Government plans major changes to school qualifications

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Media captionScotland's teacher-marked assessments to be scrapped

Major changes are to be made to new school qualifications in a bid to cut teachers' workload.

The Scottish government plans to scrap some "unit assessments" which are marked by teachers before pupils sit their exams.

Instead final exams will be strengthened and externally marked coursework in some subjects will also contribute to students' grades.

National 5 courses will be altered next year and Higher courses in 2018.

Under the government's plans, some exams may now form 100% of the final mark. In other cases, the externally marked coursework may make up a significant proportion.

The move comes after Education Secretary John Swinney told teachers he was "absolutely committed" to reducing their workload earlier this year.

Announcing the planned changes to the qualifications, he said the proposals would significantly reduce teacher workload, bureaucracy and over-assessment.

He added: "They will ensure that teachers in Scotland have more time to teach in the classroom and make the significant contribution they can to reducing the attainment gap, delivering excellence and equity in Scotland's schools and maintaining the credibility and integrity of our qualifications."

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The proposals have been given a cautious welcome by unions which have called for changes to deal with what they say is the excessive workload and bureaucracy associated with the qualifications.

Members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) have been on a partial work-to-rule over the issue.

Its general secretary, Larry Flanagan, said news of the government's plans would be welcomed by teachers, pupils and parents.

"Since the introduction of new national qualifications, pupils and teachers have been placed under an excessive and unnecessary assessment burden during the senior phase of secondary, leading finally to EIS industrial action," he said.

"The agreement to remove mandatory unit assessments as a requirement from all National 5 and Higher courses is a victory both for common sense and for that campaign of action, carried out by EIS members in secondary schools across Scotland."

'Bureaucratic specifications'

However Seamus Searson, the general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA), said the changes should happened during this academic year.

The "direction of travel" was welcome, he added, but the government should also consider making changes to the National 4 qualification.

"At the moment National 4 is wholly managed and assessed, to the bureaucratic SQA specifications, by the teacher in the classroom.

"The SSTA view is the workload should be reduced and the inclusion of a externally assessment or exam."

The National 5 qualification was introduced in the 2013-14 school year and is broadly equivalent to a credit in a Standard Grade or a good pass in an old O Grade.

Changes to Highers started to be phased in the following year.

Mr Swinney said the changes were in line with the principles of the Curriculum for Excellence.

He added: "I now intend to take the proposals to the Curriculum for Excellence management board as the appropriate body to discuss the details and agree their implementation."

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: "It has taken far too long for this to happen but I warmly welcome the announcement to remove unit assessments.

"It was perfectly clear that they provided very little educational benefit yet, at the same time, added significantly to teacher workload.

"Their removal should allow teachers to concentrate more on coursework and on preparation for SQA examinations. That has to be a good thing and will be welcomed by teachers, pupils and parents."

Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: "Any move to reduce workloads on our teachers is a welcome one, but this is a big climbdown by John Swinney who had previously said this could not be done without compromising the integrity of the National exams.

"It is a pity the teaching unions have had to threaten industrial action to get the government to listen to them. The truth, though, is that teachers will continue to be burdened by heavy workloads as long as the SNP continue to cut education budgets."

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