents.

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Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland programme, Mr Swinney repeatedly refused to say whether or not he would scrap the tests in the event of a government defeat this week.

Education Secretary, John Swinney MSP.Education Secretary, John Swinney MSP.
Education Secretary, John Swinney MSP.

He said: “Parliamentary motions are not binding on the government. The only thing that’s binding on the government is legislation.

“We’ll reflect on whatever parliament produces on Wednesday in the debate but we will make the very strong, evidenced argument for primary one standardised assessments because it’s part of the integral process of learning for young people and it’s important that we identify at the earliest possible opportunity the needs of young people and support them.”

Scottish Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray described Mr Swinney’s answers as a “thinly veiled threat to ignore the will of the Scottish Parliament”.

Mr Gray urged the education secretary to listen to teachers who believe the tests are “useless”.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie added: “I’ve worked all my life for a democratic Scottish Parliament and I find it astonishing that a Government minister could contemplate ploughing onward if Parliament expressly instructed him to stop.”

Scottish Green education spokesman Ross Greer said if the Parliament votes against the tests, “there will be no justification for John Swinney to ignore the tide of evidence and the strength of feeling against this deeply misguided government policy”.