After an outcry over the testing of primary one pupils which included the alarming suggestion that it was tantamount to child abuse, Education Secretary John Swinney quite rightly decided that the Scottish Government should carry out a review of a process only introduced last year.
The result was that there would be improved guidance for teachers, about a third of the questions would be changed, and the pupils themselves would be asked for their views. Swinney had also previously said that the tests should be “fun and enjoyable” and not in any way “stressful” for such young children.
But yesterday he made clear that the Scottish Government planned to continue with standardised assessments for children in P1, P4, P7 and S3, with the aim of tracking how well our education system is performing.
However, it now appears the minority administration could be heading for a defeat at Holyrood with the opposition parties united against P1 tests. Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith argued that testing five-year-olds did not produce “meaningful results”, while Labour’s Iain Gray suggested the Government was sticking by the tests simply to try to save face.
Such claims are debatable but what is certain is that our education system is getting worse, not better, we are slipping down international league tables, and something must be done.
And it is hard to know how to make improvements if it is not known how well or badly the current system is performing, so Swinney’s desire to establish a baseline in P1 is more than understandable.
The way the tests were formulated last year seems to have caused distress to some pupils, but this does not necessarily mean that any kind of assessment is bound to do so. The results may not be as clear-cut as Higher exams, but that does not mean they are completely useless.
It is an old political adage that the duty of the opposition is to oppose the government, but it is an ethos that can ultimately result in bad decision-making. The most important people in all of this are not politicians or teachers, but the children themselves.
If the current P1 tests are to be scrapped by a vote in parliament – despite the planned changes – perhaps politicians, educationalists and teachers could work together to find an acceptable way to assess our youngest school children.