Schools need time to prepare for new exams

29th April 2011 at 01:00
Pupils must not pay the price of rushing in the CfE assessment regime on an unrealistic timeframe

I have spent a good part of the past fortnight chasing up the writing folios of our S56 English candidates. Despite the added work at an already busy time of the year, it's been a genuine pleasure to witness the result of pupils committing time and energy to the art of writing.

Writing, of course, disappeared from the external grading for English NQ courses following the Higher Still debacle and, despite the presence of a NAB requirement, this key skills area struggled to find itself centre stage. Creative writing, in particular, suffered badly as a result.

I remember moving a motion at the 2003 EIS AGM, calling for the reinstatement of writing to the English exam - and a mere eight years later we're there!

It's hard to find anyone now who will defend the narrow nature of the previous assessment regime, which basically focused on reading skills. At the time, the changes were pushed through to satisfy an SQA agenda which dictated a uniform approach to exam arrangements.

Admittedly, despite the unnecessary loss of creative writing, there was clearly a case for reducing the level of assessment that Higher Still had ushered in. Teachers had warned beforehand that the proposals were cumbersome. The cumulative burden of assessment on students, in what became an assessment treadmill for five-subject candidates, was never fully explored. Indeed, the unwieldy and excessive nature of the complex assessment programme lay at the heart of the great "Higher Still meltdown". It's a lesson worth learning.

As we rush headlong towards the introduction of new assessment arrangements under Curriculum for Excellence, two points should be borne in mind: the SQA doesn't always get it right and the voices of practitioners should be listened to.

CfE was never meant to be a "big bang" approach, and yet that is what students face in qualification terms in 2013-14, when we switch from the current programme to the new qualifications framework.

My key concern is not that SQA will fail to meet its own timeline, but that schools and teachers will be left behind in the process. While the EIS is broadly supportive of the proposed changes, we have already raised concerns from some of our representatives on SQA design teams that the agenda is being rushed forward with undue haste.

Curriculum development is a slow process. Schools are creaking under the workload of implementing the 3 to 15 phase of CfE. Where is the required time to come from to consider the new qualifications?

Perhaps after the election there can be a re-assessment of the current timescale, because I genuinely fear that schools will have insufficient time to assimilate and prepare for the proposed changes. The net result could be that we face another fiasco where the student cohort for that year - our current S1 - pays the price. That would be unacceptable.

Larry Flanagan, Educational Institute of Scotland.

Larry Flanagan is education convener of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

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