The debate about testing Primary One children covers a narrow area of policy. Everyone agrees there should be means of identifying the needs of individual children and nobody (except a minority of MSPs) agrees with the way it is being done.
As Iain Gray, Labour’s education spokesman, put it: “The government has managed to introduce assessments that feel like high-stakes tests to teachers and pupils but do not produce statistically valid comparative measures and diagnostic tests which teachers tell us they do not trust to diagnose”. Previous methods, including international comparators, were giving bad news on literacy and numeracy, so the messengers were dispensed with. It seems unlikely these tests, surrounded by controversy and suspicion, will help.
At best, testing may create information about symptoms when the real challenge is to address the conditions which give rise to them. I have long argued that Scotland’s highest educational priority should be intensive Early Intervention in order to influence the life prospects of children who are otherwise doomed to fail. So much else in society flows from that but it is resource intensive and not politically glamorous.
You do not prioritise Early Intervention by slashing council budgets, cutting teacher numbers and – just as important – classroom assistants and other auxiliary staff.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government’s top education spending priority has not been schools or Early Intervention but Universities (i.e. no tuition fees). Throw the same resources at Early Intervention and the next 20 years would produce real societal change. Testing five-year-olds without the necessary pre-measures or follow-through will not alter much.