Scots primary one pupils left crying by '˜cruel' national testing

Primary one pupils have been left shaking, crying and distressed by the Scottish Government's 'unnecessary and cruel' national testing, teachers have claimed.

Numerous accounts of stressed out children have been submitted to John Swinney by teachers and parents who have complained about the tests to the Education Secretary.

Reports of five-year-olds being reduced to tears and claims by teachers that the tests disrupt learning have led to renewed calls for the policy to be scrapped.

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The catalogue of complaints was obtained from the Scottish Government through a Freedom of Information request made by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

There are concerns about testing for primary one pupils introduced by the Scottish GovernmentThere are concerns about testing for primary one pupils introduced by the Scottish Government
There are concerns about testing for primary one pupils introduced by the Scottish Government

Scottish national standardised assessments (SNSA) were introduced across four age groups to help measure the attainment gap in schools. However, dozens of staff working across the country have contacted the Scottish Government directly to outline a catalogue of serious concerns about P1 tests and urge ministers to ditch them.

Parents have also criticised the tests, with many seeking information from civil servants on how to opt their child out.

Teaching union Educational Institute of Scotland has submitted more than 170 pages of comments from its members to ministers, describing the contents as “grim reading”.

Mr Swinney and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have defended the tests, arguing that they are an important way of gauging a child’s progress.

However feedback from teachers suggest that they are deeply unpopular within the profession.

The impact on pupils was of particular concern, with the depute head of one primary school stating that even the most advanced pupils were left “upset and worried”.

“Less common, but still far more frequent than is at all acceptable are children who display extreme signs of distress, shaking and crying.

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“Where this happens we stop the test but by then the damage is already done.

“One child has soiled themselves due to the extreme distress caused by the test.”

One teacher said “the stress of making children answer a question that they can’t understand is unnecessary and cruel” while another said the tests “completely contradict” efforts to promote good mental health.

One mother said she was “absolutely disgusted by the way in which these tests have been dressed up in the guise of the ‘child’s best interest’”.

“As a government you are robbing this generation of their childhood,” she said.

One depute head of a primary school said: “It is not an overstatement to say that I feel I have betrayed relationships and harmed them with our children, particularly our most vulnerable, by putting them through these tests. They are completely inappropriate and have left even those children who are flying and are ahead of where we would expect, upset and worried.”

A 25-year-old teacher said the tests should be abandoned.

“If I had a choice I would absolutely refuse to put Primary 1’s through this - it is of no benefit. The ‘data’ produced from this exercise will not inform any future planning of learning and teaching for any child that sits this test.”

Other contributors dismissed the assessments as “absolutely useless”, a “complete waste of everyone’s time” and “wholly unreliable”.

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The criticisms made in the EIS document included a teacher saying the tests were “soul destroying” for the youngsters.

A teacher from Glasgow said: “It is awful to look at the faces of anxious wee people who are wondering why this stress has been imposed on them.”

Another said: “This abstract assessment told me no more about my children than I already knew. In fact in many cases it reflected negatively on their abilities in comparison to what they can do day in day out…”

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said the “sheer volume of complaints and horror stories obliterate the SNP government’s claims that their national tests are in the best interest of five-year-olds and are age-appropriate”.

Mr Rennie said: “The feedback from teachers from every corner of Scotland is brutal.

“There is no salvaging this policy and if it continues it will be because ministers are more interested in saving face than they are in giving children the best start to their schooling.”

Teachers also raised concerns over the resources and time allocated to carry out the tests, which are completed using a computer programme.

In many cases staff spent weeks completing the assessments while several schools called in learning support teachers to help administer them. “This is a massive use of staff resources that could be put into supporting children instead of performing tests that are not useful,” one teacher wrote.

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Assessment is part of everyday learning and teaching. Standardised assessments provide information to help teachers to check progress in early maths, literacy, development and behaviour, and identify where further support may be required.

“We are currently conducting a user review of the first year of the assessments, which includes listening to the experience of teachers. The review will set out changes and enhancements to the system for next year and will be published in August. We will continue to listen to the views of teachers.”