National exams stay on target

25th May 2012 at 01:00
`Deep audit' shows almost all schools and local authorities are ready to roll with reforms

Not a single authority, school or department - with the notable exception of East Renfrewshire - has requested a delay in the introduction of the new Nationals 4 and 5, Education Scotland's "deep audit" of readiness for the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence has found.

But "a few education authorities" identified "a small number of individual departments where there had been limited progress on implementation to date", it said.

A spokesman for Education Scotland told TESS: "From the 367 secondary schools in Scotland, Education Scotland identified through its audit 21 departments where they were making limited progress and would need additional support to implement Curriculum for Excellence.

"The SSTA identified a further two departments and EIS identified nine schools where one or more departments had raised issues. In all cases, there has been further dialogue between the departments, schools and the local education authority."

The organisation said it would not identify those departments "in line with concerns from teaching unions and to avoid undermining their efforts".

Teaching unions criticised the audit, saying it was flawed and superficial, and raised concerns about its integrity, citing a lack of consultation with teachers or even department heads.

Education Scotland said, however: "Listening to teachers was a crucial element of the audit and specific arrangements were put in place so that individual teachers could raise concerns directly through their trade union. In each case, Education Scotland has responded and visits have now taken place."

Nevertheless, it conceded that while progress was "generally good", it was "clear that some departments will need more support to help them prepare effectively for the new National qualifications".

This, said the report, was particularly the case where departments had been reluctant to progress curriculum development work on the basis of draft materials from the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

"Support will also be required in some schools with small or single- teacher departments, where the staff resource to plan and develop new courses is inevitably more limited," it added.

The audit was completed by Education Scotland inspectors, development officers and area advisers before the publication at the end of April of the final arrangements for the new qualifications by the SQA, alongside support documents by Education Scotland.

But a pound;3.5 million deal brokered between the EIS union and the government has promised to deliver further training and support materials for the National 4 and 5 courses, an additional two in-service days and an expanded programme of support from the SQA.

The audit report said the majority of schools had stated that they were "keenly anticipating" the provision of further information about courses and assessment, but "noted the need for staff to have sufficient time to review this information in detail as they planned course provision".

Some schools were continuing to offer subject choice committing pupils at the end of S2 to a range of National 4 and 5 courses concluding in S4. It was clear that schools would make further changes to their curriculum structures over the next year or two, but that some would need further support at local and national level, said the report.

Education secretary Michael Russell said: "We will continue to work with teachers and all other partners to keep implementation under review and ensure we stay on track in every subject and in every school and get on with the task of implementing Curriculum for Excellence, as parents and school committees clearly want to see happen."

A bit more help

Teachers have requested additional support in the following areas:

- elements of the sciences, health and well-being, expressive arts, mathematics and technologies;

- the articulation between the new National qualifications and the experiences and outcomes;

- aspects of assessment in some subject areas;

- the development of new courses or the use of bi-level teaching in some subject areas.


Education Scotland's audit has exposed deep divisions between education managers and teachers when it comes to schools' readiness to deliver the new curriculum and exams.

The EIS union branded the audit "flawed and largely superficial" and called for the Scottish government to recognise teachers' concerns about the senior phase of Curriculum for Excellence and to provide support. The audit had "barely skimmed the surface of the discontent felt in many schools" over workload, said general secretary Larry Flanagan (pictured). He said: "The Scottish government needs to acknowledge the problems being identified in schools and bypass local authorities if required."

The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association was equally damning in its response. The audit was "deeply flawed", said general secretary Ann Ballinger (left). During the audit, some local authorities failed to consult with schools at all while others refused to access the support on offer from Education Scotland on behalf of struggling departments, she said. Those that managed to engage with the body were subjected to "an interrogation worthy of a police state", she said.

"Teachers report huge concerns about the implementation of the next phase of Curriculum for Excellence. The government must listen to the experts and act accordingly," she added.

However, the Association of Directors of Education Scotland said the report confirmed its own findings that "the majority of schools" were "well on track". Where further support was needed it would be provided, said general secretary John Stodter (above).

Secondary heads' union School Leaders Scotland also felt the report was accurate. It recognised all was not "rosy" while acknowledging that there was some excellent work going on right across the country, said general secretary Ken Cunningham (above).

Parents' representatives welcomed the decision not to delay the qualifications. The report gave "some reassurance" to parents about implementation, said Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. But concerns about councils simply re-labelling the status quo remained, she added.

Original headline: National exams stay on schedule

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