PARENTS have been told controversial primary school tests are compulsory with an opt-out available only in “exceptional circumstances”.

The instruction, contained in an email to councils from a Scottish Government official, sparked a backlash from supporters of a nationwide campaign to encourage parents to withdraw.

Originally, parents were told the literacy and numeracy assessments for pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S3, were not backed up by legislation and were therefore not compulsory.

Last week, the Scottish Government said families had no legal right to withdraw their children, but said they could talk to schools who had the discretion to permit an opt-out.

However, a new email to council officials from Graeme Logan, a deputy director in the Scottish Government's learning directorate, appears more explicit.

Quoting advice from the Society of Local Authority Lawyers in Scotland (Solar) the email states: “Solar have advised us that parents don’t have the option to opt out of the assessments, explaining that all children ... will participate.

“However, in exceptional circumstances I understand that if a parent has genuine concerns they can talk it over with the school and only by agreement would a child not participate.”

The suggestion parents could only opt out in “exceptional circumstances” prompted anger from campaigners.

Upstart Scotland, a literacy charity which is running the national campaign to derail the assessments in P1, said parents had a clear right to withdraw.

Sue Palmer, chair of Upstart Scotland, said: “We believe parents are still entitled to opt their children out of the tests and we were told this categorically David Leng, who is in charge of delivering the assessments.

“However, if the Scottish Government wishes to couch parents’ right to opt out in terms of exceptional circumstances we also believe that would be applicable.

“The alternative is that five-year-old children will be forced to take these tests against the wishes of their parents.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union, said there were “serious concerns” over the educational value of the assessments, particularly in P1.

He added: “Where a parent makes a request to opt their child out our expectation is that this would be treated sympathetically by the school and the local authority.”

Eileen Prior, executive director of parent organisation Connect, which has backed the opt-out campaign, described the email, obtained by the Times Educational Supplement Scotland, as a “step-change”.

She said: “Mr Logan seems to be advising directors of education, and therefore schools, that parents do not have the right to opt their child out of the P1 test.

“This is a very disappointing move and could unfortunately set parents against schools and local authorities.”

Jackie Brock, chief executive of the Children in Scotland charity, which is also backing the campaign, said weaknesses in the assessment policy was creating “anxiety, confusion and unnecessary tension” in relationships between schools and parents.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon introduced the assessments as a response to concerns over falling standards of literacy and numeracy and a lack of consistent data across the country.

However, critics claim they are too stressful for the youngest pupils with feedback highlighting cases where pupils were left distressed - particularly when whole groups were assessed together.