A CONSERVATIVE councillor is demanding an apology from East Lothian’s head of education after she named her in an email to headteachers expressing “disappointment” over comments made during a council debate over P1s’ testing.

Councillor Katie Mackie accused Fiona Robertson of “overstepping the mark” after the education chief sent a message to headteachers following a meeting of the council last Tuesday where Ms Mackie disclosed she had been told by a teacher that P1 pupil testing was causing stress and anxiety among children.

Within hours of the comment being made, Mrs Robertson, the Courier learnt, had emailed schools to “express my disappointment about statements made in the chamber regarding P1 teachers contacting elected members regarding these assessments and their concerns about the level of stress and anxiety caused to P1 children”.

The email to schools was described by Conservative Party sources as “control freakery”.

But the council has stressed Mrs Robertson’s concern was not about teachers speaking to elected councillors but about the fact her department was not aware of these concerns.

Ms Mackie has now demanded an apology from Mrs Robertson, accusing her of pushing her “personal point of view” on her staff.

She said: “It is entirely unacceptable for the head of education to criticise our teachers for speaking about their concerns or observations, and to push her personal views upon them.

“Mrs Robertson needs to apologise for this email and ensure that all staff know that if they have worries regarding the education system in East Lothian then they are allowed to speak out about it.”

The message sent out on behalf of Mrs Robertson followed a council meeting where the Labour administration joined forces with Conservative opposition councillors to approve a motion opposing the controversial tests.

Ms Mackie’s motion was backed by fellow Conservative councillor Sue Kempson, who dismissed the assessments as “rubbish” and “seriously flawed”.

Dr Kempson said: “It is a way to promote the Scottish Government agenda. Young children should not be used for political ends.”

Her comments were dismissed by Councillor Stuart Currie, SNP Group leader, whose group opposed the motion, which he branded ridiculous.

He said: “There is not some Machiavellian strategy by the Scottish Government.

“It is ridiculous to suggest any Government would want to use children for political purposes.”

Ms Mackie told the meeting she had brought the motion because she had been told of the “upset and stress” the tests were causing children and their parents. She said: “A teacher I spoke to from a school in Musselburgh was quite clear on the upset and stress the test was having on her Primary 1 pupils.”

Council leader Willie Innes, Labour, backed Ms Mackie’s motion, saying: “If you have teachers saying children are being upset that has to be taken seriously.”

The council voted by 14 votes to six to pass the motion.

Mrs Robertson’s message to headteachers said: “Katie Mackay (sic) mentioned that staff in the Musselburgh area had spoken with her about the assessments. This is particularly disappointing given the general feedback was for the need to improve functionality more than the issue of assessing P1 children which occurs on a daily basis as well as planned opportunities.”

The education chief then went on to warn that, as a result of the outcome of the debate, “it is highly likely, particularly for schools in the Musselburgh area, that you may be contacted directly by national and local media to seek your views”.

The message advised staff with concerns to contact their school’s quality improvement officer.

Teaching union the EIS said the concerns raised by the teacher should not have come as a surprise. A spokesperson said: “The references within the debate to the stress and anxiety experienced by some children while sitting the assessments are echoed many times over in the feedback gathered nationally from EIS members.

“This was a much-reported observation of teachers across Scotland.”

Conservative Party sources said Ms Mackie was left dumbfounded when she was told about the message.

One said: “It smacks of control freakery. Katie was at a parent council where she asked a teacher questions about the issue.

“Suggesting they should not have been open and honest makes you wonder what else teachers are not allowed to be open and honest about.”

Ms Mackie said: “By sending out this message, Fiona Robertson has clearly overstepped the mark.

“The role of councillors is to listen to those living and working in East Lothian and represent their views.”

A spokesperson for East Lothian Council said the assessments had been introduced in partnership with teaching staff, unions and headteachers, and Mrs Robertson’s comments expressed disappointment that the feedback education officials had received had not reflected what was stated at the meeting.

The only feedback they had received was about the “functionality” of the assessments.

Mrs Robertson said: “After recent discussion and debate at a council meeting, I contacted headteachers to follow up on the comments made.

“Teaching staff have been encouraged to provide the education service with any further concerns about implementation of the assessments.

“I welcome opportunities to engage with teachers on this, enabling our education service to provide further advice and information to elected members in East Lothian and Scottish Government officials.”