Bill for millions to end 'testing treadmill' in schools

19th May 2017 at 00:01
Removing unit assessments will cost the public purse at least £4.5 million
The Scottish education secretary's decision to scrap unit assessments will cost 'at least £4.5 million'

The scrapping of unit assessments to ease teacher workload has left the Scottish government with a bill for millions of pounds, Tes Scotland can reveal.

Exam body the Scottish Qualifications Authority has admitted it will cost at least £4.5 million to get rid of the controversial assessments, which were blamed for creating “a testing treadmill” in schools.

Responding to a freedom of information request, the SQA warned that the figure was set to rise because it was “continuing to scope” the cost of education secretary John Swinney’s recent temporary U-turn.

The original plan was for unit assessments to disappear from N5 courses in the 2017-18 school year. But in March, Mr Swinney announced that they would continue to be available in exceptional circumstances and for an interim period so that pupils in danger of failing N5 would still have the back-up of an N4.

The SQA said: “This draft budget figure [of £4.5 million] will change as a result of this additional work.”

'Costly mistakes'

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education Liz Smith said parents would be “horrified to learn about the large amount of money it has cost to pay for the mistakes made in the Curriculum for Excellence [CfE]”.

The amount is equivalent to around 8 per cent of the SQA’s budget, or nearly all the Pupil Equity Fund cash for disadvantaged pupils that has been handed to Dundee – one of Scotland’s most deprived areas – in 2017-18.

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS – which spearheaded the campaign for the removal of unit assessments – accused the SQA of trying to “secure additional money” from the Scottish government by billing it for “every item of expenditure”.

EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said it was becoming clear that the SQA had made significant changes to course content, “belying its commitment that the removal of unit assessments would not change courses”.

The SQA published headline changes to N5 qualifications in January. However, last month it began to publish more detailed information about the changes to N5 courses on a subject-by-subject basis.

The SQA has denied adding to the content of most N5 courses.

The body declined to give a breakdown of exactly how the £4.5 million was being spent, saying it was “not in a position to provide further detail at this stage”.

However, it set out where the money was going in broad terms.

An SQA spokesman said that his organisation had “strengthened the course assessments to ensure they assess all aspects of the course” in light of the fact that unit assessments were being scrapped for most pupils.

Exams introduced

For some N5 courses, this had meant an extension to the final exam or the introduction of an exam paper.

Coursework had also had to be introduced or extended and “a major revision and streamlining of the N5 course documentation” had been carried out to make it easier for teachers to use, the SQA spokesman said.

Additional subject specialists had to be employed, he added, and changes made to “business systems” to ensure the revisions to national qualifications were delivered.

The spokesman continued: “The SQA is committed to addressing schools’ workload concerns, but must ensure that standards are maintained and the integrity of the qualifications is protected.

“Teachers should not see any change or increase in content of the courses – with the exception of N5 biology, which has had some content removed.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said the removal of unit assessment would reduce teacher and pupil workload.

This is an edited version of an article in the 19 May edition of Tes Scotland. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTes Scotland magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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