Scottish school pupils 'facing too much assessment'

Exam hall Image copyright PA
Image caption Pupils were said to have faced too much assessment under the new system

Students studying for the qualifications that replaced Standard Grades faced too much assessment, according to an official report published today,

The report said the introduction of the National 4 and 5s went well.

But it said more work needs to be done to help them bed in.

Education secretary Mike Russell said much had been achieved over the past year and it was important to continue to learn.

The largest teachers' union the EIS said there was much to welcome in the report but expressed some reservations.

The report on the first year of the new qualifications was produced by a working group under the Curriculum for Excellence Management Board.

The group was set up in February at the request of Education Secretary Mike Russell and chaired by the chief executive of the General Teaching Council for Scotland Kenneth Muir.

The report stresses that the new qualifications were introduced successfully but makes several recommendations to help them bed in and address concerns about issues including bureaucracy and the amount of assessment.

'Hard to access'

It said: "It is clear that in the past year there has been a significant and unsustainable level of over-assessment in many parts of the system. This increase in assessment was not intended, and requires to be addressed at both national and local level."

Several factors led to the amount of over-assessment including.

  • The level and operation of the verification process which proved challenging for many.
  • Some teachers found materials hard to access or less useful than they had expected.
  • A commitment to ensure no learner was disadvantaged.

BBC Scotland had previously reported on concern over the way a special unit for National 5 students was being used in different ways across the country.

The so-called National 4 Added Value Unit was designed to ensure a student who failed a National 5 exam still got a National 4 qualification.

In some places National 5 students were routinely completing these units, using up valuable teaching time, even when they had little chance of failing the exam.

Michael Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education, said: "Curriculum for Excellence is improving Scottish education and has received wide-ranging support since its inception over the last 10 years.

"The last year has marked an important chapter in the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, with National qualifications now established in classrooms across Scotland.

He added: "While much has been achieved over the past year, it is important we continue to learn. That's why I invited the Curriculum for Excellence Management Board to reflect on the implementation of the new qualifications and I welcome the publication of their report today.

The report also sets out what action councils, education agencies and the Scottish government should take.

It calls for the use of all possible means to improve how well people understand the new qualifications.

It also says that over time more youngsters should bypass National 4 and 5s where it would be of benefit to them.

One aim of the changes is that more students could spend S4 studying for their Highers in the hope of securing a better mark when they sit them in S5.


The EIS union said it welcomed most the report's recommendations but had some reservations.

General Secretary Larry Flanagan said: "The glaring weakness in the report is the shallow analysis of the experience of the past session and the failure to ascribe the problems which schools encountered to anything other than an observed 'over-presentation', with its subsequent consequences. The absence of any significant analysis is the result of there being no consensus within the group around the causes of the huge workload burden."

He added: "There may some people in senior management and policy positions within Scottish Education, who think that schools, and teachers, brought the additional workload upon themselves and that all's well that ends well as the National 5 results were sound.

"They should disabuse themselves of such false thinking. Effective leadership involves acknowledging shortcomings."

Iain Ellis, Chair of the National Parent Forum for Scotland said: "We welcome the actions in the report. If our children are to benefit fully from Curriculum for Excellence, they need all of us to remain committed and focused on getting this right. We need to learn from the experience of last year and make changes where necessary. The NPFS will continue to take a close interest in the experience of children and their parents."

The Association of Directors of Education of Scotland said: "As we move forward to the introduction of the new Higher exams, the report raises some interesting questions about over-assessment and about the curricular models and presentation policies of some schools."

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