Lift-off for new exams

12th June 2009 at 01:00
Education Secretary announces assessment plan for S4 pupils, to be introduced in 2013-14

Scotland's "next generation" of exams for S4 pupils is to be called National awards at levels 4 and 5.

With the former to be internally assessed and the latter externally examined, the new arrangements are likely to be seen as a compromise deal that avoids increasing teachers' workload too much.

The award at level 4 - equivalent to Intermediate 1 and Standard grade General - will be internally assessed by teachers; the award at level 5, equivalent to Intermediate 2 and Standard grade Credit, will be externally assessed and graded by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, although there will also be elements of internal marking. They will be introduced in the session 2013-14, affecting pupils currently in P6. Schools will have access to exemplars of internal assessment units, similar to the NABs which form part of Intermediate 1 and 2 qualifications.

Unveiling her plans in Parliament yesterday, Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, also announced that she would be sticking with her controversial policy of testing pupils' literacy and numeracy, which will be introduced a year earlier in 2012-13 for pupils from S3 onwards. The Educational Institute of Scotland is likely to press for most pupils to be assessed in S4.

Literacy and numeracy will initially be externally assessed by the SQA, but once standards are established and widely understood, the amount of external assessment will be reduced. These assessments will not involve a single exam diet or national test; instead, schools will present a portfolio of work demonstrating pupils' abilities in literacy and numeracy across subject areas. It will be left to the discretion of teachers to put forward pupils when they think they are ready, as happens with 5-14 assessments.

Pupils can be entered for the literacy and numeracy assessments at three levels on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework - 3, 4 and 5, equivalent to Access, Intermediate 1Standard grade General, and Intermediate 2Standard grade Credit.

Literacy and numeracy will be assessed on a passfail basis, rather than being graded; pupils who fail can resit the assessments as often as they wish. The award will also be made available to adult learners.

Crucial to how teachers respond to the new qualifications will be their workload and practical implications. The unions have consistently warned about the potential pressures on management and resources.

The SQA will have a major task on its hands creating the materials for the new awards by 2013. It also has the task of revising the content of the other exams - Access, Higher and Advanced Higher - which it wants to bring more up to date. The new qualifications will require robust moderation, which will also have significant cost implications.

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