East Renfrewshire schools postpone new curriculum exams

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Media captionPupils now in the second year of secondary school are to be the first to sit new national exams

Confidence in the new curriculum for excellence has been dealt a blow by the decision of a flagship education authority to postpone implementation of new exams which are related to it.

East Renfrewshire Council, which records much higher numbers of exam passes than any other area in Scotland, says more time is needed to train teachers for the radically new courses.

The delay of a year is the latest set-back for the more open-ended curriculum which encourages staff to draw up most of their own lessons.

Supporters say it allows staff to teach modern material that is relevant to their pupils. But critics have suggested instructions to staff are so vague many are uncertain what they should be doing.

Under Scottish government plans, pupils now in the second year of secondary school are to be the first cohort to sit, in 2014, the national exams which replace Standard Grades and Intermediates.

But East Renfrewshire headteachers say they are uncertain of the detailed content of the exam courses due to start in August - which has yet to be unveiled by the Scottish government's exam agency, the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

East Renfrewshire Council also plans to continue with the traditional exam timetable, putting pupils forward for eight exams in their fourth year of secondary school and five exams in fifth year. Preparation for the exams begins several years in advance.

'Significant setback'

Sticking to this traditional timetable runs counter to the new Scottish government policy of making the first three years of secondary education free of preparation for exams - and also against a new policy of encouraging more pupils to take two years to prepare for Highers.

The council says it is taking into account that universities have not given any firm indication as yet that they will stop giving priority to those who sit Highers in one sitting in fifth year after a one-year course.

And it says the decision to delay introduction of the new exams and stick with traditional exam timetable follows extensive consultation with headteachers and teachers.

In a statement, the council said: "It doesn't in any way diminish our commitment to the transition to the curriculum for excellence and that should be highlighted by the early work we have already carried out in moving to national qualifications for all pupils and the 33-period week."

A source in another education authority said: "This is a significant setback for the new curriculum and I would imagine a number of other local authorities will follow the lead taken by East Renfrewshire."

Education Secretary Michael Russell said: "I am aware of the currently unique circumstances of East Renfrewshire where pupils take Intermediate not Standard qualifications.

"In line with plans for implementation of new qualifications under CfE, Standard qualifications will be replaced after 2013 and Intermediates will end a year later for all learners currently in S2 or below.

"Along with all other local authorities, East Renfrewshire is on course to make this transition and Education Scotland will be offering support to ensure this is a smooth process."

He added: "East Renfrewshire have confirmed that the move to broad general education in S1 to S3 is being delivered in schools in the area and that no qualifications will be taken in S3.

"Recent evidence presented to the Curriculum for Excellence Management Board shows that delivery remains on track and in time, as demonstrated by today's publication of draft course and unit specifications for new National 4 and 5 qualifications."

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