Russell: New exams delay could damage children's education
A delay in implementing the new National exams could be damaging to children's education, a Scottish minister has warned.
Education Secretary Mike Russell made the comment at Holyrood's education committee.
MSPs have been looking into reports that some schools are not ready for the National 4 and 5 qualifications.
Mr Russell told MSPs that Education Scotland would carry out an audit into how prepared schools are for the exams.
The qualifications are part of Curriculum for Excellence, the biggest education reform for a generation.
One of Scotland's best performing education authorities, East Renfrewshire Council, and some private schools have said they would hold off from implementing the exams.
They said they needed more time to prepare for the new courses and tests.
However, Mr Russell told MSPs the majority of teachers had told him they were ready and delay would be disruptive for the 54,000 children in S2 who have been taught the new curriculum over the last three years.
Teachers' leaders have voiced concerns about the new qualifications, with Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, saying school staff were "in some distress" about the changes.
Ms Ballinger said the union was "hugely concerned that things are not going to be ready in time" and that the new system "hugely reduces" the number of subjects pupils can study at exam level.
Mr Russell said the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) believed delaying the exams was "simply not viable", and he did not believe that such a move would be in the best interests of pupils.
He added: "The majority of teachers are telling me, don't delay. Don't disrupt our pupils' learning.
"But some are saying they need more support to be ready, and I understand that. I always have and I always will listen and respond to teachers' concerns.
"This is why I have asked Education Scotland to go to every local authority and confirm that their schools are ready to proceed.
"If there is any doubt or lack of confidence within a school, the first step will be to provide whatever support is necessary."
He said further discussions would be had over the issue of individual schools delaying the process, but his preferred option was to "support as much as possible".
Labour education spokesman Hugh Henry, speaking at the party's conference in Dundee at the weekend, said Mr Russell was not listening to teachers.
He said: "We have an arrogant and bull-headed cabinet secretary for education refusing to listen to teachers and parents about their fears and worries.
"But he should listen. Listen not to his civil servants and directors who are far removed from the classroom, listen to what ordinary teachers are saying - they are not ready, the materials are not ready and they are worried that the exams will not be ready.
"And still Mike Russell will not listen. He wants to browbeat and bully teachers and parents."
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said the government had caused "unnecessary confusion" over the timetable for the new qualifications.
She added: "By ordering an immediate audit, which follows his earlier statement that East Renfrewshire could be regarded as a special case, the cabinet secretary has clearly been forced into a position where he has had to acknowledge that there may be several other schools and departments which are not ready to implement the new exams.
"Only one thing matters in this whole debate and that is the best interests of pupils. That is why it should be the schools themselves which make this decision and not government."