Scotland politics

Exams 'disadvantage' for pupils

Teachers' leaders have suggested the Scottish Government could be taking a chance with the grades of a significant minority of pupils if it ploughs ahead with the official time table for introduction of new exams.

The claim came in a hearing set up by Holyrood's education committee concerned about a decision by an education authority to pull out of the official launch.

The EIS union says if 90% of schools comply with launch in 2014 there's a risk this is seen as good progress.

Addressing MSPs holding a hearing into the decision of a flagship education authority to pull out of the official time table, Larry Flanagan the union's education convener said: "If you have 90% compliance with the new qualifications that means you have 10% of your pupil cohort who are going to be disadvantaged.

"And our concern is making sure nobody is disadvantaged."

Pupils currently in second year of secondary (S2) are due to be the first to sit National 4 or 5 exams in their fourth year.

Mr Flanagan said as yet there are no exact figures on how many schools are unready.

But he said he is sufficiently concerned by a flood of reports to him from teachers, to call on the Scottish Government to allow all schools to have the option of delay.

Exam strain

The Scottish Qualifications Authority told MSPS it is impossible to allow a delay by giving a stay of execution to Standard Grades due to run for the last time next year.

Dr Janet Brown SQA chief executive said an extension of a year would put too much strain on an exam body which is already committed to running in 2014 the new exams and to running for the last time one of their current equivalents, Intermediates.

The EIS says schools wanting to delay National 4 and 5 could offer Intermediates in 2014.

But the Association of Directors of Education, which represents senior officials in local authorities, told Holyrood's education committee that this may not work as many teachers have no experience of teaching Intermediates.

It would be too much for teachers to learn how to teach Intermediates - and learn how to teach National 4 and 5 a year later.

Terry Lanagan of ADES said: "You would be imposing Intermediates across the system in a way that could cause significant disruption and would really represent a far greater risk to young people than proceeding with the current time table. "

Education Scotland, an agency of the Scottish Government said allowing some schools to delay, would lead to a loss of momentum for the big changes in Scottish education.

The EIS also challenged the official view that under the new system pupils can - as now - sit eight exams in fourth year.

Mr Flanagan said: "If you are doing it (the exam course) over one year you can't do eight National 5s in one year because there not enough time in the school timetable."

Mr Flanagan added that any school hoping to put children forward for so many exams would have to ignore official guidance to only start pupils on the exam courses when they reached their fourth year of secondary.

East Renfrewshire

The SQA disputed Mr Flanagan's statement. Dr Brown said even though the first three years of secondary are now officially meant to be free of study for specific exams, pupils could still be learning skills which would serve them in exams.

It emerged three weeks ago that East Renfrewshire has pulled out of the official national time table for adopting the new exams.

The council consistently achieves markedly better Higher results than every other education authority in Scotland.

In his first interview since the decision emerged three weeks ago, John Wilson of East Renfrewshire council said he made the decision because teachers and headteachers came to him to say too much uncertainty surrounded the major changes.

He explained: "That's not to say everything wrong but for sure everything is not quite right. And we want to get it right, make it right for our young people - because at the end of the day they only get one chance."

The exams are usually referred to as qualifications by education officials as some or all of the marks can come from work not done in exam halls.

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