THE Deputy First Minister said Fife Council's decision to scrap school tests for five-year-olds "makes little sense".

John Swinney criticised the local authority's move to withdraw from the Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA) for Primary 1 pupils, stating it would make matters worse for children and teachers and cost taxpayers more.

The council is at loggerheads with the Scottish Government after ditching the controversial scheme following a 41-26 vote by councillors last Thursday.

Mr Swinney said: “If Fife Council were to revert to their previous systems, P1 pupils would face two assessments per year, rather than the single assessment they currently undertake.

"It is difficult to see how this would address the concerns raised around workload and pupil experience.

“It is, in fact, the precise opposite of what they claim they are trying to achieve and would cost taxpayers more money to double the tests P1 pupils face.

"That makes little sense."

Councillor Helen Law, who tabled the original motion calling for the council to withdraw, said: "I really don't know what John Swinney is talking about.

"There are countries that don't even start formal education until six or seven and to go down this route of having national tests, where you have league tables pitting school against school and class against class, that's all in the past and should be left there.

"There is so much opposition to these tests, everybody can't be wrong."

She added: "Clearly, there is a body of opinion that is very strongly against the tests, with the EIS teaching union, senior academics, pupils, parents and others.

"The SNP kept trying to argue for it but the argument has been lost across the country and Fife Council have been really firm and brave in saying we won't be using SNSA for P1 pupils in the future."

The Primary 1 tests have been criticised with claims that they have “reportedly left some children in tears” and "could potentially lead to mental health issues”.

In September, MSPs in the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of halting the assessments.

That hasn’t happened but a national review was announced, with Mr Swinney arguing that “P1 assessment should be reformed, not abolished”.

Fife is the first council to scrap the tests for the youngest schoolchildren.

Four committees wrestled with the issue, with a full council meeting in October stating that Fife should, if possible, withdraw from the national scheme of testing for Primary 1 pupils.

A narrow 9-8 vote in favour of keeping them was passed at the education and children's services committee later that month but this decision was called in amid claims of “anti-democratic trickery”.

The scrutiny committee on December 4 then referred the issue back to the full council where, last Thursday, councillors voted to scrap the Primary 1 tests.

From August 2019, they will revert back to the previous method of Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS) for testing five-year-olds.

SNSA will continue for Primary 4, Primary 7 and S3 pupils.

However, that may not be the end of the matter as a report to the committee warned that “the legality of that decision is likely to come under scrutiny”.

Councillor Fay Sinclair, convener of the education and children's services committee, said the council had to provide evidence that 'withdrawal was a reasonable and proportionate step' and members were invited to a demonstration of the tests.

They were then able to quiz the council's head of education, an education manager and a Primary 1 teacher on the use of SNSA.

Cllr Sinclair said: "The responses did not give evidence of pupils being distressed or suffering stress or emotional or mental harm through participating in SNSA; they did not give evidence of parents being opposed and asking to withdraw their children; they did not give evidence of teachers being overwhelmingly against the use of SNSA.

"Changes implemented for this year to address concerns raised, along with the announcement of a national review (which this council called for in that original full council motion) led the committee to the conclusion that withdrawal at this point would NOT meet that legal threshold of being a reasonable or proportionate step."

She also said the alternative was not as effective "because PIPS does not link to the Scottish curriculum and will not allow tracking through later stages where we use SNSA at P4, P7 and S3".

A teaching union welcomed the council's decision but said PIPS was not the answer either.

Publicity officer David Farmer said: "Fife EIS applauds the decision by Fife Council to discontinue SNSA assessment for Primary 1 pupils.

"It was a bold decision by elected members which opens the door for further discussions between Fife EIS and the education service to achieve a situation where children in Primary 1 are assessed within the principles of Curriculum for Excellence.

"Fife EIS acknowledges that there is still work to be done here. A return to the former testing regime is not acceptable."

Dunfermline MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville criticised the decision and said that "political posturing" will cost Fife taxpayers £100,000 with the move from a free scheme provided by the Scottish Government to one which the council pays for itself.