Swinney must apologise to Parliament for manufacturing “fictional” academic support for P1 testing

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Tavish Scott MSP today demanded the Education Secretary apologise to Parliament after it was asserted that an education expert “emphatically” supported national testing of P1s, only for the academic to obliterate the claim and argue the tests are in fact “incapable” of helping teachers and “almost completely useless as guides to the achievement and needs of five year olds”.

On 16 August the Education Secretary claimed on BBC Radio Scotland there were “people who emphatically argue for P1 assessments”. After a Scottish Liberal Democrat freedom of information request asked who these people were, the Scottish Government identified Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at University College London.

Professor Dylan Wiliam, who features heavily in resources on Education Scotland’s website and provides guidance on assessment, today obliterated the claim he supports P1 national testing, saying:

“This is a substantial, and I would say perverse, misrepresentation of my work. The kind of standardised assessments used in the Scottish national assessments of Primary 1 children are simply incapable of providing the kind of information that I think teachers would need in order to teach better. While some might argue that these assessments may, under certain conditions be regarded as “formative”, the unreliability of the assessments, combined with the unreliability of five-year-olds (!) means that these assessments are almost completely useless as guides to the achievement and needs of five year olds.

“The interesting question, of course, is whether the author of this document really believes what is written here, in which, to paraphrase Aneurin Bevan, he or she is too stupid to be doing that job, or whether they know they are being deliberately misleading. Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt, in his classic book “On bullshit” argues that bullshitters are more dangerous than liars. Liars have a regard for the truth, and try to work around it. Bullshitters have absolutely no concern for whether what they are saying is true or not.”

Tavish Scott commented:

“This is nothing short of unbelievable. The Scottish Government has brazenly twisted the work of an esteemed academic who adamantly opposes their national testing policy.

“Dylan Wiliam has every right to be outraged, as do the parents and teachers who are having to put up with continued national testing on the basis of this sham evidence.

“This expert’s reasons for condemning national testing of P1s mirror those of teachers throughout the country, parents and MSPs who conclusively voted months ago to halt P1 testing.

“John Swinney is already acting in contempt of Parliament. Fabricating fictional “emphatic” support to keep a dead policy afloat is a new low.

“He must immediately come to Parliament and apologise for this falsehood, as well as announce that he will finally halt the testing of five year old boys and girls as instructed.”

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