EDUCATION Secretary John Swinney is between a rock and a hard place on standardised testing of five-year-olds.

Pressing ahead with the controversial policy in P1 will see the Scottish Government embroiled in an increasingly bitter battle with a growing number of key players in the education sector.

The fact opposition is now coming from charities such as Children in Scotland and Play Scotland, who are funded partly by the Scottish Government, is significant. Teaching unions and parent bodies are also on the warpath.

However, backing down over the assessments - either by scrapping them altogether or allowing an opt-out for vulnerable pupils - is equally unpalatable because it will invite accusations of a ministerial climbdown.

Coming so quickly after Mr Swinney’s decision to shelve his Education Bill, opposition politicians would not be slow to accuse the government of looking increasingly weak on its core mission to close the attainment gap.

It is not all bad news. The tests in P1 have become a lightning rod for opposition to the standardised assessments as a whole because of the distress caused to some pupils.

The assessments have also been introduced in P4, P7 and S3, but these have attracted far less attention.

It is also clear the way the tests are being administered seems to be at the heart of the problem in P1.

Government guidance instructs schools to ensure that no distress is caused to pupils and councils have also been told not to put entire groups through the assessments at the same time.

The evidence from teachers is clear that has not always been the case, with suggestions groups of pupils are being tested on the same day, adding to pupil anxiety.

Mr Swinney will shortly bring forward revised guidance to try and bring to an end that practice.

The government is also keen parents speak to their child’s school if they have any queries about the assessments.

It may be such moves improve matters in the short term. It is also possible the current opt-out campaign does not attract the sort of widespread opposition that would kill off the assessments in P1.

However, neither of these things will address a fundamental concern of those now massing in opposition - that pupils learn best though play until they are at least seven and assessments at a younger age are meaningless.