Scotland politics

Minister announces changes to National 5 qualification

School pupil in exam Image copyright Getty Images

Changes to the National 5 qualification "to help reduce teacher workload and over-assessment" of pupils have been confirmed.

Education Secretary John Swinney said mandatory unit assessments will be removed in 2017/18.

He added course assessments - exams and coursework - "have been strengthened to maintain their integrity, breadth and standards".

National 4 and 5 replaced standard grades in the new curriculum.

Teaching unions have raised concerns over the use of unit assessments in the qualifications, which they said significantly increased the workload of teachers.

The reforms also include extending the Grade D band from 45%-49% to include candidates who achieve between 40% and 49%.

'Exceptional circumstances'

Schools will be able to continue presenting candidates for both National 5 units and the course assessments.

This means candidates achieving less than 40% in the course assessment, and who have completed the relevant units, would be awarded a National 4 qualification.

This option is available in exceptional circumstances and for an interim period only.

Mr Swinney said: "Removing mandatory unit assessments will significantly reduce teacher workload and the over-assessment experienced by some young people.

"The changes to National 5 agreed by the Assessment and Qualifications Group will begin to be implemented later this year.

"Ahead of that, I have been listening closely to feedback about the need to ensure the achievements of young people continue to be recognised.

"Teachers and learners are currently making decisions about courses for the next academic year and it is incumbent upon schools and colleges to ensure learners are presented at the appropriate qualification level.

"The new guidance confirms that a fallback option will be available for National 5 on an interim basis only until such time as the National 4 qualification has been revised.

"The guidance also makes clear that this should only be used in exceptional circumstances."

'Muddled thinking'

The Scottish Conservatives' education spokeswoman, Liz Smith, gave the move a cautious welcome.

She said: "It has been obvious for some time that there are major issues with National 4 and National 5 exams, the most important of which is the failure of the system to cater for the best interests of least-academic pupils.

"The current system is proving less effective in this respect than both standard grade and O grade before that.

"That is thanks to the very muddled thinking that has characterised discussions within Education Scotland and the SQA about Scotland's national qualifications.

"It appears that the Scottish government has only woken up now to the fact that a sizeable number of pupils could leave school with no creditable qualification and that is clearly unacceptable."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said: "It is a matter of regret that this Scottish government advice has been a long time in coming, as this has led to significant uncertainty for schools over a prolonged period.

"The EIS does, however, welcome this strong message around the alleviation of the excessive workload burden that has been placed on teachers and pupils.".

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