A senior figure at the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), has admitted that colleges are behind schedule in the implementation of the new Higher and National qualifications because of regionalisation.
Last week's exam results highlighted the fact that although colleges put forward a significant proportion of the candidates sitting the existing Higher and the old Intermediate qualifications this year, relatively few candidates taking the new qualifications came from the further education sector.
This year, 11.2 per cent of candidates sitting the old Higher came from FE compared with just 1.6 per cent of those taking the new Higher. Colleges also put forward 25.8 per cent of Intermediate 2 candidates but just 1.8 per cent of those sitting National 5s.
When asked to explain the figures, Gill Stewart, director of qualifications development at the SQA, told TESS: "Colleges have been going through regionalisation; that has impacted on timelines for implementing the new national qualifications."
Since regionalisation began four years ago, the 37 colleges that existed in 2011-12 have been merged into 20 larger institutions. The process was sold as a means of removing "wasteful duplication". At the same time, however, the sector has been hit by a real-terms funding cut of more than 12 per cent in the past two years.
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur said: "The implementation of Curriculum for Excellence has been a huge challenge for our schools and these figures suggest that colleges have been hit hard, too.
"The Higher maths fiasco is indicative of the teething problems that the changes to the curriculum have caused. Teachers and students have not had the support they need."
According to Colleges Scotland, which speaks on behalf of Scotland's FE sector, colleges have been dealing with "significant changes". The organisation's chief executive, Shona Struthers, added that many colleges had continued to deliver the old qualifications because they were the best fit for students.
She said: "Not all colleges offer Highers. However, in those that do, a substantial proportion of candidates have already sat their Highers and are coming to college for a second attempt and sometimes combining this with Highers that their schools were unable to offer. Naturally they would want to continue studying for a qualification that they are familiar with."
Ray McCowan, vice-principal of Edinburgh College, said that most curriculum areas at the institution had stuck to the old exams so that students could "have a second go without having to adjust to the new format".
He added: "As it suited our students to keep the old Highers this year, we didn't have to introduce the new exams across the board before we were ready, so we're confident we'll be able to do so effectively in the coming academic year and continue supporting students to achieve the results they need."
However, with the Intermediates and existing Higher no longer available, college lecturers charged with implementing the new qualifications face a steep learning curve and potential workload issues, according to general secretary of the EIS teaching union, Larry Flanagan.
"There is going to be a real pressure there around making sure that lecturers delivering these courses are given appropriate CPD," he said.
Rate of change
Entries for Highers numbered almost 200,000 this year, fairly evenly split between the old and the new qualification.
Last year, 8 per cent of Higher candidates were from FE. This year, 11.2 per cent of candidates sitting the existing Higher were from FE but just 1.6 per cent of candidates sitting the new exam came from colleges.