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Reports really worth reading

Just the other week, we published a suite of Overview of Qualifications reports on our website. That doesn't sound much like a reason to break out the flags or to storm the barricades. As announcements go, it doesn't look like a reason to "hold the front page".

However, that collection of reports is worth a read. It represents the latest and most important step in our development of the new qualifications - and associated course revisions - which will be key components of Curriculum for Excellence.

In these reports are our proposals for new qualifications in familiar areas such as biology, human biology, modern languages and philosophy. In there, too, are proposals for qualifications in new areas such as language courses, which permit the study of more than one language; new environmental science courses; awards in leadership and health and well- being.

We propose the removal of a small number of subjects where uptake has been historically very low and there are areas where we are proposing to do things differently, such as:

- computing and information systems combined into one suite of courses;

- two types of maths courses up to SCQF level 5 - one for those going on to study maths at Higher and another (practical maths) focusing on everyday uses of maths;

- new engineering courses to replace technological studies;

- new environmental sciences courses to replace managing environmental resources courses, which draw on aspects of geology and earth sciences. Some aspects of geology will also be incorporated into other science and geography courses.

We are developing changes in how literacy and numeracy will be handled, with units at SCQF levels 3, 4 and 5. These will be available to all learners. At levels 3 and 4, these units will be incorporated in English and maths courses.

At level 5, English and maths courses need to focus on higher-order skills which prepare learners for progression. So literacy and numeracy will be only partially covered in English and maths courses and SQA will not certificate them through English and maths. For pupils requiring certification, freestanding literacy and numeracy units will be available.

The upshot is that there will be a wider range of qualifications to meet the breadth of learners' needs, abilities and aspirations. The qualifications will have an appropriate balance of skills and knowledge and understanding. The aim is to ensure a good progression for learners by providing an even degree-of-difficulty gradient between levels and good progression into further and higher education and worktraining.

The new qualifications will sit alongside existing ones, including the Scottish Baccalaureate and its interdisciplinary project, Skills for Work courses, awards and vocational group awards.

Some new qualifications - and revisions to existing ones - will be introduced prior to 2013-14, when the new National 4 and 5 qualifications will replace Standard grade and Intermediate 1 and 2. For instance, we are making some changes to English courses this year and revisions to science Highers next year and Advanced Highers the year after.

Qualifications specifically developed as part of CfE will also look different. There will be new unit and course arrangements - importantly, these give more opportunity for in-depth study.

This is a time of change - and change for the better. But it is important to appreciate that we at SQA will continue to provide the necessary support for schools and colleges which will ensure that, nationally, standards are maintained, safeguarding the credibility of the qualifications for all.

Gill Stewart is director of qualifications development at the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

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