Minister under fire over claims of support for primary one tests

PA

Education Secretary John Swinney has been accused of a “substantial and perverse misrepresentation” of an expert’s work after claiming he supports controversial tests for primary one pupils.

At First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie raised the issue of the standardised tests after asking Mr Swinney’s office to say who supports the policy.

Mr Rennie told Nicola Sturgeon that two experts were named as supporting the P1 testing – professors W James Popham and Dylan Wiliam.

However, both men are believed to have distanced themselves from the claims.

Mr Rennie said: “The Deputy First Minister John Swinney has repeatedly claimed there are many people who emphatically support his primary one national tests.

“We asked the Government who these many people were. It turns there were just two of them.

“One was Professor Dylan Wiliam and he was education adviser to Education Scotland.

“He said John Swinney’s claim that he emphatically argued for the Government’s test was ‘a substantial and perverse misrepresentation’ of his work and that the person who made this claim was ‘too stupid to be doing that job or deliberately misleading’.”

He added that Prof Popham had also distanced himself from claims he supports the policy.

Calling for the tests to be scrapped, Mr Rennie concluded: “Teachers are against the tests, EIS oppose the tests, councils are ditching the tests, Parliament voted against the tests, and now the minister’s preferred experts think the tests are useless.”

First Minister’s Questions
First Minister’s Questions

In response, Ms Sturgeon defended the P1 tests and said: “The Scottish Government referenced Professor Wiliam’s work because we interpreted his research as being supportive of a formative approach to assessments.

“If that’s not the case then we are happy to recognise that.”

Mr Swinney has faced calls to suspend the testing in Scotland’s schools, with children currently assessed in P1, P4, P7 and S3.

Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA) were introduced last year by the Scottish Government in an effort to close the attainment gap in schools.

But teachers have claimed some P1 youngsters have been left shaking, crying and distressed by the “unnecessary and cruel” national testing.

Earlier this year, Holyrood voted in favour of halting the SNSA for four and five-year-olds, although the 63-61 vote was not binding on the Scottish Government.

Following the vote, Mr Swinney announced an independent review of national testing for P1 pupils that would be “led by the evidence” and would be able to conclude the testing regime could be reformed or scrapped altogether.

In the meantime, he has urged schools to continue with the tests this year to avoid “uncertainty and confusion”.