Scotland politics

Teaching union concern over 'second-class' National 4

School pupil in exam Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The number of National 4 entrants fell from 130,000 in 2015 to 116,000 last year

A teachers' union is calling for a rethink over the new National 4 exam amid claims it is a "second-class" qualification.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) said fewer people were placing value in the National 4, introduced in 2013-14.

It comes after a drop in the number of pupils completing courses, falling from 130,000 in 2015 to 116,000 this year.

The Scottish government is currently leading a review into the National 4.

Critics have argued that a lack of an examination at the end of the course has discredited the qualification.

The SSTA's general secretary Seamus Searson told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that pupils themselves were placing less credence in the courses.

He said: "That's not good enough. The work that the young people do is as far as they're able to achieve at that particular level and the worry is that less and less people are now taking it as valued.

"And in some cases in schools, the youngsters themselves see that they could be in the same class as National 5 students and they're seen as second-class students in the class and that's not fair on the young people or the teachers that have to teach them."


What is the National 4

Image copyright Getty Images
  • The National 4 is one of the two qualifications that replaced Standard Grades in Scottish schools in 2013-14
  • It is usually be taken by fourth year pupils at secondary school
  • While National 5 exams replaced credit level at standard grade, National 4 replaced general level at standard grade
  • Those sitting National 4 do not sit an exam at the end of their course, but complete modules instead
  • The qualification is not considered an end in itself, but an indication of what could be achieved by entrants in future

Education correspondent Jamie McIvor on the questions being asked about National 4s


However, teaching unions are far from united on the issue. Susan Quinn from the EIS said that scrapping the National 4 would mean some pupils leaving school with nothing to show for their efforts.

She said: "Certainly the reason for bringing the qualifications in in the way that we did when Curriculum for Excellence was developed was that an exam isn't the best way of assessing every young person. And certainly exams are not the be all and end all of our lives so National 4 is intended to be the exit qualification for a group of young people who will then go on to gain other qualifications in other walks of life."

'Bath water'

SNP MSP James Dornan, convenor of Holyrood's education committee, said it was premature to call for the end to National 4s.

He said: "The reason why there's been a drop in people applying for the National 4s seems to be quite clear. A, there's less pupils going in and B, there seems to be a recognition now from schools that they can identify those who can go straight on to National 5s."

He added: "The SQA are reviewing this and I think that this conversation should probably be taking place after the SQA come back with the results of the review and we see how we can move forward from there.

"But there is absolutely no way there should be any talk of National 4s being removed at this time."

Iain Gray, Labour's education spokesman, agreed that to get rid of National 4s would be to "throw the baby out with the bath water".

He said: "This is an important exam for a group of pupils for whom this is what they will take away from school.

"Some of these problems are not new. For two years now, we've been saying that the introduction of the new exams has not been serving that group of pupils well.

"They are sitting fewer exams and coming out with fewer qualifications. The truth is there are a couple of unintended consequences following the National 4 and that's a narrowing of the curriculum."

The Scottish Conservative Party's Liz Smith said the National 4 qualification did not serve the "best interests of far too many pupils".

She added: "The SNP government should now instigate a root and branch review of the National 4 qualification with a view to scrapping it if it is shown to no longer be required."

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