Thousands of pupils sit new National 5 exams

School pupils across Scotland are sitting the new National 5 qualifications as some parents fear they are the exam 'guinea pigs'

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Thousands of students across Scotland have sat the first exams for the new National 5 qualifications.

The new qualifications replace Standard Grades and represent the biggest single change in secondary education for a generation.

In total, 135,000 candidates in 561 schools and colleges will be sitting exams over the next few months, starting with the modern studies exam.

Students will receive their results in August.

Standard Grades have been replaced this year by the new National 4 qualifications, which do not involve a final exam, and the National 5 which does.

Analysis

The exams agency the SQA is bound to be under the spotlight over the next few weeks as the new National 5 examinations take place - but that, perhaps, is missing the point.

In a purely administrative sense, it's business as usual this exam season. The format of exams may have changed but the SQA's role will be the same as normal.

The agency is completely confident the exams will be sat on time and marked on time. And it is completely confident the results will be out on time on August 5.

If anything goes wrong logistically - and that seems highly unlikely - it would be disastrous for the agency.

The more interesting question is how ready students are for the new exams: are they familiar with the format and ready for the sorts of questions they may get.

Only one full sample paper was produced in each subject but the SQA has been highlighting questions in previous Standard Grade papers which are still indicative of the kind of questions students can expect.

Although teachers have had concerns over some aspects of the implementation of the N5s, unions have stressed their members were striving to make them a success.

Ultimately it will be impossible to say how well-prepared students are until the results come out. Then pass marks and grade boundaries will be scrutinised.

Success in the new National 5 is equivalent to a credit in a Standard Grade or a good pass in the old O Grade.

The marks from the exams will be combined with those from coursework, projects and the results of internal assessments in schools and colleges to determine the overall results in August.

'Relevant skills'

Janet Brown, chief executive of the SQA, said: "Good qualifications are more important today than ever - and I send my very best wishes to all candidates."

She added: "These qualifications are modern, relevant, flexible and practical and designed to equip young people with a wide range of skills.

"There is more of a focus on coursework in the new qualifications, to ensure learners are consolidating and can apply the skills and knowledge they have developed throughout the year - and ensure their qualifications reflect that."

The exams have been created as part of the Curriculum for Excellence. While the SQA and the Scottish government have expressed confidence that things will go smoothly, some parents have raised concerns, as only one full sample paper has been available in each subject.

In January EIS, Scotland's largest teaching union, claimed teachers needed more support with the new qualifications.

Minister for Learning Alasdair Allan said: "The Scottish government, working closely with the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland, has provided an unprecedented level of support to help teachers and schools prepare for Curriculum for Excellence and the National Qualifications.

"We want to see every young person leave school with the best qualifications and skills they can. I am fully confident everything has been done to prepare teachers, schools and pupils for these new qualifications."

Intermediates, Highers and Advanced Highers will also be taken over the next six weeks. More than 147,000 candidates are taking Scottish Qualifications Authority qualifications this year, including those which do not involve a final exam.

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