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‘Weak’ arguments for teaching different exam courses together

MSPs hear that ‘multi-level teaching’ is ‘prevalent’ in Scotland, but that teachers would not do it by choice

‘Weak’ arguments for teaching different exam courses together

The teaching of pupils at different exam levels in the same class is “prevalent” in parts of Scotland – even though there is little evidence that it improves learning.

These views emerged in evidence at the Scottish Parliament today, less than 24 hours before the first of this year’s Scottish Qualifications Authority exams were due to take place.

William Hardie, policy advice manager at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, told MSPs that concerns had been raised several years ago about the number of pupils in Scotland who were in subject classes where a teacher had to deal with two or more levels of course together, such as National 5 and Higher.


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Mr Hardie recalled that a “dialogue” had taken place between local authorities and curriculum development body Education Scotland to “highlight that multi-course teaching was undesirable”, but added that “I’m just not aware of any action having been taken since then and, as far as I can tell, multi-course teaching is as prevalent now as it was when the society originally raised this issue”.

Expert witnesses spoke at today’s meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee, which has been carrying out an inquiry into the apparent narrowing of subject choices in Scottish schools

Dr Alan Britton, a senior lecturer in education at the University of Glasgow, said that “while there are some relatively weak pedagogical arguments for multi-level teaching – the notion of peer support within the class and so on – I think the reality for most teachers is that if they were given the choice between multi-level teaching, they wouldn’t want it”.

The teaching of different courses in the same class has been seen as a way of offering subjects that might not be available otherwise, given issues such as teacher-recruitment problems in certain subjects.

Professor Jim Scott, of the University of Dundee’s school of education and social work, said that multi-level teaching was a particular issue in science – where it was fairly common for National 4 and National 5 to be taught together, and even Higher – but that it may be the only way some schools can run courses at each level.

Professor Scott was particularly concerned that “tri-level teaching” remains “prevalent” in parts of Scotland, especially in “minority subjects” and smaller schools.

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