Exam issues closer to home

2nd November 2012 at 00:00

I hope I'm not the only Scottish teacher who rejects the "quiet satisfaction" that Robert Karling suggests we can feel over Curriculum for Excellence (19 October). In comparing CfE with the current A-level and GCSE reforms south of the border, perceived shortcomings of our neighbour should not blind us to problems at home.

My subject is psychology, and I am concerned about aspects of the new psychology National qualifications. For the new NQ5 and Higher, details on what is to be taught are sketchy. Psychology is very dynamic, yet the mandatory NQ content is traditional, neglecting recent trends in theory and research. It is an applied science, but real-life applications get little attention in the courses.

There are also problems with content and assessment. It is baffling that the wide consultation and teams of developers, over such a long period, should have produced such disappointing courses.

Most worrying, if my understanding is correct, is that a sizeable proportion of course content (a third to a half) can be freely chosen by centres teachers. Some may welcome this freedom, and it may provide the opportunity to teach exciting up-to-date topics. But my fear is that the learner will not be guaranteed an appropriate introduction to the discipline. The design of the courses does not ensure breadth of coverage of the five core domains of psychology. Validity and reliability of external assessment will also be well-nigh impossible, when markers are faced with a potentially vast range of topics in exam answers.

Is it reasonable to expect teachers to determine a large chunk of the curriculum in an environment where subject expertise is evidently not valued? Many staff teaching psychology are unlikely to have had access to subject-specific teacher training, as Scotland does not provide any initial teacher education courses (and little continuing professional development) for psychology teachers in secondary schools.

Scottish schools therefore struggle to meet the demand for psychology from pupils, while teachers' and psychologists' organisations have been lobbying for a PGDE in psychology (secondary) for years.

The Donaldson report emphasised the importance of teachers' subject knowledge, stating the need for "high levels of pedagogical expertise, including deep knowledge of what they are teaching", yet this advice is apparently being quietly ignored.

Almost any article in the 19 October edition of TESS - from pupils' emotional difficulties and early intervention on crime to promoting children's development and well-being - covers issues which affect learners and teachers every day. Our understanding and ability to design effective interventions are underpinned by psychological research and theory.

Rather than making crude comparisons with England, why not attempt to improve our curriculum development and teacher education practices by learning from countries with excellent education systems, such as Finland and Denmark?

Morag Williamson, Higher psychology teacher.

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