Scotland's Primary 1 testing regime is an unreliable “postcode lottery” that distresses children, produces little useful information and undermines parent choice, critics have warned.

It comes after The Herald uncovered significant variation in arrangements for Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs), with families in some council areas unlikely to be informed that pupils will sit them.

Education Secretary John Swinney and his officials came under fire earlier this year following confirmation that the controversial literacy and numeracy tests would remain “available” despite disruption to learning in the wake of Covid-19.

Taken online in P1, P4, P7 and S3, they were introduced amid concern over sliding international performance scores in areas such as maths and science.

There is no pass or fail and children do not have to revise or prepare. But parents’ organisation Connect said it “beggared belief” that anyone would be proposing to put young pupils through them during the pandemic recovery phase.

READ MORE: Pledge to scrap P1 tests

Previous reports said the tests had left some children shaking and crying, and many argue they have no place in a modern, play-based approach to early years education.

Fresh concerns have emerged after The Herald contacted Scotland’s 32 local authorities to ask about SNSA arrangements following the reopening of P1-3 classrooms in February.

The vast majority indicated the tests had been or would be used, or were available as an option, or said they had asked for them to be done.

Some stressed the decision on whether to carry them out was at the discretion of school staff. Officials in Midlothian said it was their intention to use SNSAs with P1s from August onwards, while Fife uses a different, story-based system called BASE.

East Lothian Council said a freedom of information request would be needed before full details could be released, but added that no central guidance had been issued.

Several authorities also confirmed parents would not normally be told when tests are planned, or said responsibility for such communication had been delegated to schools.

HeraldScotland: Many feel P1 tests should not be happening given the impact of Covid-19.Many feel P1 tests should not be happening given the impact of Covid-19.

A number highlighted that SNSAs would be built into everyday learning and were not considered an additional element requiring separate notification.

Many, including East Lothian, said the tests were among a range of assessment tools that help staff evaluate progress and plan future learning.

However, one primary headteacher told The Herald they were of “great concern”.

The school leader, who asked not to be named, said: “Presenting the literacy and numeracy assessments to P1 pupils is time-consuming, staff intensive and can represent a negative experience for pupils.

“Owing to the P1 child’s developmental level, teachers often have to supervise and support the children through the assessments and some children can become quite distressed.”

The headteacher also said SNSAs were not appropriate given the disruption caused by Covid-19.

READ MORE: Glasgow City Council votes to allow headteachers to scrap P1 tests

“Those children in the present P1 cohort missed a significant amount of nursery experience owing to the first lockdown and thus were denied a comprehensive transition from nursery to P1,” he explained.

“It would be much more beneficial to use an assessment tool that evaluates developmental progress, not an assessment to evaluate progress in core subjects.

“In normal times, the P1 intake covers a wide age range and a wide range of developmental needs. The argument about readiness versus ability should be recognised as many P1 children are able but not ready to learn the early stages of reading and numeracy, and thus renders the assessment unreliable.”

The headteacher said variation across Scotland was another source of concern. “Some authorities employ a systematic approach and advise schools when the assessments should be administered,” he added.

“Some local authorities delegate an element of flexibility and schools can decide at what point during the school session the test will be undertaken, if undertaken at all. How can this inconsistent approach benefit the improvement agenda consistently? Owing to the variable approaches by different local authorities, this effectively becomes a postcode lottery.

“With regard to informing parents and carers, there is no consistent approach undertaken nationally and therefore parents and carers are often unaware that their child is being presented for an assessment and are thus denied the opportunity to consider withdrawing their child from participating.”

READ MORE: Parents slam test plan for P1s after schools reopen

His criticisms were echoed by Sue Palmer of the Upstart Scotland campaign group.

“Developmentally appropriate early years practice can’t sit alongside standards-based teaching of the 3Rs – they’re mutually exclusive,” she said.

“Teachers are confused and angry about this but they can’t speak out because they sign a gagging clause with the local authority. We urgently need an official review of Early Level to clarify what should be happening for our youngest children.”

Ross Greer, education spokesman for the Scottish Greens, said continuing with SNSAs in the current period was “ludicrous”.

“These tests take up valuable time, creating anxiety for both teachers and pupils whilst producing little valuable data,” he added.

HeraldScotland: Ross Greer of the Greens said it was "ludicrous" the tests were still being carried out.Ross Greer of the Greens said it was "ludicrous" the tests were still being carried out.

“Parents and carers do have a right to ask that their child not take part in SNSAs. That depends on councils informing them that such tests are taking place though, and in that respect there’s clearly a postcode lottery going on. The whole SNSA system for P1-S3 needs to go.”

A Government spokesman said earlier this year: “Closing the poverty-related attainment gap has been made harder by the impact of Covid-19... While our focus has been on the health, wellbeing and welfare of all pupils, we do not want inequality to widen.

“Accurate and up to date information about children’s progress helps teachers support all learners. National standardised assessments remain available for teachers to deliver as part of daily learning at the point in the year they judge to be in the best interests of learners.

“We do not expect schools to focus disproportionately on standardised assessments, or to divert children from learning to complete them.”