Scottish schools 'on track' for new National Qualifications
A report into controversial changes to the Scottish secondary school exam system has concluded they are on track to be fully implemented on time.
Education Scotland carried out an audit of the progress being made towards the introduction of the new National Qualifications.
No schools apart from those in East Renfrewshire had asked for the exams to be delayed, the report said.
Teaching unions claimed the audit process had been "flawed".
The exams are scheduled to replace Standard Grade and Intermediate qualifications from 2013-14.
East Renfrewshire Council has previously said it will postpone their introduction by a year.
Education Scotland described its audit as "thorough and comprehensive" and said it had been carried out alongside each of Scotland's education authorities.
It indicated that full implementation of the National Qualifications, which form part of the new Curriculum for Excellence, continued to be achievable within the agreed national timescale.
Listening to classroom teachers had been a "crucial element" of the process, it said, with specific arrangements put in place to allow individual teachers to raise concerns directly through their trade union.
Classroom teachers have been saying privately that significant numbers of school departments are not ready to implement the new exam courses officially called National Qualifications.
As employees they cannot publicly highlight alleged weaknesses in their organisations.
Their views have been expressed in internet forums, union surveys and direct private contact with the media and MSPs.
Mike Russell, the education secretary, called on his agency Education Scotland to carry out its own survey.
Neither side in this issue is likely to accept the other's data or conclusions.
Within government there is a view that concern is no more than normal when a major education change comes in.
And it is also said in some circles that any lack of readiness is largely in schools which want to start on the courses this June rather than next, so that pupils continue to have a two year run-up to exams in S4.
Ministers want pupils to be on a broad general education course in S3.
Dr Bill Maxwell, the government agency's chief executive, said: "Evidence from the audit shows that secondary schools are making good progress in their preparation for the new National Qualifications.
"Let there be no doubt that we are engaged in a process of major change in the secondary curriculum and change always produces challenges.
"But the picture I am seeing is of a highly professional workforce of teachers and school leaders responding positively to that challenge and making effective use of the increasing amount of support and guidance available".
Dr Maxwell said the audit had identified some departments and subject areas where further issues and concerns had emerged.
But he said those were being directly addressed, with additional support being offered where necessary to "ensure teachers are confident and prepared for the new qualifications and ready to capitalise on the benefits they will bring for learners".
Since the audit, Education Scotland said the final arrangement documents for the National Qualifications had been published by SQA in accordance with agreed timescales, as had supporting advice and guidance materials by Education Scotland.
Education Scotland said it was continuing dialogue with education authorities, with more than 50 visits to secondary schools taking place between the end of April and the end of June to work with headteachers, teachers, principal teachers and faculty heads.
A spokesman for the agency said: "In each case, this will help to inform more detailed support which may now be needed, and will ensure that the professional voice of teachers continues to be part of the overall implementation of Curriculum for Excellence."
Education Secretary Michael Russell said: "Education Scotland's audit on the readiness of secondary schools in Scotland to deliver the new National qualification courses has shown there is no need for a whole school delay. Scotland's schools will be ready to deliver the new exams.
"The audit is just one part of Education Scotland's ongoing, daily discussion and visits with teachers, headteachers and local authorities on Curriculum for Excellence."
But Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, expressed concern at the way the audit had been carried out and claimed there were numerous examples of councils who failed to consult with classroom teachers or even department heads.
She said: "According to the information collected at the time of the so-called deep audit, only five authorities consulted their experts - the staff developing material and preparing to teach the new courses next year.
"The approach of the government and local authorities to offer to respond to requests for support from departments or schools is deeply flawed.
"It has become very clear over the last few weeks that any individual brave enough to stick his or her head above the parapet and admit to not being ready to implement these courses, is subjected to an interrogation worthy of a police state."
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, added: "The so called 'deep audit' of CfE Senior Phase has been a shallow exercise which barely skimmed the surface of the discontent felt in many schools around workload pressures arising from CfE implementation.
"The superficial nature of the consultation in most authorities and schools tells a deeply depressing story about how little the voice of the classroom teacher is listened to."
Scottish Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said the response of the unions showed that there "seems to be a feeling that the Scottish government has not been speaking to enough teachers on the ground as well as consulting education departments in local authorities."
Hugh Henry, education spokesman for Scottish Labour, said the audit had been a "whitewash".
He added: "Education Scotland haven't spoken to the people who really matter, namely classroom teachers and have instead sought the views of directors of education and head teachers."