JOHN Swinney has a motivational postcard on his desk with the phrase “proceed until apprehended” on it.

All the indications are the Education Secretary does not consider the Holyrood defeat on P1 assessments sufficient to arrest his plans, advising schools to continue for now.

Opposition parties argue Mr Swinney must obey the will of parliament, but voting figures of 63 to 61 show how close the decision was.

It was exactly this divergence of opinion that Mr Swinney faced when he addressed an audience of educational professionals at the Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow on the morning of the vote.

As Storm Ali began to make itself heard around the auditorium of the SEC Centre, the minister would have expected a buffeting on testing as the audience of teachers, heads and other educational professionals were invited to ask questions.

It did not start well. A teacher from a primary school in Galashiels, in the Scottish Borders, said her experience of P1 testing was that they were not working.

“They are actually a huge waste of time and money in the way they are being enforced in primary schools,” she said.

“It is not that I have an objection in principle to the idea of standardised assessments, but what I am seeing in practice is that they don’t work, they are not suitable and my colleagues around me feel exactly the same way.

“There is a widespread feeling in Scottish primary schools that they are not fit for purpose.”

As Mr Swinney scribbled hastily into his notebook in preparation for a difficult answer, a headteacher from another primary school came to his rescue.

“We did not find any level of stress at all and the primary one children actually quite enjoyed taking part,” she said.

“In terms of the feedback we found them to be extremely helpful. We had a small group of boys that I think we had the wrong measure of when it came down to teacher judgement and it changed how we looked at the support they needed. I think we had underestimated them.

“The depth of feedback and the quality of feedback the assessments gave us really helped those children.”

Mr Swinney said the contrasting remarks illustrated the divergence of opinion on the benefits of the assessments for five-year-olds.

But what he was at pains to stress to the audience was his belief in the quality of feedback they could provide.

He said: “What literally drew an intake of breath from a group of teachers who went through the assessments with me was when they saw the diagnostic information and the way it was presented.

“It marshalled some of the strengths and the challenges that young people face and the purpose of standardised assessments is to make sure we are able to learn from what the experience of young people has been, what their challenges are and then to do something about it.

“The attainment gap exists when young people come into formal education and the challenge is to try and narrow that as quickly as we possibly can which is why I take the view that P1 assessments are helpful in that respect.”

Lurking in the audience to hijack the Education Secretary further on assessments was Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union.

Mr Flanagan, whose union has backed a campaign to encourage parents to opt out of P1 testing, raised the issue of councils who blanket test pupils, rather than allowing individual teachers to decide - a phenomenon blamed for greater levels of pupil stress.

Mr Flanagan said: “A set of guidelines was produced, one of which was that teachers would control when these assessments were done.

“We know that 25 out of 32 local authorities breached that guideline and instructed teachers when to carry out the assessments.”

With a nod to his past as a secondary school English teacher, Mr Flanagan then drew on the words of Hamlet to ask: “So in terms of empowerment, there’s the rub. How do we turn rhetoric around professional autonomy into a reality?”

Mr Swinney conceded that he did not agree with Mr Flanagan on many things, and also expressed mock surprise the union leader had not taken the opportunity to raise the ongoing issue of pay.

But Mr Flanagan did get a concession from the minister on the need to ensure the guidance was being followed.

Mr Swinney said: “I don’t always say this, but I agree with Larry Flanagan. The guidance is clear that teachers should choose at what point it is appropriate to undertake the assessments and that should be respected and I will pursue that in my discussion with local authorities.”