Teachers lift the lid on National 4 `cheating'

24th April 2015 at 01:00
Underhand tactics mean the qualification is `worthless', they say

Schools are "cheating like mad" to get pupils through the new, internally assessed National 4, teachers have claimed.

Several staff members have taken to the TES online forums (bit.lyNational4Forum) to attack the qualification, describing it as "not fit for purpose", "a joke" and "an utter shambles".

Their concerns were echoed by Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, who said that teachers were under pressure to improve pupils' work to get them through National 4.

"Schools are expecting all pupils to achieve National 4 as the statistics are becoming more important than the interests of the pupil and teacher," he said.

"The pressure is being applied for teachers to improve work so that pupils have a qualification that can be used. The downside is that National 4 is being devalued and does not give credit to those who achieve on their own merits. The implication is that questions will be asked of the teachers who are unable or unwilling to get all their pupils to National 4."

`Teachers are giving the answers'

The new Nationals were delivered in Scotland for the first time last year. They replaced the old Access, Intermediate and Standard Grade qualifications, with Nationals 1 to 4 internally assessed by teachers and National 5 ending with an externally marked exam. The new qualifications were introduced to try to ensure that assessment fitted with Curriculum for Excellence.

But TES forum users have raised significant concerns about the implementation of the new assessments, with one reporting that schools were "cheating like mad" to ensure their pupils passed National 4.

One commenter wrote: "National 4 is worthless. Teachers are giving pupils answers to the wee daft end-of-unit tests." It was "a national scandal", the teacher concluded.

Another claimed that if a child was in danger of failing the qualification, staff were expected "to `have the dialogue' with the kid and get them a pass".

There was an assumption that every pupil would pass National 4, regardless of how hard they had worked or their ability, according to another commenter. The teacher continued: "When they look like they are not going to pass, they are extracted for a day to a principal teacher's classroom and walk out with all the units they need.Outwith non-attenders, there is next to no room for a pupil to fail. I feel like we should just invest in massive rubber stamps with `pass' on them to stamp on the forehead of each pupil as they enter S4 - it would save a lot of time and paperwork."

The teachers called for some form of external assessment to enhance the status of the qualification.

One commenter on the thread argued that staff should refuse to engage with malpractice. "We are professionals and we've been entrusted with the assessment of this level without external input, other than verification," they said. "We need to take that seriously and if we think a pupil has not achieved a level, say so. If [senior management teams] pressure teachers to cheat, go to unions or, better still, report it to the [Scottish Qualifications Authority]."

`People need to be professional'

The lack of an externally marked examination at the end of National 4 has previously been criticised by parents, teachers and headteachers.

But Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, insisted that there was "not widespread complicity around getting pupils through National 4 for the sake of it".

"If there's pressure there, people need to be professional enough to say they're not passing someone just to make the statistics look good," he said. "If a pupil can't pass National 4, that's why National 3 and 2 are there."

The old Access courses were all internally assessed but were never considered useless, Mr Flanagan added. "Some teachers in some schools have a view that the absence of an external exam belittles the [National 4] qualification. I would argue quite strongly against that."

A spokesman for the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said: "The National 4 qualifications are subject to robust quality assurance procedures, to ensure that the courses are being delivered and assessed at the national standard."

A Scottish government spokesperson said: "Within Curriculum for Excellence, National qualifications represent a shift towards deeper learning and a greater emphasis on analysis, engagement and understanding. The SQA and Education Scotland have procedures in place to ensure that National 4 qualifications are being delivered at the national standard."

The trouble with a two-tier system

This is not the first time the introduction of internal assessment in the National 4 has come in for criticism.

Minister for learning Alasdair Allan, pictured, came under fire last year at the School Leaders Scotland conference, when the headteacher of an Edinburgh school accused the government of creating a two-tier structure "where a bunch of youngsters seem not to be part of the exam system".

Dr Allan's response was that if universities, further education colleges and schools in Europe could be entrusted with internal assessment, so could Scottish schools.

However, the point was raised again at the end of last month in a blog by former computing teacher Charlie Love, who now works as an education support officer in Aberdeen.

He asked: "Have we really thought through the impact on aspiration, motivation and self-image of telling thousands of young people: you're not good enough for an exam?"

He highlighted the Twitter hashtag #nat4scum as evidence of the negative way the qualification was viewed by pupils.

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