Only parents are objecting to the lack of external assessment in the controversial National 4 qualification, according to the Scottish Qualifications Authority.
Dr Gill Stewart, SQA director of qualifications development, told MSPs on the Education and Skills Committee that research suggested teachers, heads, students and employers had less of an issue with courses relying purely on internal assessment.
She conceded that “there are perceptions about its credibility”, but that, in response to such concerns, the Curriculum and Assessment Board convened by the Scottish government had gathered “a considerable body of evidence” about views on N4.
For example, fieldwork with schools conducted by the SQA showed that the views of teachers and school leaders were “quite mixed”. In addition, focus groups with students who were doing N4 or a mix of N4 and N5 showed that “the majority of them were quite happy with the N4 being internally assessed”.
The Scottish government has also gathered the views of parents and employers.
“There are still perceptions from parents about the credibility of N4,” Stewart said. “Interestingly … employers were not concerned that N4 was internally assessed, probably because employers are used to vocational qualifications, all of which are internally assessed and rigorously quality-assured.”
Stewart also said that education secretary John Swinney would ultimately make a decision on the future make-up of N4.
Mike Corbett, an executive member of the NASUWT teaching union, who represents the organisation at Curriculum and Assessment Board meetings, says Stewart’s comments “simply do not reflect the views of the vast majority of our members who, time and again, have called for some form of external assessment”.
Corbett adds that, at present, most students moving from N4 to N5 are going from an entirely internally assessed course to an entirely externally assessed course, requiring teachers to provide extra support for what may be a tricky transition.
Eileen Prior, executive director of parents’ organisation Connect, says that recent SQA fieldwork “indicated that the profession objected to internal assessment”. She adds that parents’ concerns tend to reflect those they have picked up from their child’s school.
At the EIS union’s AGM last week, calls for a campaign to move N4 to the same model of assessment as N5 received a mixed response. Falkirk member Colin Finlay said many teachers in his area “felt that N4 wasn’t valued by students, parents and employers”. But others baulked at the prospect of bringing more exams into the education system, with Edinburgh’s Sonia Kordiak insisting that N4 had the support of parents, pupils and teachers.