THOUSANDS of pupils are preparing to sit controversial new Higher qualifications for the first time as the exam period gets under way.
The Scottish Qualification Authority’s (SQA) six-week exam period will begin with tests in drama and economics tomorrow.
More than half a million exams will be sat by more than 132,000 candidates who are taking courses at 473 schools and colleges.
The new Higher exams have been developed as part of the Curriculum for Excellence reforms and follow the replacement of the old Standard Grade exams with National 4 and 5 qualifications last year.
Schools were given the option to phase in the new Highers, with provisional figures released by SQA earlier this year showing almost half (45 per cent) of pupils will sit the existing and not the new qualification this year.
All pupils are due to study for the new qualifications from the 2015/16 school year on, but teaching unions have raised concerns about the implementation of the reforms and their impact on teacher workload.
Minister for Learning Dr Alasdair Allan insisted the reforms are benefiting young people as he wished exam candidates well.
He said: “The exams are the culmination of a lot of hard work over the school year and I know that across Scotland, pupils, parents, teachers, headteachers, colleges and local authorities have been preparing intensively to get to this point.
“Scottish education now offers more flexible learning opportunities for our young people.
“This year marks an important milestone in the ongoing implementation of Curriculum for Excellence with the introduction of the new Higher.
“Curriculum for Excellence has been designed to equip our young people with the skills they need to succeed both in Scotland and in the global workplace, with local authorities having the freedom to shape education to meet the needs of our pupils, whatever their background.”
Dr Janet Brown, SQA chief executive and Scotland’s chief examining officer, also wished those sitting exams good luck, adding: “All of our qualifications, including the new Higher, provide candidates with the opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge and understanding they’ve acquired and prepare them for further study, employment or training.
“Our qualifications are robust, relevant and designed to equip young people with a wide range of skills.”
The exam period will finish on June 5 with candidates due to receive their final results on August 4.