OPPOSITION parties have demanded John Swinney respect the will of parliament after MSPs narrowly voted to halt a key plank of the government’s education policy.

Holyrood voted 63 to 61 to pause and review tests for P1 pupils, after complaints from teachers about them being of little value, and parents reporting children in tears.

The SNP government has promoted the standardised national assessments as a key tool to gather information about P1 children’s abilities and to fine tune their teaching.

The vote is not binding on the government, but was a blow to Mr Swinney’s reputation as Education Secretary, and a sign the opposition could embed it in law at a later date.

The decision saw the Greens, Labour and LibDems line up with the Tories while only the SNP voted for a continuation of the computer-based literacy and numeracy tests.

The government defeat came just three months after Mr Swinney was forced to shelve his flagship Education Bill because teachers and other parties would not support the reforms.

The Tory-led manoeuvre followed an often bad-tempered debate in which Mr Swinney and other SNP MSPs accused the Conservatives of rank hypocrisy and political opportunism.

Ruth Davidson’s party had previously advocated standardised tests at P1 and endorsed the government’s use of them in its 2016 Holyrood manifesto.

Tory education spokeswoman said her party had been wrong in the past.

“We made a mistake about P1,” she said, adding her party remained in favour of assessments at P4, P7 and S3.

She told the Education Secretary: “I think the time has come, because of the evidence that has been piling up over the last two years, to call a halt, reconsider the evidence that is very much before us and evaluate what is the best way of progressing P1 pupils."

Mr Swinney said he was “appalled” by the Conservative Party and accused it of “deceit”.

He said: “The Conservatives are playing politics with the education of our children and we will not play along  with them.”

He defended the assessments as an essential part of a good education system, an integral part of effective teaching and learning, and part of “normal classwork” that took little time.

After the vote, other parties demanded the SNP respect the will of parliament, something ministers have repeatedly told Westminster to do on constitutional issues.

Ms Smith said: “The Scottish Parliament has voted decisively on this matter, and now the SNP government must act on that. The nationalists have ignored the evidence on this for quite some time, but they can’t afford to any longer.

“These tests need to be halted, and the evidence re-examined. The SNP is always talking about how important the Scottish Parliament is and how its will must be respected.

“This is the perfect chance for the SNP to do just that.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard used a point of order immediately after the vote to demand the government respect the outcome.

He said: “Teachers told this government that these tests were useless, ministers ignored them. Parents told this government that they do not trust these tests, ministers ignored them.

“The Scottish Parliament has now voted to scrap these tests and SNP ministers must not now ignore the will of Parliament. The Government must therefore bring forward immediate plans for how it will respond to this evening’s vote as a matter of urgency.”

Green education spokesman Ross Greer said: “What’s truly shocking about the introduction of these standardised tests is that all the issues highlighted by Greens and others were already well known when the SNP decided to press ahead.

“Members of the Scottish Government’s own International Council of Education Experts have been at the forefront of these criticisms and ministers still cannot explain why they would ignore their own experts, never mind the voices of a majority of Scotland’s teachers.

“Now a majority in the Scottish Parliament have joined the calls to scrap these tests for four and five year olds and in a fit of arrogance, the government seems set to ignore our decision.

“The concerns that Greens have raised are not limited to the P1 tests. The whole concept of standardised testing does more harm than good to our young people. John Swinney should follow the evidence, accept the will of parliament and scrap the tests immediately.”

But SNP MSP Gordon MacDonald said all the opposition parties were “guilty of the most appalling hypocrisy” for siding with the Tories to score political points.

He said: “The Scottish Government introduced p1 assessments because they are a tool we need to track kids’ progress and help drive up standards in our schools.

“The Tories put standardised P1 assessments in their manifesto; the majority of Tory-run councils across Scotland already assessed kids from P1; so did Labour and the Lib Dems.

“Labour and the Lib Dems have sided with the Tories in their political gamesmanship, and sought to prey on the anxieties of parents, just to grab a headline.

“It’s depressing that they all stood willing to do so at the expense of kids’ education.

“When it comes to educating our young people, we should be united in an ambition to drive up standards – not exploiting these issues for political gain.”

Sue Palmer, chair of the educational charity Upstart, which promoted a boycott of the assessments, said: “The opposition parties made many cogent arguments against the P1 testing and it’s very disappointing that the Scottish government isn’t prepared to listen to them.

“We at Upstart Scotland are particularly pleased that one of the closing speeches against the tests mentioned the long-term implications of beginning testing at such an early age in terms of children’s social and emotional development.  

“There is growing evidence that the decline of self-directed play (especially outdoor play) coupled with an early focus on teaching specific academic skills is helping to fuel mental health problems among children and young people.”