School inspectors to visit Scottish teachers ahead of new exams

INSPECTORS will visit schools across Scotland in a bid to make sure teachers are ready for the introduction of the country’s controversial new exams.

Education Scotland, the national body for education, will carry out an “audit” after concerns were raised that some schools are not fully prepared for the start of the new National qualifications in 2013-14.

The debate surrounding the new exams intensified last month when East Renfrewshire Council, home to some of the country’s best-performing state schools, said it would delay their introduction by a year to give teachers more time to prepare.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament’s education committee yesterday, education secretary Mike Russell said the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) had stated that delaying the exams was “simply not viable”, and he did not believe that such a move would be in the best interests of pupils.

But while he said the Scottish Government was open to providing more help with preparation for the exams, he said any debate about the future of the Curriculum for Excellence itself was now “over”.

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Mr Russell said: “The majority of teachers are telling me, don’t delay [the introduction of the exams]. Don’t disrupt our pupils’ learning.

“But some are saying they need more support to be ready, and I understand that. I always have and I always will listen and respond to teachers’ concerns.”

He said the majority of teachers were now behind Curriculum for Excellence, the teaching framework introduced after a year’s delay in 2010. He added: “There’s a small group of teachers who still don’t like Curriculum for Excellence. They are quite vocal, but I have to say to them, that argument is over.”

Larry Flanagan, the incoming general-secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, the country’s largest teaching union, said many schools wanted the option of opting out of the new exams for a year.

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He said: “Our view is that rather than Education Scotland being in the driving seat, it should be the schools that are calling the shots. It’s clear there are a significant number of schools where the opt-out option might be something they would consider. Education Scotland was completely unaware of the situation in East Renfrewshire until it blew up in their face – they’re not in touch with what’s happening on the ground.”

MSPs will take part in a parliamentary debate over the future of the curriculum tomorrow, with Labour calling for schools to be able to delay the new exams for a year.

Hugh Henry, Labour’s education spokesman, said: “I’m surprised Mike Russell has left it so late to do an audit of schools.

“Teachers across Scotland are telling us they are not ready, and we can’t afford to gamble with pupils’ futures.”

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Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “Mike Russell cannot extend ‘special case status’ to one local authority, whose headteachers have unanimously decided they would like more time, and not offer that status to those other schools which also feel they are not yet ready.

“Only one thing matters in this whole debate and that is the best interests of pupils. That is why it should be the schools themselves which make this decision and not government.”