SQA unveils new exams

28th January 2011 at 00:00
Expectation that schools will carry out their own assessments sparks mixed reactions from unions

Long-awaited details of the new qualifications to replace Standard grades and Intermediates will be published on Monday - but The TESS can today reveal some of the big changes facing schools from 2013-14.

A requirement for schools to devise and carry out their own assessment is the most controversial proposal, with no externally-marked exams planned for the National 4 qualification.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority also plans to introduce topical new courses in maths and science, and methods of assessment that are in tune with the digital age.

The course details are some of the missing pieces in the Curriculum for Excellence jigsaw that many secondary teachers have been clamouring for as they prepare lessons and timetables.

Gill Stewart, SQA director of qualifications development, is confident that everything is on track for 2013-14, when pupils will take the first National 4 and 5 courses (equivalent to Standard grade and Intermediate).

But some bumpy times are inevitable as the SQA presses ahead with its plan to keep National 4 exam-free.

Employers will perceive the courses as "Mickey Mouse" qualifications, fears the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, which rated preparation for the Nationals as worse than that which led to the debacle around Higher Still a decade ago. In contrast, Ronnie Summers of School Leaders Scotland has praised the SQA's "open and transparent" approach.

"There are a lot of different ways to reach a standard," said Dr Stewart. If colleges and universities could use internal assessment for Higher National Diplomas and degrees, she reasoned, schools were capable of a similar process.

She was confident that rigorous quality assurance would ensure a National 4 - which would be marked simply as a pass or fail - had the same value, wherever it was achieved.

There should be more flexibility in course design, with pupils' interests and local circumstances to the fore; the SQA also wants to create more room for pupils to demonstrate application of knowledge.

"I might have the best theoretical knowledge of computing and information systems, but that's not a lot of use unless I can look at a practical computing problem and apply that understanding, that higher-order skill," Dr Stewart said.

There will be new practical maths and life skills at National 4 and 5, as well as more conventional, theoretical maths courses.

Pupils will be able to study general science at National 4, despite teachers' concerns that Standard grade science is valued less than the discrete disciplines. A new environmental science course and a generic health and well-being qualification are also planned.

The SQA envisages a growing role for innovative forms of assessment, some of which are already used on a small scale. Dr Stewart believes e- assessment, games-based assessment and social software could be applied to Nationals 4 and 5.

The SQA is inviting comments on its "course rationales and summaries" for 43 National 4s and 48 National 5s by the end of March. More detailed draft course specifications will be published between April this year and April 2012.

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk

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