Nicola Sturgeon vows new tests for primary schools

Nicola Sturgeon lays out her plans. Picture: Getty

Nicola Sturgeon lays out her plans. Picture: Getty

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A SYSTEM of national testing is to be introduced in primary schools as part of a drive for greater educational equality in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The new assessments, focused on literacy and numeracy, will be introduced for pupils in primaries one, four and seven, as well as youngsters in third year at secondary school, across Scotland in 2017.

The move, revealed yesterday by the First Minister as she unveiled the SNP’s programme for government for the year ahead, opens the door to the return of school league tables.

But Ms Sturgeon insisted that national testing is necessary to close the gap between “children in our most and least deprived areas”.

Last night council leaders warned that it could be a “retrograde” step if it leads to “inaccurate and unfair” comparisons between schools through league tables.

Ms Sturgeon, who was unveiling her first legislative programme since replacing Alex Salmond as First Minister, took the opportunity to set out how the SNP intends to use the new powers coming to Holyrood under the Smith Commission.

A new “Scottish social security system” will be established when the country gets the new powers, Ms Sturgeon said.

But education was at the heart of her plans, with the SNP leader telling MSPs that improving youngsters’ classroom performance was “arguably the single most important objective” in her legislative programme for the coming year. New national, standardised assessments would be brought in for pupils in primaries one, four and seven, as well as for youngsters in the third year of secondary school.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I have no desire to see crude league tables that distort rather than enhance our understanding of children’s attainment and school performance.

“However, I am determined that we make available much more information about performance in primary and lower secondary school.”

Councillor Stephanie Primrose, education spokeswoman with local government body Cosla, said the move could be “positive” for schools.

But she warned: “If we are not careful, and despite assurances, [we] could turn the clock back to national testing and, whether intended or not, league tables.

“We share the concerns of parents and unions that, if not handled correctly, this risks being a retrograde step for Scottish education that heaps more pressure on pupils and teachers and leads to inaccurate and unfair comparisons between schools.”

The SNP has come under pressure from Labour leader Kezia Dugdale over the “attainment gap” between rich and poor areas of Scotland. Students in more affluent areas are twice as likely as those in poorer areas to get at least one Higher.

“Almost half of the poorest kids leaving primary school are unable to write properly or to count properly – that should shame us as a nation,” Ms Dugdale told MSPs yesterday.