Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s education committee yesterday, Larry Flanagan, general-secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland union, welcomed the additional £5 million in support announced by the Scottish Government last week, but said it should have been provided last year.
The money is being used to help free up more time for teachers and to pay for additional staff training, with the Nationals just six weeks away.
But Mr Flanagan told MSPs the money had come too late for pupils sitting exams this spring.
“If a year ago we were where we are now, everybody would be a lot more relaxed,” he said. “The £5m is very, very welcome, but it’s not going to have a major impact on [children studying] National 4 and National 5 because we’re six weeks away from these qualifications.
“The money is after the fact. We would have appreciated if it was there as part of the planning process.”
There is growing concern about how prepared pupils will be for the new exams, which are replacing Standard Grades in Scotland’s schools.
Labour, which is bringing forward a parliamentary debate today on the new qualifications, yesterday called for an independent review to be carried out in the summer on the current phase of implementation.
MSPs on the education committee also heard concerns yesterday about an apparent lack of exam practice papers, although the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said there was less need for them under the new system.
While the SQA has made one sample paper available for each subject, unions have called for more to be produced.
Learning minister Alasdair Allan, who also addressed the committee, said he believed the availability of sample papers was “adequate”.
Janet Brown, chief executive of the SQA, said: “One of the things that we wanted to do was reduce the number of practice prelims that pupils were trying to go through.”
Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) includes a large element of coursework that counts towards the final qualifications, reducing the need for practice prelims, she said.
Mr Allan said this year was “critical” for the new curriculum.
“I readily accept that change on this scale has represented very considerable work by teachers. But we have never been complacent around the need to support teachers in doing it,” he said.
“We already have put in place an unprecedented level of support, both nationally and locally.”
Speaking after the meeting, Neil Bibby MSP, a member of the education committee, said: “Concerns over the level of preparation for the new exams and Highers have been raised consistently over the past two years.
“Today we heard teaching unions raise more concerns just six teaching weeks ahead of the new exams. This is a serious issue and an important time for our young people.
“While we welcome the belated announcement of extra resources, the Scottish Government need to develop an urgent action plan to allay any outstanding concerns.
“In addition, as the EIS have said, we need to ‘learn lessons’ from this situation and that’s why there should be an independent review of the
implementation process this summer.”