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Fifth-year studies are a 'mad gallop'

Senior pupils are finding the transition to Highers a painful process, with league-table pressures and little time for fun

PUPILS HATE the "huge shock" of moving from Standard grade to Higher - but they do not want to sit exams at the end of S3.

Those were among the forthright messages from two senior pupils invited to tell teachers and educationists how they would improve the Scottish curriculum.

Rachel Horne, 17, and Alan Newbigging, 16, of Alloa Academy, Clackmannanshire, spoke at a session of the Scottish Qualifications Authority's annual customer conference in Glasgow last week. The pair were particularly concerned by the sudden demands of fifth year.

Rachel said: "We both agree our courses in third and fourth years were helpful, but there are problems, such as the lack of a clear pathway from Standard grade to Highers. Compared with Highers, Standard is a walk in the park."

She said having to take responsibility for their own learning at Higher level was a "huge shock" to some pupils, after being used to "spoon-feeding".

Learning became more teacher-led as pupils progressed from S1 to S5, Rachel added, with group work and creativity falling by the wayside, and fun and learning seemingly mutually exclusive.

She said: "Teachers focus more on results, and the classroom atmosphere changes dramatically." There needed to be a better connection between Standard grade and Highers in all subjects, she said.

She added: "Fifth year is a mad gallop - it would be more effective if there was less pressure on time."

Rachel, who with Alan was among pupils canvassed by the SQA's Qualifications for the Future team, did not think the answer was to bring forward exams. She felt this would be unfair on the less academic and put "too much pressure on pupils too young".

Alan also opposed S3 Standard grades. "This is just tinkering - we need something radical," he said.

Both thought schools should concentrate more on vocational skills, but that an exam-driven culture undermined such attempts.

Alan, who is on the education committee of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said: "The league tables put pressure on headteachers, headteachers put pressure on teachers, and teachers put pressure on pupils. Too much pressure sees pupils become demotivated."

Alan said the standing of vocational skills had to be improved, as it was "socially irresponsible" to prioritise the needs of the academically minded. "Most people think SVS (social and vocational skills) is beneath them, and some do regard it as second rate," he said.

Despite his concerns about league tables, Alan believed exams were crucial.

"Internal assessment is open to cheating, as you can get help from family, friends or tutors, or get someone on the internet to do it for you."

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