Confident five-year-olds have been “crushed” by new national assessments, first minister Nicola Sturgeon was told in the Scottish Parliament today.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard used his slot in First Minister’s Questions to complain about Primary 1 pupils being “driven to tears” by the tests – echoing concerns raised in a Tes Scotland exclusive in May.
Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSAs) have been introduced in Scottish schools this year at Primary 1, 4, 7 and in the third year of secondary school.
Mr Leonard opened by asking if Ms Sturgeon knew another word for a hummingbird’s beak, with the first minister replying that she did not.
“That is rather unfortunate, because the hummingbird’s beak question is one of the government’s standardised assessment literacy questions for five-year-olds,” said Mr Leonard.
“Little wonder that Scotland’s teachers have told me how young and confident children are crushed by those tests. There have been reports of children being driven to tears.”
He added that educational charity Upstart Scotland had described the assessments – which the government says are to inform teachers' judgement and will not lead to public comparisons of schools' performance – as “pointless” and “highly counterproductive”.
Ms Sturgeon said she had visited two primary schools yesterday and spoke to some five-year-olds, but “did not meet any who were in tears or see any who looked crushed – I saw confident, bright and enthusiastic young people”.
She reiterated the importance of closing the poverty-driven “attainment gap” and said: “Being able to assess in an appropriate and age-appropriate way how our young people are doing in school is an important part of that.”
Mr Leonard insisted that the tests had been “flawed from the very start”, and were over budget and causing “weeks of valuable teaching time to be lost”.
He added that he had spoken to a Primary 1 teacher from Edinburgh this morning who said that administering the tests to 54 primary ones took around 30 hours of teacher time for the numeracy element and 40 hours for literacy.
He quoted the teacher as saying she had “no confidence in the validity of the assessment” and that she “cannot use the data from these tests to support my teaching in any way – it does not provide reliable information on any aspect of my children’s learning or development”.
When Mr Leonard asked the first minister if she would scrap the assessments for five-year-olds, Ms Sturgeon said: “We will continue to listen to teachers and to consider the feedback of teachers.”