THE roll-out of controversial primary school tests was completed "without any difficulty whatsoever", according to Scotland's Education Secretary.

In an interview with The Herald, John Swinney argued any fall-out from the introduction of the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) was political rather than educational.

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But opposition politicians, teaching unions and campaigners hit out at the statement accusing Mr Swinney of trying to rewrite history.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon introduced the assessments for pupils in P1, P4, P7 and S3 as a response to falling standards of literacy and numeracy.

Following their introduction in 2017 there were reports of five-year-old pupils being left distressed while teachers complained of problems with IT systems.

Some of the questions were deemed to be set at an inappropriate level of difficulty for pupils in P1 and charities warned the assessments were not in line with play-based learning and did not provide teachers with valuable data.

But Mr Swinney told The Herald the introduction of the assessments had been a success and would soon be seen as a routine part of the school system.

He said: "Standardised assessments were a huge undertaking with over 650,000 in the first year, really without any difficulty of implementation whatsoever as a project, as an IT project and as a transactional exercise, and that is really quite a formidable achievement.

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"In terms of the assessments in P4, P7 and S3 there is really no debate and they are actually addressing a nervousness in the educational profession about feeling confident about their judgements on the level of progression of a young person. What standardised assessments are doing is helping shape that confidence.

"There has obviously been a big debate about P1, but frankly that has been more of a political debate than an educational debate because again, in year one, we have had over 90 per cent participation of P1 pupils in the standardised assessments and no real difficulty in the implementation of all of that."

Mr Swinney said the SNSAs were an improvement on previous testing systems which were more demanding and not relevant to the Scottish curriculum.

He added: "Frankly, the P1 assessment debate has got a bit of traction because of politics. If people were so troubled about P1 assessments they should have been complaining about what 28 out of 32 local authorities have been doing for a long, long time and to a greater intensity than the Scottish National Standardised Assessments."

Opposition politicians dismissed Mr Swinney's version of events arguing the assessments were "a shambles".

Iain Gray, education spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party, said: "This is dangerous hubris from an education secretary who has learned nothing from three years of gaffes, U-turns and climbdowns.

"Teachers say the assessments tell them nothing, parliament instructed Mr Swinney to drop them in P1, an education committee report says they lack clarity of purpose, and educationalists say they leave us with no way to measure progress in literacy and numeracy."

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, said it was "simply not true" to say the tests were introduced without any difficulty.

She added: "The recent evidence provided to Holyrood’s education committee makes clear that there were significant issues raised by teachers and their professional associations, most especially about P1 tests, and several educationalists, including those with international experience, raised some doubts about whether there was clarity of purpose. It is also clear there have been concerns raised within several local authorities.

"Neither is it true to claim that the controversy is political. It is surely about the best educational interests of young people which is why the education committee chose to examine the issue in great detail."

Tavish Scott, education spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said it was clear Mr Swinney intended to press on with the assessments "irrespective of teachers, educationalists and others who oppose his single minded utter disregard for the facts".

And Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union said members were “unconvinced” about the need for the assessments.

He said: “Our survey revealed the implementation created significant issues in many schools and authorities around consistency of approach, IT challenges, and in particular the breaching by 24 out of 32 local authorities of national guidance on how the assessments should be delivered.

"P1 assessments have been shown to be inconsistent with a play based approach to learning and they need to go. In S3 the assessments are largely administered after pupils have made subject choices and been allocated to qualification streams so what is the point of them, other than to create a workload issue for teachers?

"As far as the EIS is concerned, the educational benefit of SNSAs is unproven.”

Sue Palmer, from the charity Upstart Scotland, whch has opposed P1 testing, said the debate was ‘political’ because opposition parties had listened to the arguments against standardised assessments.

She said: "There’s a mass of evidence that standardised assessment of academic skills at such an early age is developmentally inappropriate, unlikely to provide reliable results and affects teaching practices in ways that can cause long-term damage for some children. This applies whether the data is collected at a national or local level.

"The UK is the only country in Europe that sends its children to school before the age of six and it’s only because of our absurdly early school starting age that we assume such young children should be cracking on with the three Rs.

"As countries like China and Singapore have recently recognised, the growing incidence of mental health problems among children and young people make it far more important to emphasis health and well-being during the early years."