John Swinney hits out at Fife council for scrapping P1 tests

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A controversial national testing regime for five-year-olds in Scottish schools has suffered a fresh blow after one council announced it would be axing the assessments.

Education secretary John Swinney last night hit out at the move by Fife Council, insisting that it made “little sense”.

John Swinney. Pic - Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

John Swinney. Pic - Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

But he is now facing accusations of having “ lost control of schools policy altogether” from opposition parties.

The action by Fife Council – a national first – comes despite Mr Swinney recently ordering a review of the policy, which could result in a recommendation for them to be scrapped.

Two other councils – Aberdeen and East Lothian – have also looked at the prospect of axing the tests, but have so far stopped short of making the change.

Mr Swinney said: “If Fife Council were to revert to their previous ­systems, P1 pupils would face two assessments per year, rather than the single assessment they currently undertake. It is difficult to see how this would address the concerns raised around workload and pupil experience.

“It is, in fact, the precise opposite of what they claim they are trying to achieve and would cost taxpayers more money to double the tests P1 pupils face. That makes little sense.”

Fife Council said it will revert to the previous PIPs regime, which will still see five-year-olds assessed, but not as part of a national regime.

Although the Scottish Government has a broad responsibility for setting the classroom curriculum, it is councils which employ teachers and have responsibility for the day-to-day running of schools.

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “John Swinney has now lost control of schools policy altogether.

“His flagship education bill was binned, the budget leaves schools facing teachers’ strikes in a matter of weeks and now his national testing is no longer national, at least in Primary 1.

“Again and again he has refused to listen to teachers, parents and the councillors charged with actually delivering education on the ground. He was meant to be a safe pair of hands, but he has now completely dropped the ball.”

The tests for P1 pupils have proved contentious since they were introduced last year. The assessments have prompted claims from teachers they are a waste of time, and reports some youngsters have been left distressed after sitting them.

The Scottish Parliament has already voted for them to be axed after opposition parties combined to defeat the government on the issue earlier this year. This prompted Mr Swinney to order his review of the regime. Ministers insist the tests provide valuable information about where youngsters need help to support their learning and there is little difference from the assessments that all individual councils held before they were introduced. A full meeting of Fife Council yesterday voted 41 to 26 in favour of axing the tests as a motion lodged by Labour co-leader David Ross was passed despite opposition from SNP MSPs.

Councillor Kathleen Leslie, education spokeswoman for the Fife Conservative group, said: “The evidence is overwhelming. These assessments are educationally flawed and potentially damaging to such young children.

“This is another top-down policy by the Scottish Government, which is deeply flawed and poorly thought out.”

A spokesman for Fife Council said: “At a meeting of Fife Council earlier today, councillors agreed to withdraw from the P1 Scottish National Standardised Assessments scheme and replace it with PIPs assessments from the beginning of school session 2019-20.

“Scottish National Standardised Assessments will continue for P4, P7 and S3.”

The ruling administration in Aberdeen has expressed an interest in scrapping the tests. In East Lothian, council officers have also been ordered to look into whether the tests could be axed.

Liberal Democrat leader and North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie said: “It is now up to councils to see sense. Fife Council have done the right thing today.

“Teachers say national testing of five-year-olds wastes valuable class time and doesn’t tell them anything they do not already know.”