Unrest over lack of consultation

Emma Seith & Neil Munro

The SNP Government has been accused of failing to consult colleges over its plans to scrap Intermediate qualifications along with Standard grade.

In the first public signs of unrest in the FE sector, the Association of Scotland's Colleges points out that this is despite the fact that there are more adults studying for Intermediate awards in colleges than there are pupils studying for the qualification in Scotland's schools - as many as 100,000.

After giving evidence to the parliamentary education committee, Howard McKenzie, acting chief executive of the ASC, told The TESS that the more mature students in colleges wanted a certificate rather than "intellectual stimulation" or "philosophy". He commented: "The average age of a student at college is 31, so she - and it's mainly a she - would not want to go off and do a general national certificate, as proposed under the `next generation' of qualifications proposals. She wants a certificate to take to employers so she can get a job or get a better job."

The proposed baccalaureate in languages and science would also be unsuitable for adults, he felt.

The first time colleges were involved in the development of the new curriculum - due to be introduced next year - was around seven weeks ago, Mr McKenzie said, when they began sitting on the revamped management board of A Curriculum for Excellence.

The college, whose principal was the only FE representative on the review group which produced ACfE and who now sits on the management board, has also entered a plea for the colleges' voice to be heard.

Langside College in Glasgow, led by Graeme Hyslop, has called for proper representation in the management and implementation of the curriculum and qualification changes. It wants the same staff and curriculum development opportunities for colleges as schools receive. And funding should be identified.

Langside says it is "surprising and deeply disappointing" to find that national certificates and progression awards which are taken by over 20,000 college students a year (often at Intermediate 1 and 2 levels) are ignored. "This oversight must be rectified if the consultation or the outcome of it is to be taken seriously," the college's response states.

It points out that many have a considerable stake in what are regarded as "school" qualifications. Langside has an extensive range of Highers, Advanced Highers and A levels, for example, and it presents "significantly more candidates for Highers annually than the largest of Scotland's secondary schools."

Generally supportive of the Government's plans, the college points to key features of the Intermediate awards which it wants retained. These include the flexibility in these unit-based courses which allow colleges to meet the diverse needs of young students and adult learners. It also wants to see the replacement certificate provide a sound basis for students to move on to Higher.

Langside rejects the proposal to name the new award as General and Advanced General, which would sit on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework at levels 4 and 5 respectively. It suggests this differentiation would be "confusing and divisive", preferring "Scottish General Qualification (SCQF level 4 and SCQF level 5)".

Plans to introduce new literacy and numeracy awards at SCQF levels 3-5 get its backing, given the concerns expressed by employers about defective skills in these areas. But it says more weighting should be given to internal marks than to an external exam in their assessment.

Langside believes the Government has taken a "rather restricted and restrictive" view of issues such as the grading of awards. It wants to see a more radical approach which could include judging students' work by using "distance travelled" in relation to achievement, professional testimonials and recognition of experience.

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Emma Seith & Neil Munro

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