Rennie: Boycott P1 tests and join the rest of the world in starting formal schooling later

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie will tomorrow put education at the heart of his speech to the party's Autumn conference.

In his address to members he will attack the SNP's continuing defence of standardised testing of P1 pupils and say that the party will stand with parents and teachers if they choose to boycott these tests. He will also call for the age at which formal schooling begins in Scotland to rise in line with the majority of countries around the world.

Mr Rennie is expected to say:

"The United Kingdom is on the wrong track. Scotland is on the wrong track.

People who play their part should have the opportunity to get a decent job, afford their own home and rely on good public services. 

That is not the reality for millions of people in our country.

Take public services.

You know that Liberal Democrats regard education as the route out of poverty, as the means to grow our economy, a way of making a life for yourself.

It is a great liberal cause – to allow every individual to achieve their potential.

That’s why we promoted the roll out of nursery education, the pupil premium in schools and support for colleges and universities.

We will always be the party of education. It’s why we will always work to get the best for education in Scotland.

International evidence shows that the under-sevens need a play-based approach to learning with plenty of opportunities for active, outdoor, social, self-directed play.

National Testing especially for 5-year-old primary ones pulls Scottish education in exactly the opposite direction.

Parent groups.

The teachers’ union the EIS.

And the educational expert charity Upstart.

All of them oppose the tests.

And there is a tidal wave of concern from teachers. 

We revealed that over the summer.

Two hundred pages of searing criticism.

Disrupting learning.

Taking staff away from teaching.

One teacher in Aberdeen said she had never seen such “cruel nonsense” in all of her life, branding the tests “a shambles”.

Another said “This is a massive use of staff resources that could be put into supporting children instead.”

And to cap it all an East Ayrshire teacher said the information gathered was “completely useless.”

The Scottish Government said: “We will continue to listen to the views of teachers and take action necessary to improve standards.”

They waited a month but carried on regardless.

Parliament will vote against the tests. The SNP will probably ignore that too.

At that point if the pupils, parents and teachers boycott these tests we will stand with them.

These tests are damaging and they’ve got to go.


In 1870, the House of Commons chose an early school starting age so that children’s mothers could provide cheap labour in factories.

It wasn’t for the benefit of the children but for the profits of unscrupulous bosses.

Almost 9 out of 10 countries in the world start formal education at the age of six or seven.

Only a tiny fraction join Britain at such an early age.

That’s why I want Scotland to join the majority of countries around the world. 

I want schools be able to change the way we teach children aged four and five. 

We should start formal schooling at six or even seven. 

I want children in Scotland to get the long-term educational benefits.

Because education is on the wrong track.

So today I am committing to work with the education charity Upstart to develop a full programme for change.

Liberal Democrats demand better for our children."

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