Winter exam diet may be back on menu

Tes Editorial

Students may yet be able to sit their final external exams early in the new year under tentative plans being considered by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Senior officials are again floating the idea of a more flexible system four years +after a two-year "winter diet" pilot was ditched after only one session. Lack of interest forced the climbdown.

Reform of the secondary curriculum under the umbrella of A Curriculum for Excellence is leading the Scottish Executive and the SQA to revisit the issue. Further education colleges had originally campaigned for all-year flexibility on assessment and certification, especially in vocational subjects.

A confidential paper seen by The TES Scotland suggests "starting with winter exams in some subjects (to allow 18-month Highers, for example)".

Peter Peacock, Education Minister, told the annual conference of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland last week of his intention to reverse the assessment-led curriculum. "Assessment needs to reflect and support learning priorities," Mr Peacock said. "We need to assess what we teach and not teach what we are about to assess. We need to make sure that arrangement is right now and into the future."

Mr Peacock said he was "not signalling a root and branch review of the qualifications system" but "some change". Young people, he said, should from the age of 15 be able to build up a profile of their achievements, not just in terms of exam results.

Confirming The TES Scotland's front-page story two weeks ago about new assessment plans, the minister said he was looking to "simplify the structure, widen opportunities and improve progression through the system".

"We want to build on what's best in the current arrangements, bringing together the best from Standard grade and the new National Qualifications. We need to have a sensible, mature debate about how we bring things more effectively into the future," he said.

"We have begun to explore inside the Executive and more widely what the various options for the future qualifications landscape might look like. I stress we are at the early stages of that and absolutely no decisions have been taken about that and we want a professional dialogue about the nature of the potential changes."

The winter diet pilot was scrapped in April 2002. Only 12 out of 46 colleges submitted entries, for just 71 candidates, and only 48 schools - many from the independent sector - submitted 288 students in a limited range of subjects.

Ministers said that the winter exam was "not a sensible or cost-effective option at this time".

Plans have been revised now that some schools and authorities have begun Standard grade in S2, leaving space in S4 and S5 for the introduction of an earlier Higher exam for some pupils.

A separate consultation south of the border on the timing of entry to university is likely to affect any Scottish arrangement. Some universities want to offer places only after results are confirmed, a decision that would force an earlier exam diet in the summer.

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