New National courses arrive bang on time

4th May 2012 at 01:00
Qualifications published but teachers call for more examples of assessment

The final documents for the new National courses - long regarded as the missing piece of the qualifications jigsaw - were published on time this week by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Teacher unions and secondary heads gave credit to the exams body for delivering the eagerly awaited materials on schedule.

But although the documents now provide information about the mandatory content and assessment requirements for all 197 new courses, many teachers said they still wanted to see further assessment examples.

Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational policy at the University of Edinburgh and one of the most forensic critics of the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence, told TESS he could not see "anything fundamentally different from the drafts published in January".

"On the one hand, it is welcome that there are the detailed `course notes', which seem to me to be analogous to the old `arrangements' documents. Their main strength is that they seem to have been informed by proper subject specialism. That was largely evident by January, too," said Professor Paterson.

On the other hand, the final structure offered nothing that would encourage or assess interdisciplinarity in a rigorous way, he said.

"There is minimal attention to the application of knowledge to life and nothing that is fundamentally different from the practices in Standard grade. There is no new way of understanding progression. Most fundamentally of all, there is no obvious reason why the exams had to be changed at all," he added.

Gill Stewart, director of qualifications development at the SQA, said the organisation had worked very hard to show teachers how the continuum of learning worked, moving from broad general education to qualifications in the senior phase.

The new qualifications, ranging from Nationals 2-5 and Highers, comprised a smaller number of units and more flexibility for pupils' learning. National 5 courses upwards, with the exception of maths, will include a course assignment, offering greater personalisation and choice, as well as a final exam. To ensure that the assignment was a student's own work, it would be written up within a specified time in class, said Dr Stewart.

Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of the EIS union, who until Easter was a principal teacher of English, said that in English, course content was not dramatically different, but forms of assessment had changed. Sciences and computing are among the subjects which have undergone the most radical changes in content.

He insisted no teachers should be teaching the new National 4 and 5 courses next session, as they were not supposed to be implemented until August 2013, when the current S2 pupils enter S4.

"A lot of the anxiety is arising from schools doing 2+2+2 and running two- year National 4 and 5 courses starting this August," said Mr Flanagan.

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, said the new National 4 qualifications - which unlike Standard grade and Intermediate 1 will be internally assessed - lacked sufficient detail and exemplification for teachers to "confidently build new courses".

elizabeth.buie@tess.co.uk

NATIONAL NUMBERS

5,000 - The number of people involved in the SQA's curriculum area review groups and qualifications design teams.

600,000 - The number of subject pages viewed online at the draft stage of the new courses.

4,000 - The number of comments fed back through the SQA's "have your say" facility.

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