Unions fear staff are in the dark over National 4 and 5 guidelines

9th September 2011 at 01:00
Draft details for new qualifications were released online only

Education unions fear that many teachers are unaware of important guidelines on Scotland's new qualifications.

There is wider concern, too, that the amount of change being enacted by schools is becoming too much to bear, creating a danger of meltdown come 2012-13.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority published draft details of "unit specifications" for Nationals 4 and 5 last week on its website, but the EIS union's education convener, Larry Flanagan, found that few of his school colleagues realised they were available. He believes this is likely to be the case across the country.

Mr Flanagan worries that SQA is "repeating mistakes made by Learning and Teaching Scotland" with its low-key publication of Curriculum for Excellence experiences and outcomes.

"LTS said they had been published when what they meant was they were available online - and teachers didn't engage with them," said Mr Flanagan. He would like hard copies of the draft guidelines to be distributed to staff by schools.

He worried that the amount of innovation expected of teachers - many of whom were probably too concerned with the senior phase to think about other changes - would cause a "huge risk in terms of overloading the system".

Things may come to a head in 2012-13, he predicted, when the first national cohort of pupils to go through Curriculum for Excellence from S1 enters S3.

Alan Taylor, the national officer for the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association dealing with Curriculum for Excellence, is concerned that information is taking too long to appear.

Most of what was published last week seemed "reasonable", he said, but Mr Taylor - who is on SQA's qualifications design team for modern languages - sees teachers under huge pressure to push through reforms and desperate for more detail.

He has concerns about lack of clarity over "added value assessment" in National 4 and the seeming renaissance it signalled for project-based work. That was no bad thing in itself, he said, as long as it was not a return to times when very similar projects across several subjects could "bore kids to tears".

Mr Flanagan said: "We're a long way off the detailed points that people will actually need."

But the new guidelines, which also include Higher "course specifications" and "course rationales" for Access 2 and 3, did give a little more shape to the new qualifications, he added. He urged teachers to read them and respond by the 31 October deadline.

An SQA spokeswoman said publication of the 340 documents was communicated in various ways, including: e-mail alerts to SQA coordinators in every school and college; updates to all 32 education directors for dissemination through their own channels; details sent to teacher organisations; and emails sent through the MyAlerts service.

www.sqa.org.uksqa47512.html

Henry Hepburn, henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

OPPORTUNITIES MISSED

The SQA's draft guidelines for National 4 and 5 have come in for scathing criticism from the Association for Science Education Scotland. Chairman Neil Taylor, of Dundee University, said:

- it had hoped for "much greater connection" with the concepts of Curriculum for Excellence;

- draft content statements were "not particularly exciting" and an opportunity had been missed to build up "several of the exciting big ideas in science", such as energy security and sustainability;

- proposed assessment standards for physics looked like headings from past Standard grade investigations, which missed a chance to create "more open and innovative approaches" such as in the revised physics Higher;

- there had been a failure to develop a much broader interpretation of scientific literacy beyond simply being able to write a lab report.

SQA has repeatedly stressed that its approach to reform is more open than ever before, with draft documents being published at each stage.

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