CONTROVERSIAL primary school tests are not compulsory, but should be seen as an ‘integral part of everyday learning’, according to new guidance.

The clarification on the literacy and numeracy assessments - in a joint letter from the Scottish Government and council officials - is the latest attempt to clear up confusion over whether parents have a right to opt out.

The assessments were introduced as a response to concerns over falling standards and a lack of consistent data.

However, critics claim they are too stressful for young pupils and a national campaign was launched to encourage parents to opt out.

The issue is confusing because, while councils have a wider legal duty to provide education, the curriculum is not backed up in legislation - meaning parents don’t have a specific legal right to opt out.

The new letter from the Government and Ades, which represents education directors, said the assessments should be seen as a key tool to inform teachers of the needs of pupils.

It adds: “The ... assessments, in common with virtually all aspects of the Scottish curriculum and its delivery, are not provided for in legislation.

“This means that they cannot be seen as compulsory, but also that there cannot be a legal right for parents to withdraw their children from the assessments, or indeed any other part of the school curriculum with the exception of some parts of religious observance and instruction.

“In practice, however, should any parents or carers have any particular concerns about their child’s participation ... they should discuss this with their school with a view to reaching agreement on whether the child will undertake the assessments.”

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union, which has opposed testing in P1, questioned whether delivery of the assessments fell under the terms of a wider legal duty on councils to provide education.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary, said: “This letter incorrectly suggests there is a legal duty on local authorities to deliver the Scottish assessments.

“It also overstates the educational value of assessments, contrary to the weight of evidence supplied by our members.”

Mr Flanagan said the EIS supported the “absolute right” of parents to opt children out through a request to their school or local authority.

Sue Palmer, chair of education charity Upstart Scotland, which is leading the opt out campaign, said the guidance clarified the right of parents to withdraw.

She said: “If the assessments aren’t compulsory, parents are obviously entitled to withdraw their children. This is especially the case in P1 where they are unlikely to be of any use and have proved distressing for some children.

“The most sensible course of action would be to drop the P1 tests immediately and consult with teaching unions and others on the best way forward for the P4 and P7 tests.”

Eileen Prior, executive director of parent body Connect, which has backed the opt-out campaign, said: “This letter confirms that these tests are not compulsory. That is all we need to know.

“If they are not compulsory, then parents can discuss their concerns with their schools and can withdraw their child from the P1 test. I am sure no school would want to force a child or a parent into a situation which might cause distress.”

Last week, the Scottish Government was accused of ‘misleading’ parents in a letter from a top civil servant over the right to opt out.

Graeme Logan, a deputy director in the Scottish Government’s learning directorate, sent a letter to councils stating parents did not have the right to opt out apart from “exceptional circumstances” quoting advice from the Society of Local Authority Lawyers in Scotland (Solar). A spokesman for Solar later told The Herald the body had not provided advice to the Scottish Government.