Delays to new Scottish exams 'an option'
- 21 March 2012
- From the section Scotland
Individual schools are to be allowed the "option" of delaying the National 4 and 5 exams for a year.
Teachers' leaders have secured the breakthrough in the dispute with the Scottish government over the new curriculum for excellence and exams.
Ministers have also agreed to a £3.5m package aimed at ensuring that schools are better prepared.
The exams will replace Standard Grade and Intermediate qualifications from 2013-14.
In addition to the funding, secondary school teachers will also get two more in-service days to help them prepare.
Course materials for the National 4 and 5 qualifications will also be developed nationally and distributed to schools, while the national body Education Scotland will carry out an audit to determine how ready schools are.
Teachers were concerned about the impact the new qualifications would have on their workload.
The exams are being brought in as part of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) reforms.
However, in a leaked letter the Scottish government said schools would have the "option" to delay the introduction.
They will be able to switch to the existing Intermediate qualification for pupils who are currently in second year if they are "not sufficiently on track" for the new exams.
A few weeks ago it emerged that one of Scotland's most successful education authorities, East Renfrewshire Council, and a clutch of private schools had decided to delay the new exams for a year.
However, Education Secretary Michael Russell told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme he did not think there was a need for any school to delay implementing the exams.
He said: "Every single director of education has made it clear there will be no such delays.
"The question has always been, 'are there one or two schools which have actually just failed to do what they are meant to do?'
"I want to help them, I don't want to blame them. So I am adding additional support so that they can catch up with the rest."
Mr Russell added: "If there are one or two schools who are still uncertain, they are going to get as much help as they could possibly need and more.
"At the very end of the day I am not going to force any school to do something against the interests of its pupils."
In a letter to Holyrood's education committee, Mr Russell said he had had discussions with the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS) teaching union over "how we can ensure that all secondary schools move confidently to the next stage of implementation" of the new curriculum.
EIS general secretary designate Larry Flanagan said the package of measures was "a major step forward" and a "significant and measurable investment in the senior phase of CfE, which should allow schools to move ahead with greater confidence".
He added: "The framework agreed allows for schools to make clear and informed decisions which will help reassure parents and pupils that their best interests are being served."
Iain Ellis, chairman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS), said: "The National Parent Forum of Scotland is pleased that additional resources have been made available to support Curriculum for Excellence, particularly in this challenging economic climate.
"We anticipate that this enhanced support will ensure that implementation of the curriculum is ambitious and creative, and is focused on delivering excellent learning experiences and outcomes for all of our children."
However, opposition politicians questioned the impact the new measures would have.
Labour education spokesman Hugh Henry said: "This announcement from the SNP government is a belated, but welcome recognition that there are real problems with the readiness for Curriculum for Excellence in some schools and opens the door to delaying the new curriculum."
'Fix a mess'
He said Mr Russell had been "forced into finding £3.5m to fix a mess that has been of his own making".
Mr Henry added: "This additional support for Scotland's teachers is welcome, but it remains to be seen whether it is enough.
"The SNP's recognition that the new curriculum in some schools may need to be delayed is long overdue, but simply reflects what many teachers have been saying for some time."
Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: "This situation is a major embarrassment for Mike Russell as he should never have got into this muddle in the first place.
"If he had been listening carefully to teachers all along, he would have recognised the need for flexibility so that schools could take their own decisions about whether or not they wanted a one year delay.
"Instead, he tried to pressgang schools into the Scottish government's own political timetable and has now had to do a U-turn."