FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon defends Government over ‘shameless’ P1 testing criticism

Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andy Buchanan/Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andy Buchanan/Getty Images
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Nicola Sturgeon branded the Scottish Conservatives “shameless opportunists” who “care not a jot about school children” as she defended her government’s controversial assessments for youngsters aged four and five.

The First Minister has been under pressure over the introduction of standardised national assessments for P1 pupils, with teachers having claimed the tests left some children in tears.

Tory leader Ruth Davidson said schools were already failing to provide parents and others with the information they are required to make public by the authorities.

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She said that while Education Scotland regulations of 2012 were “crystal clear” that schools should publish “comprehensive information” on issues such as performance and the curriculum, only about one in 14 (7%) actually met this.

She said that was the finding of analysis by Professor Jim Scott of Dundee University, which is due to be published next week.

Ms Davidson said: “Schools should, according to this government’s own rules, give parents clear data on the curriculum and on performance.

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“That’s so parents can find out about the school they are entrusting their children with or, where appropriate, make an informed decision about which school to choose.

“Yet, according to Professor Scott, six years on the parent who wishes to make an informed choice of school has relatively little chance of doing so when more than nine out of ten schools fail to publish the information this parliament requires of them.”

Ms Sturgeon insisted while there was a “wide range of information available to parents about the performance of schools”, ministers wanted to do more, adding “that is why we have introduced standardised assessments to replace the assessments that were previously under way by local authorities”.

The First Minister said: “Contrary to what they have previously said, the Scottish Conservatives now appear to want us to move away from that.”

She accused Ms Davidson of “breath-taking hypocrisy” as she read out part of the Tory 2016 Holyrood election manifesto, in which the party said it welcomed “the Scottish Government’s recent decision to reintroduce national testing in primary schools”.

Ms Sturgeon went on: “Yet I understand next week the Scottish Conservatives are going to bring forward a motion for the abolition of standardised assessments at P1. The hypocrisy on these matters is breath-taking.”

She continued: “What we see from the Conservatives is that they are shameless opportunists, they do not care.

“They care only about the short-term political opportunity, they care not a jot about the school children, they care not a jot about standards in our schools, I think Ruth Davidson has revealed that yet again today.”

The SNP leader said: “I want to see parents have more information about the performance of their children, that is why we have standardised the assessments that were previously in place, including at P1, in order that we are ensuring that teachers know whether young people are meeting the benchmarks set by Curriculum for Excellence.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, who raised the same issue at First Minister’s Questions, accused Ms Sturgeon of refusing to listen to teachers and the teaching union the EIS on the issue of P1 testing.

The Lib Dem said: “Just last week the First Minister said she was listening to teachers, now she’s ignoring them.

“The evidence is mounting - 170 pages of searing criticism from teachers, a damning letter from the EIS, the waste of resource, the useless value of the information, the high-stakes environment, the slippery path to league tables.

“Teachers are very clear, they’ve said the tests should go, the union has said the tests should go. When this parliament votes next week to scrap the P1 tests for pupils, will she respect the will of parliament and scrap the tests?”

Ms Sturgeon said the government would make the case for the tests “rigorously and robustly”, adding that she had a “difference of opinion” with the EIS on the issue.

She stated: “I have spoken to many teachers who also have a difference of opinion about assessments.

“I want to see us raise standards in Scottish education and I want to see us close the attainment gap, and we need data to inform the action we take to do that, so I will continue to make what I think is the common-sense argument for this and I look forward to the debate continuing.”