Scrap 'cruel' testing of five-year-olds, say Scottish campaigners

Campaign launches dossier stating that formal testing in P1 has ‘little or no statistical value’, and calls for school starting age to be raised to 7

Call to scrap 'cruel' testing of P1s and to embrace play

An influential group made up of hundreds of education and early years experts, teachers and headteachers – and backed by Scotland’s largest teaching union – is calling for the Scottish government to scrap the testing of five-year-olds in literacy and numeracy.

As part of its “Play not tests” campaign – due to launch on Monday – charity Upstart Scotland will publish a dossier calling for the Scottish government to withdraw “national assessments and academic benchmarks for P1”, and to endorse instead “the play-based pedagogy outlined in Curriculum for Excellence”. The group would also like the school starting age raised to 7 – and argues that this would be “a far more significant political move than data collection about small children’s literacy and numeracy skills”.

The organisation is the latest to add to a growing chorus of concern about the literacy and numeracy tests, which are also taking place this year in P4, P7 and S3 – and are now being openly questioned by headteachers, including an Edinburgh head who told Tes Scotland they were too difficult and “cruel”.

Upstart Scotland claims the government’s current approach, which embraces both play and testing, is contradictory.

'Stressful for children and teachers'

Sue Palmer, a literacy specialist, former teacher and author of Toxic Childhood and Detoxing Childhood, is the chair of Upstart Scotland. She said it was increasingly clear that the data provided by standardised testing of young children has “little or no statistical value”.

The EIS teaching union has thrown its weight behind the campaign. General secretary Larry Flanagan said the union was opposed to the P1 tests and believed baseline testing hampered “a child’s educational growth”.

Mr Flanagan added: “The EIS is sceptical about the worth of standardised assessments generally, but we’re particularly opposed to their introduction for P1 pupils.”

The union is far from the only organisation to support the new campaign. Jackie Brock, chief executive of children’s services organisation Children in Scotland, is also backing it. She said the tests in P1 were at best “a distraction” and at worst “stressful and a waste of time for children and teachers”.

And Marguerite Hunter Blair, chief executive of charity Play Scotland, supports the campaign on the basis that playful experiences – not academic tests – improved children’s learning. The tests that mattered were “the tests of opportunities, exploration and everyday adventures”, she said.

Whether teachers, heads and children’s campaigners will succeed in persuading the Scottish government to scrap the tests remains to be seen. The government argued that baseline testing was nothing new, and that local authorities had been making use of standardised assessments for years in P1. It also insisted that the feedback it was receiving from teachers and heads was positive.

Children had found the tests to be “interesting and easy to do”, a spokesperson said, adding that the additional information they provided was “extremely valuable for teachers to plan next steps for learning”.

This is an edited version of an article in the 20 April edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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