‘Cut your losses’, Greens tell John Swinney, as standardised testing is debated in parliament

Ben Wray

EIS say evidence is contrary to Education Minister’s claim that Standardised Testing is “integral to everyday learning”

SCOTTISH GREENS education spokesperson Ross Greer MSP has told Education Minister John Swinney that he should “cut his losses” over the Scottish Government’s controversial standardised testing policy for schools, and at least scrap it for P1’s.

The remark came after the Education Minister made a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA), as they are officially titled, following confusion over whether the tests, a term the Scottish Government does not agree with, are compulsory for pupils.

SNSA sees a common industry standard used to assess the learning progress of children in P1, P4, P7 and S3, and has been criticised for causing young children stress and anxiety and pressuring teachers to “teach to the test”.

Education campaigners Upstart Scotland’s ‘Play not Tests’ coalition is organising a boycott of the tests for parents who want to withdraw their children from them, which is supported by teachers’ union EIS Scotland, Children in Scotland and former children’s commissioner Tam Baillie.

TIMELINE: From announcement to boycott – how the Scottish Govt’s flagship standardised testing policy became so controversial

Swinney told the parliament that while SNSA was not compulsory, they are an “integral part of everyday learning”, in the same way as Maths and English are. If a parent were to attempt to pull their child out of the tests, this would be a matter for the local head teacher to ultimately decide on. This position followed guidance published jointly by the Association of Directors of Education and the Scottish Government.

He defended the policy from critics, including at P1 stage, saying it was a “key tool” for teachers to get to grips with where different children’s learning was at as they enter primary school.

“I am confident that as we continue to refine and enhance the assessments they will prove to be a positive experience for children and young people and provide a range of valuable information for teachers and parents,” he told MSPs.

Greer followed Labour’s Iain Gray in warning Swinney in the chamber that he faced defeat from a Holyrood majority against testing of P1’s, and later released a statement saying Swinney would be well advise to “cut his losses” now.

READ MORE: Scottish Government urged to abandon ‘cruel’ standardised testing following accounts of pupils’ distress

The Greens’ education spokesperson stated: “Standardised testing in primary schools is unwanted and unnecessary, and sooner or later Scottish Ministers will be told to scrap at least the assessment of five-year-olds by the parliamentary majority of Greens and other opposition parties. John Swinney should cut his losses and just scrap them now.

“Instead he shows breath-taking complacency on an issue that has caused additional stress for pupils, parents and teachers. The weight of international evidence and the approach taken by countries like Finland, whose excellent education systems we are trying to emulate, stand completely opposed to this obsession with testing. The SNP would do well to listen before being forced to suffer yet another humiliating parliamentary defeat.”

An EIS survey published earlier this year had shown negative effects on young children from the tests. The Scottish Government’s own first-year user review of the policy found children on the whole rated the assessments as “accessible and stimulating”, though the data for that review is yet to be published.

READ MORE: Swinney announces changes to Standardised Testing, but teachers’ union and campaigners remain unconvinced

Following the review, the Scottish Government announced last week that “enhancements” to standardised tests, and EIS assistant secretary Andrea Bradley said Swinney’s statement to parliament “gave no more reassurance” than what had already been announced, and questioned whether SNSA’s really were “integral to everyday learning”.

Bradley stated:  “While the EIS supports the view expressed by the Cabinet Secretary that assessment should support learning and that teacher judgement should be central to assessment policy, the statement given in Parliament today wholly ignores the large body of evidence provided by the EIS that teachers were afforded little to no professional judgement in determining the timing of SNSAs for the children in their classes.

“Recent survey findings revealed that in at least 25 local authorities, assessment windows were set which involved children sitting assessments en masse on single days, or within a set period of time, during the school session. For these children, assessment was not an integral part of everyday learning and teaching and was not timed to support their individual learning. This was out of the hands of teachers.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon failed to mention SNSA’s during the Programme for Government on Tuesday [4 September].

Picture courtesy of the Scottish Government

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