THE controversial practice of testing P1 pupils is facing its biggest challenge after children’s charities, parents’ groups and teaching unions launched a joint campaign to derail the policy.

Under the unprecedented move families with five-year-olds starting school this week will be invited to withdraw their children from the contentious literacy and numeracy assessments, introduced last year.

Some 30,000 postcards published by the Upstart Scotland literacy charity will be despatched across the country through key campaign supporters including the charities Play Scotland and Children in Scotland, national parent body Connect and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union.

Parents will be invited to sign and add their child’s name to the postcards, which state: “I do not want my child to sit the primary 1 tests of literacy and numeracy.”

The campaign heaps further pressure on John Swinney, the Education Secretary, to scrap the P1 assessments, which teachers said have left some pupils “shaking and crying”.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats are already pressing for a parliamentary vote on the issue which has attracted cross party support.

However, Mr Swinney argues government guidance on the administration of the assessments is clear there should be no distress.

He said testing is already routine in schools across the country with P1 assessments crucial because it gives an idea of what level pupils are at when they come to school.


The postcard for parents

Sue Palmer, a literacy specialist and chair of Upstart Scotland, said the testing had caused anxiety which was “particularly damaging” during the early years.

She said: “Parents are entitled to opt their children out, but the government has not publicised the fact. Many will want to do so because their child may be distressed by the tests.

“We hope parents will also opt out to show the government that they believe play rather than testing is in the interests of all Scottish children, now and in the future.”

Tam Baillie, the former Children’s Commissioner for Scotland, who is now a trustee of Upstart Scotland, said international evidence showed under-sevens needed a play-based approach to learning rather than assessments.

He said: “In the light of Scotland’s growing crisis in child and adolescent mental health we should look at the evidence linking childhood play to long-term emotional resilience.”

Jackie Brock, chief executive of national charity Children in Scotland, said testing children as young as four or five was not appropriate.

She said: “Evidence suggests such high pressure can have a detrimental effect on wellbeing. Whilst we understand the value of assessment for teaching and learning, we remain unconvinced that it is necessary at such a young age.

“We are now hearing concerns from teachers that the time, methods and experience of children are, at best, proving a distraction from children’s learning and development and are, at worst, a stressful and wasteful time for children and teachers.”

Marguerite Hunter-Blair, chief executive officer of Play Scotland, said playful experiences rather than tests improved children’s learning.

She added: "Through supported play, the under-sevens can thrive, learn, develop and grow in confidence to make choices, enjoy activities, become interested and curious.

"Children need opportunities to be creative, to make friends and develop social skills, use a range of tools safely and take manageable risks. These are the practical tests that matter. The tests of opportunities, exploration and everyday adventures."

The campaign has also attracted support from parent body Connect, which published a survey earlier this week highlighting concern from families.

Sixty per cent of parents who completed the online poll said their view was "negative".

Eileen Prior, executive director of Connect, said: "Our survey highlights the challenges of testing very young children.

"This national data gathering exercise must inform children's learning and their next steps if it is to be meaningful."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, has already called for the P1 tests to be scrapped.

He said: "We are sceptical about the worth of standardised assessments generally, but we're particularly opposed to their introduction for P1 pupils.

"They bring a rigid formality to assessment at a stage where the judgements of teachers, based on observation of child-centred learning, are all that's needed."

A Scottish Government spokesman said assessments were not a new concept, with the vast majority of local authorities carrying them out for years.

He said: "The Scottish National Standardised Assessments ensure for the first time all schools will undertake the same assessments, providing consistency and an important means for teachers to identify children’s next steps in learning.

"That is especially valuable in early years if we are to continue to close the attainment gap.

"We see the assessments as an integral part of everyday learning for children and young people."

An animated video about the Play Not Tests for P1 campaign will be released on social media in addition to the release of the postcards.

The postcards from provide parents with an opportunity to opt out, adding: "I firmly believe ... that assessment of this kind is not developmentally appropriate for young children and would, therefore, prefer assessment to be based on teacher observation and professional judgement."

The Scottish Government is reviewing the first year of assessments and will shortly set out changes to the system for next year.