A BBC Scotland complaint – MSPs didn’t vote to ‘scrap’ P1 assessments

The following complaint was submitted to the BBC following several broadcasts which falsely claimed MSPs had voted to “scrap” standardised P1 assessments.

 

Complaint submitted Sept 20th

On Wednesday, Sept 19th a vote took place in the Scottish parliament.  MSPs voted on a motion to halt standardised P1 assessments and called on the Scottish Govt to review the evidence and its approach.

Following the vote, BBC Scotland broadcast several news bulletins claiming MSPs had voted to “scrap” the assessments.

Here is a radio bulletin broadcast shortly after the vote that claims MSPs voted to scrap or abandon the assessments.

 

Here is the introduction to that evening’s Reporting Scotland where the newsreader tells viewers: “MSPs have voted in favour of scrapping standard assessments for primary one children in Scotland.”

The newsreader later in the programme reports accurately that the vote was to “halt” the tests.  However accuracy is required for the entirety of the flagship national news programme and not just parts of it.

In summary, both broadcasts are misleading.  MSPs did not vote to scrap P1 assessments.  A motion specifically calling for them to be scrapped was indeed lodged on the 10th Sept, but never voted on.

BBC Scotland needs to acknowledge it inadvertently misled viewers on not one, but two occasions, and issue a correction on the programmes on which the errors were made.

 

Response from BBC Scotland’s Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs received Oct 1st

Thank you for being in touch about our output on 19th September.

The word “halted” was indeed used in the parliamentary motion; but all four opposition parties made clear that, in voting for the Conservative motion, they wanted the standardised assessments in primary 1 to end completely.

For example, Labour’s Iain Gray said “ … surely [the Government] must listen to the teachers and scrap the tests in primary 1”.

For the Greens, Ross Grier said “Teachers, parents and education charities have all raised concerns and called for the P1 tests to be scrapped.

After today’s debate, a majority of members of this Parliament could be added to the ever-growing list of those calling for a rethink”. He added “I urge the Deputy First Minister to walk back his previously stated intentions to ignore the will of this Parliament”.

Liberal Democrat Tavish Scott said that there were “sensible educational arguments why the P1 testing regime is not appropriate and should be stopped”, adding in his final remarks “Tests are not appropriate for primary 1 girls and boys. The Government should accept that and it should accept the will of the Parliament”.

Conservative Murdo Fraser said “The vote must be not to have standardised tests in primary 1, because the evidence tells us that they are not in the best interests of our children. For that reason, I support the motion in the name of Liz Smith”. (Ms Smith is the Conservatives’ education spokesman in the Scottish Parliament.)

Fellow Conservative MSP Alison Harris said “we must support the motion that calls for a halt to P1 testing”; and a little later, quoting the executive director of Connect (formerly the Scottish Parent Teacher Council) “it’s time to scrap (the tests) for Primary 1 children”.

And a final example – Labour’s Daniel Johnson said “If we are serious about the education of our five-year-olds, testing them should play no part in their school experience”.

Our reporting teams recognised that, while the word in the motion was “halted” – which could mean stopped permanently or temporarily – the intention of the opposition parties was clearly, from their own words, to bring the whole exercise in Primary 1 to a permanent halt or, in other words, to scrap them. Their use of both words was not, as you suggest, a question of correctness or incorrectness; but rather a nuanced reflection of the mood of the Chamber during the debate which they were reporting.

 

Follow on complaint submitted Oct. 18th

Your response cites comments made by some MSPs in the chamber on the day of the vote.  Some MSPs do indeed want P1 assessments scrapped.  However the views of these MSPs are not what was voted on.  They voted on a motion lodged by Tory MSP Liz Smith.

Speaking on the eve of the vote, Liz Smith stated: “On primary one I’m now very sceptical about whether we need the tests in the way that we supported in 2016.”

The motion reflects Liz Smith’s scepticism. Her motion asked for the tests to be halted and for the Scottish government to reconsider the evidence.  There is no point in reconsidering the evidence if the policy is already scrapped.

The BBC Scotland broadcasts weren’t reflecting “a nuanced reflection of the mood of the Chamber during the debate” they were very clearly reporting on the outcome of the vote.  Here again is the introduction to that evening’s Reporting Scotland: “MSPs have voted in favour of scrapping standard assessments for primary one children in Scotland.”

BBC Scotland needs to acknowledge it inadvertently misled viewers on not one, but two occasions, and issue a correction on the programmes on which the errors were made.

 

Response from BBC Scotland’s Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs received Oct 25th

I have little to add to what I have already said.

You place emphasis on remarks the Scottish Conservatives’ education spokesman Liz Smith made on the eve of the debate. We also look at what is said in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament.

Ms Smith said at the outset of the debate: “Let me (…) restate our commitment to rigorous standardised tests in P4, P7 and secondary 3, as a crucial part of improving educational attainment and measuring progress for our schools.” She added: “We have misgivings about primary 1 tests in a way that we do not have about P4, P7 and S3 tests.”

In saying what her motion asked, you omitted the words after her call on the Scottish Government to halt the tests and reconsider the evidence, which were “and the whole approach to evaluating the progress of P1 pupils”. If you take those omitted words with what Ms Smith said a short time after moving her motion – “With regard to international measurements, many of the countries that are doing exceptionally well on educational standards do not start measuring until children are seven. Does that fact that they are doing better than Scotland not prove a point?” – I think you will find a rather different picture from the one you are trying to paint.

I therefore regard our reporting as fair and as a reasonable portrayal of what was said and done in the chamber that day.

 

Complaint passed to the ECU on Oct 26th

I wish to move the following complaint onto the next stage.  This complaint relates to accuracy, or rather inaccuracy, around BBC Scotland’s reporting of a vote in the Scottish parliament.  The vote followed a motion lodged by Conservative MSP Liz Smith [shown below].

The key segment of the motion is this:

“… calls on the Scottish government to halt the tests in P1 and to reconsider the evidence and the whole approach to evaluating the progress of P1 pupils”.

BBC Scotland claimed this motion was asking for P1 tests to be scrapped with immediate effect.

It is patently obvious from the wording that the motion isn’t calling for an immediate abandonment of the P1 assessments, else why reconsider the evidence and approach?  If you’ve scrapped them then there’s no point in reconsidering evidence.

In defending its reporting, BBC Scotland has admitted it took both the wording of the motion and comments in the chamber by Liz Smith on the day of the vote when deciding what had in fact been voted on.  This is quite remarkable.  It is in fact an admission that BBC Scotland has added to the official wording of the motion, which of course corrupts the motion and what was actually voted on.

I wonder how many MSPs who voted to halt the assessments pending a review of the evidence, are surprised to find out they in fact voted to scrap the assessments, presumably with no requirement to reconsider any evidence.

When considering this complaint it might be worth asking why BBC Scotland didn’t just report that the vote was to halt P1 assessments and for evidence and the approach to be reconsidered?  It would have had the benefit of being absolutely accurate.

Did MSPs vote to halt the assessments and reconsider evidence and approach or did they vote to scrap the assessments?  It can’t be both.

 

Response from ECU received Nov 13th

Your principal complaint is that both programmes misrepresented the vote by referring to it as a vote to scrap the test. You referred to a headline on Reporting Scotland which stated, “MSPs vote to scrap Primary One assessments” and another on Newsdrive, “MSPs have voted in favour of scrapping standard assessments for primary one children in Scotland.” You say that BBC Scotland “claimed that the motion on which MSPs voted was for P1 tests to be scrapped with immediate effect”, whereas you consider that the motion didn’t call for an immediate abandonment of the P1 assessments.

I am considering your complaints against the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on Accuracy and Impartiality. These refer to “due” accuracy and impartiality – that which is “adequate and appropriate” in the context of the output.

I have reviewed all of the broadcasts you have mentioned. I should state at the outset that I am considering the news headlines in the context of the broadcast programmes as a whole, taking in the reports which followed, to allow me to judge whether a viewer or listener might have been materially misled by what was said.

The wording of the motion on which MSPs voted was to call on the Scottish Government to: “halt the tests in P1and to reconsider the evidence and the whole approach to evaluating the progress of P1 pupils”. I note that the use of the word halt featured in both the radio and television news reports.

In the reply you received from the from the Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs for BBC Scotland it was pointed out that “all four opposition parties made clear that, in voting for the Conservative motion, they wanted the standardised assessments in primary 1 to end completely”. It is clear from the speakers involved that this was their interpretation of the significance of the vote.

I accept that the meaning of the word halt is not the same as scrap. But taking into consideration the full wording of the motion I note that the Government was enjoined not only to halt the tests but also to reconsider “the whole approach to evaluating the progress of P1 pupils”.

I think if the motion had only required a halting of the tests and a reconsideration of evidence it could be argued that it stopped short of recommending scrapping the test, but in fact it went further, requiring the government to reconsider its whole approach.

To summarise the effect of these separate requirements, taken together, as a vote to scrap the testing seems to me to be an accurate reflection of the will of those putting the motion before the house and those who voted in its favour, without altering the meaning of the motion as a whole. Accordingly I am not upholding your complaint on this point.

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5 thoughts on “A BBC Scotland complaint – MSPs didn’t vote to ‘scrap’ P1 assessments

  1. Robert Graham

    Long gone is any pretence at any kind of accuracy they just put out what they want , no one in the Scottish media are going to question them , they are busy cheering them on

  2. Jockanese Wind Talker

    They are still pushing the “voted to scrap” line this morning.

    An additional SNP now “ignoring the will of the Scottish Parliament by refusing to scrap thes ‘tests” line of attack being propagated.

    Aberdeen City’s British Nationalist Coalition Council now seeking legal advice on refusing to deliver these (despite assessing P1s for years just not to a National standard).

    Heard Tory Deputy Leader of ACC on Radio Shortbreid this morning saying “what is the point of the Scottish Parliament if the SNP Government don’t respect the results of votes that go against them”.

    Coordinated BritNat campaign to abolish Holyrood post Brexit and a return to Direct Rule from Westminster’s Neo Facist Right Wing Government now underway as a few of us predicted.

    UK Government in Scotland will be our version of Vichy with Mundell or more likely Colonel Yadaftie installed as Governor General.

  3. Robin McHugh

    A small victory.
    On the Johnnie Beattie show bulletin at noon today, the newsreader said “tests” and “testing” when referring to P1 assessments.
    I texted them at 12.06 pm asking that this be corrected in the next bulletin and that they might, perhaps, apologise for their error.
    The bulletin at 1pm mentioned “assessments”.
    But no apology, unsurprisingly.

  4. Kenny Higgins

    BBC is well versed in manipulation of facts into faction or fiction to suit the needs of Unionism. The very “BRITISH” Broadcasting Corporation is exactly that – the promotions and marketing department of the British Conservative Party.

    Fabrication, Invention, scandal creation, manipulation and all other forms of distorted facts appear almost daily for those Scots watching and listening in smaller numbers. BBC Scotland is the North Britain branch and some of its well known Marketeers are excessively viscious in their reporting. A cruel version of Fake News.

    It’s very evident from the high growing number of apologies being put out over mis-reporting or getting facts quite wrong, that they have been rumbled after the damage is done and can no longer get away with their deliberate disgusting tactics. But, still it continues. Sadly, those generating and those announcing the deliberate lies and fabrication appear to be a protected species and survive another day to do it all over again.

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