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Scotland: Teachers under pressure to enter students into qualifications that don't suit them

Parents' concerns over credibility of Scotland's National 4 qualifications are a headache for most teachers

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Parents' concerns over credibility of Scotland's National 4 qualifications are a headache for most teachers

Almost three-quarters of Scottish secondary schools feel under pressure from parents to present pupils for qualifications they are unsuited for, according to new research.

Fieldwork by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) shows the most extreme pressure is around courses typically taken in the third and fourth years of secondary school – with almost every teacher surveyed feeling pushed to present pupils at the wrong level.

Concerns centre around National 4 and 5, both of which have been phased in over recent years, the latter being the standard stepping stone to Scotland’s pivotal Higher qualifications.

The perceived lack of credibility of National 4 has been much discussed – uptake fell by more than 11 per cent between 2015 and 2017 – with critics pointing to its lack of an exam and its pass-or-fail model, with no grades in between.

Scottish qualifications report

The SQA report, published today, backs up a widespread belief that many parents would prefer their children to take National 5 courses, even if teachers feel they are not suitable for their children.

“Nearly all teachers to a greater or lesser degree felt pressure to mispresent learners at National 5 despite learner performance evidence indicating National 4 presentation was more appropriate,” finds the SQA report. It adds: “This pressure could come from parents and carers mainly, but also from [senior management teams] and occasionally the local authority.”

Feedback from senior management teams canvassed by the SQA suggests that nearly three-quarters of schools felt “pressure from parents and carers to present at a level they did not feel was appropriate”.

Poor communication

A recent survey by the National Parent Forum of Scotland suggested that over a quarter of members believed employers did not value or understand National 4, and did not seek National 4 qualifications when recruiting.

Ronnie Summers, SQA’s head of qualifications development, said that some parents complained of poor communication from schools over the appropriateness of different levels of courses.

The SQA has also found that most teachers backed the idea of introducing an exam for National 4, although the majority of pupils did not share that view.

The fieldwork covered at least one school from each local authority, as well as independent schools, additional support needs (ASN) schools and colleges. They also took views from parents.

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