Government accused of ‘fabricating’ support for P1 tests

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The Liberal Democrats said John Swinney ‘brazenly twisted’ the work of an academic to claim he ’emphatically’ backs controversial assessments.

John Swinney

The Education Secretary should apologise for “fabricating fictional support” for a controversial national testing scheme of primary one pupils, the Liberal Democrats have said.

John Swinney told listeners during a BBC Radio Scotland phone-in in August that there are “people who emphatically argue for P1 assessments”.

The Lib Dems sent a freedom of information (FOI) request to the Scottish Government asking for evidence to back up the claim, and the Government responded by naming academics including Dylan Wiliam, emeritus professor of educational assessment at University College London.

The Government said he “presents research that shows formative assessment practices have a much greater impact on educational achievement than most other reforms”.

But Mr Wiliam has hit out at that claim, saying the tests are “incapable” of helping teachers and “almost completely useless”.

He told The Herald newspaper: “This is a substantial, and I would say perverse, misrepresentation of my work.

“The kind of standardised assessments used in the Scottish national assessments of primary one children are simply incapable of providing the kind of information that I think teachers would need in order to teach better.


“While some might argue that these assessments may, under certain conditions, be regarded as ‘formative’, the unreliability of the assessments, combined with the unreliability of five-year-olds, means that these assessments are almost completely useless as guides to the achievement and needs of five-year-olds.”

He questioned whether the respondent to the FOI request believes what they wrote – meaning they are “too stupid to be doing that job” or if they know they are being “deliberately misleading”.

Lib Dem education spokesman Tavish Scott said: “This is nothing short of unbelievable. The Scottish Government has brazenly twisted the work of an esteemed academic who adamantly opposes their national testing policy.


“Dylan Wiliam has every right to be outraged, as do the parents and teachers who are having to put up with continued national testing on the basis of this sham evidence.

“This expert’s reasons for condemning national testing of P1s mirror those of teachers throughout the country, parents and MSPs who conclusively voted months ago to halt P1 testing.

“John Swinney is already acting in contempt of Parliament. Fabricating fictional ’emphatic’ support to keep a dead policy afloat is a new low.

“He must immediately come to Parliament and apologise for this falsehood, as well as announce that he will finally halt the testing of five-year-old boys and girls as instructed.”

The Government introduced Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA) in 2017 to help close the attainment gap in schools, but teachers have claimed some P1s have been left in tears by the tests.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We referenced Professor Wiliam as a supporter of a formative approach to assessment.

“It was not our intention to imply he supported SNSA and it is clear that he does not.

“In line with best practice internationally, the SNSA are designed to provide formative, diagnostic information to teachers on aspects of literacy and numeracy.

“Along with a wide range of other evidence, this helps the teacher to shape teaching and learning and to support their judgments about children and young people’s progress.

“Professor Wiliam clearly does not share our view, but that does not change the value we place on his work.”

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