Scottish schools 'on track' for new National Qualifications

School pupil sitting exam Teaching unions have criticised the handling of the changes

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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."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I qualified in 2000 and developed all my own materials for the implementation of Higher Still. I'm now reinventing the wheel again, while paying off my mortgage and clearing all other debts to allow me finish teaching before I'm 50. By which time I'll probably have rewritten my coursework another 2 or 3 times in an attempt to fulfil the political legacy of the party in power at the time.... Sigh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Why is it all of a sudden we are allowed to debate - trivial issues in Scotland - when the really big issues lke the Scottish Governments involvement in the release of Al megahri - and his recent death - we were not allowed to discuss at all? Dare I suggest there is a pro-SNP element within BBC scotland?

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Wow! I could be reading about teacher objections to the new Common Core State Standards that have been adopted by all but five states in the US. This standards initiative, which is supposed to make our students more College and Career Ready, was designed by content experts but teachers are where the 'rubber meets the road.' They need a voice and support just like teachers in Scotland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I feel faint, three comments open in one week on the BBC Scotland website. Someone has been doing their homework and realised that closed comments is not the same as carefully selected ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    More dumbing down, education standards have been declining over the years. You only have to look at the Arnold clark training issues this week which said a high number of school leavers are "unemployable". Schools are "cuddling" pupils now for fear of labeling them as a failure if they dont do well in an exam! its time schools prepared pupils for life in the real world when they leave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Hestia, the final drafts of these documents have only come out last week. My department is now having to completely redo a number of our planned courses because they are so different to what we were led to expect. There are 5 weeks until the Summer holidays not a whole lot of time for us or other departments to finalise courses for August.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    As a very hard working teacher, I am getting extremely fed up with the constant teacher bashing in the news. The implementation of the National 4 and 5 is requiring major changes, and a lot of development. Many of us are having to begin in August because of curricular models chosen for us. I can assure you that HOURS of our own time is being used to develop and prepare for these changes.

  • Comment number 40.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    As a student training to become a teacher ..... focussed completely on wrote learning for exams.

    Says it all. The word is ROTE. Perhaps teachers with a smidgeon of education and attention to detail would help improve standards but it appears that the primary skill of the modern teacher is the ability to whinge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    The ideas behind CfE are laudable, but the way the Scottish Govt and SQA are implementing it is laughable. They're all about political spin and bluster, especially Mr Russell. Those 'knocking' teachers on here have no idea of the levels of government interference and BS that teachers have to contend with, but if you want to find out, you're welcome to my job in October when I return to Logistics?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    In my subject area, the 'Experiences & Outcomes' that the kids are supposed to cover are so vague that they are almost meaningless. Course and unit 'specifications' tell teachers the broad curriculum areas that need to be taught, but lack any detail. Politicians go on about teachers now having to produce their own materials as if this is something new. Whole thing is a poorly organised joke.

  • Comment number 36.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I'm one of those preparing to teach this next year (assuming I can actually get a permanent teaching position, but that's another issue up here). I will say this for the new curriculum, at least in my subject: it's a great idea.

    However, like GLOW, it's incredibly badly implemented. It's like asking a mechanic to build a car from one exterior photo. Possible, but every school will be different.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.


    Sounds like your husband does work very hard but it also sounds like he needs to learn to delegate better. Or perhaps he just needs to work more efficiently ? Seriously, if he's putting in those hours all the time then something is wrong...(Or maybe he has a secret job as an investment banker and is too ashamed to tell you...?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    As a student training to become a teacher and heavily studying both new and old curriculum's I feel that;

    Dunkace's 'Don't fix what isn't broken' comment is very wrong whilst critiquing the current curriculum it is very flawed and focussed completely on wrote learning for exams. This doesn't provide students with knowledge for the workplace which CfE aims to achieve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    It is sufficient to note that Mike Russell and Bill Maxwell repeatedly said at the Ed Committee that no school is starting the Nationals in August and compare it to the fact that a large percentage have chosen a model that starts at that exact time. Now the report hints that the only problem is with those schools starting in August! We are writing like mad but are unsure if we'll complete in time!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Ah. It never takes long for people to get "stuck in" to "handsomely paid" teachers and their "paid holidays". I'm not handsomely paid...I have endured a 10% pay cut over the last two years, I will have to work until I am 68 and my pension will not sustain a decent standard of living. This story is not about teachers not's about understanding too well and being VERY afraid!

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    There are two groups in this matter who are at the root of the problems that have bedevilled every educational development in Scotland in the last 40 years - the teacher unions, especially the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, and 'careerists' who capture any development and effectively exclude the majority of conscientious classroom teachers who actually have to implement the development.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.


    I'll pass your sage advice about working harder to my dept head husband when he comes in from school tonight, (probably about 8pm, he left the house at 7:30 this morning, the slacker. He'll probably have an uneaten lunch to bring home). I'll try and mention between him having dinner and starting to mark and plan lessions. Failing that, I'll say to him at 2am, when he comes to bed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    '"Don't fix what isn't broken". I think it is broken.'
    Education could be dramatically reformed for the better but CfE doesn't look like it to me.

    "School is for pupils, isn't it?"
    Yes and no. It is supposed to provide the education that the country needs. Too often you hear an insistance on lessons being fun.

    This curriculum goals are all "When I" & "I can"


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