The SNP’s “Thatcherite” approach to testing P1 children should be scrapped as part of a return to using international assessments of maths, science and reading skills, according to the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

The party said it wanted to develop arrangements that would “drive forward changes in education” to “keep pace with the best in the world”.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, its leader, also claimed that results from the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) - which revealed declining scores for Scottish 15-year-olds in maths and science - had been “spun out of recognition”.

Processes for monitoring progress in key areas of learning have long been a source of controversy.

Currently, Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) are taken online in P1, P4, P7 and S3. There is no pass or fail and pupils do not have to prepare or revise.

READ MORE: Glasgow’s new education boss wants return to school surveys

The census-based tests are designed to support individual teacher judgement of progress against key literacy and numeracy milestones. Figures for the proportion of learners reaching the expected level relevant to their age and stage are then reported through the Scottish Government’s Achievement of Curriculum for Excellence Level (ACEL) data.

Ministers insist the assessments provide “nationally consistent, objective and comparable” information. However, critics say they take valuable time away from teaching.

It has also been suggested that SNSAs, while helpful as a “diagnostic” tool within the classroom setting, are of limited usefulness to efforts aimed at measuring how the wider education system is performing over time.

The Lib Dems said another source of concern was the withdrawal of Scottish schools from the Trends In International Mathematics And Science and Progress In International Reading Literacy studies (TIMSS and PIRLS).

Former education secretary Mike Russell said the move would save money and reduce the burden on schools. However, research from Edinburgh University warned it could be a serious error that would allow ineffectual teaching to become commonplace.

HeraldScotland: Alex Cole-Hamilton (front) with Scottish Lib Dem activists in Edinburgh.Alex Cole-Hamilton (front) with Scottish Lib Dem activists in Edinburgh.

Speaking ahead of next month’s council election, Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “The SNP withdrew Scotland from two international surveys – TIMSS and PIRLS - and abolished the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy (SSLN) too in a bid to hide bad news.

“It’s spun the results of the last remaining international assessment, PISA, beyond recognition.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see Scotland rejoin international assessments to understand progress and drive forward changes in education to keep pace with the best in the world.”

On the issue of SNSAs, he added: "Scottish Liberal Democrats led the opposition to the SNP’s Thatcherite national testing regime.

“It has brought back crude league tables. After criticism [from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] it is time they stopped clinging onto this. The SNP/Green Government could start by scrapping the tests for 4- and 5-year-olds today.”

READ MORE: Nearly 1,000 schools in Scotland not inspected in last decade

Earlier this year, Douglas Hutchison, Glasgow’s new executive director of education, told The Herald that Scotland lacked vital information about how its education system was progressing. He also said he would “personally” go back to using the SSLN - an annual sample of P4, P7 and S2 learners that was discontinued in 2017 as part of the shift to SNSAs.

He added: “At the moment, [with] SNSA, there’s nothing published nationally.

“The deal is that this is for schools to use as a diagnostic tool. For me it should be called the Scottish National Diagnostic Assessment. But it’s for individual classes and individual teachers as a diagnostic tool, and I don’t know what it gives us at system level.

“We need some measure of how well the system is progressing. So, I would like some kind of survey. We’re doing PISA this year. We take part in an international survey – why would we not have a national [survey] on an annual basis?”

HeraldScotland: Douglas Hutchison, executive director of education at Glasgow City Council, said he would "personally" return to using the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy.Douglas Hutchison, executive director of education at Glasgow City Council, said he would "personally" return to using the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The assessment approach in Scotland places teacher professional judgement at the heart of the process. Teachers work most closely with children and are best placed to judge how well they are progressing.

“Scottish National Standardised Assessments provide an additional source of information for teachers when considering children’s progress and planning next steps in learning.

“We do not produce school league tables to measure performance and never will. Scotland continues to participate in the largest international survey, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is an effective indicator of how the whole Scottish education system is performing, relative to other countries."