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Missed golden opportunity

I am sure I am not alone when I say I am deeply concerned by the Government's announcement last week on exam reform.

The new National 4 and 5 qualifications - the replacement for Standard grade - are to be only "quality assured by SQA" and not by external assessment. This, presumably, means pupils will be able to leave school without being presented for any nationally-assessed qualification. Apart from the concern this will cause among parents and teachers, the Government is seriously misguided if it believes the quality of such a qualification will carry any weight with employers or is in the best interests of pupils.

Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, states the new awards in literacy and numeracy will "initially involve marking by SQA but, once national standards have been widely shared, understood and verified, the intention is to reduce the amount of external marking required". This suggests the new tests will only have a full SQA benchmark on a temporary basis. If this is what the Government means, it has undermined these merits before they have started.

Notwithstanding these two problems, the Government has missed another golden opportunity to set out its detailed plans to introduce more rigorous testing of literacy and numeracy in primary schools, something it promised to do after cross-party support for a Scottish Conservative parliamentary motion on this matter.

So far, the Government's reforms will do nothing to inspire confidence or remove the concern that there will be some dumbing down of the system.

Ms Hyslop made a commitment to stream-line and simplify the existing structure of qualifications. She has done the exact opposite and left parents, teachers and pupils feeling more confused than ever. She needs to move quickly to redress this situation.

Elizabeth J Smith, Scottish Conservative Shadow Minister on children, schools and skills, Scottish Parliament.

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