John Swinney has branded the recent Holyrood vote to scrap Primary One tests in schools a “disgrace” and insisted that political opponents don’t have the best interests of children at heart.
It emerged today that he will make a statement to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament when it returns after its October recess in a fortnight after the vote saw opposition parties unite to defeat the SNP and call for the tests to be abolished.
Labour accused Swinney of arrogance, with many teachers branding them a waste of time which can leave youngsters stressed.
But the Education Secretary was in defiant mood as he addressed a fringe meeting organised by teaching union the EIS at the SNP’s Autumn conference in Glasgow today, insisting that the tests are needed to spot potential problems with youngsters’ development
“We assess children and young people constantly in their lives to make sure their needs are being met,” Mr Swinney said.
“If we didn’t I don’t think we’d be serving our children and young people very well at all. At 27 months, health visitors around the country do a vocabulary check on every child in the country to work out if they have a sufficient command of vocabulary.
“If they’ve not it’s the first sign that that child may be developing a communication deficit. If a child develops a communication deficit, I think we can predict pretty reliably - based on a lot of scientific evidence and data - that child will face acute challenges in their life and they may, and probably likely, go on to pretty negative outcomes in their education.”
The Education secretary said they he and his wife ensured his own son to got this assessment to check his development was “going in the right direction.”
“I apply the same rationale to Primary One assessments because I don’t want it to be on my watch that the need and interests of young people are not being adequately identified - not because I want to paper the walls of this room with a league table, I’ve no interest in that whatsoever. But I want to make absolutely certain that every child in our education system is getting what they need in helping them progress.
“That’s why I believe in Primary One Standardised assessments. And I think the debate Parliament had on this a few weeks ago was a disgrace. It wasn’t about the education of children it was about politics.”
The SNP Government is not bound by the Holyrood vote to scrap the tests, but would face accusations of ignoring the “will of Parliament” if it disregards the vote. This could prove awkward when Nationalists call for the “will of Parliament” to be respected when calling for another independence referendum which Holyrood has voted for.
Labour education spokesman Iain Gray branded Mr Swinney “arrogant.”
He said: “John Swinney continues to dig himself deeper into the hole he is in on Primary One standardised tests.
“The reality is teachers believe these tests to be a waste of time and parents simply don’t trust them.
“That is why the Scottish Parliament has voted to scrap these tests for 4 and 5 year olds. The SNP government should recognise that vote, respect the will of the Parliament and bin the tests.
“Parliament listened to teachers and parents, and now John Swinney should listen to parliament. To fail to do so is wilful, disgraceful arrogance.”