Schools don’t want time to revise for new exams, reckons Mike Russell

Mike Russell was urged to address concerns of schools. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Mike Russell was urged to address concerns of schools. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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SCHOOLS across Scotland remain on track to introduce a new exam system, the Scottish Government has said, despite warnings from the country’s largest teaching union.

The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) has called for schools to be able to delay for a year the introduction of the National qualifications, which will replace Standard Grades, after East Renfrewshire said it would postpone them to give its teachers more time to prepare.

However, the Scottish Government has said the timetable for the introduction of the exams remains on course, with no other council or individual school department currently seeking special dispensation to delay.

Education secretary Mike Russell has described East Renfrewshire, which is home to some of the country’s best-performing state schools, as “unique” because the local authority became the only one in Scotland to drop Standard Grades altogether in 2005, replacing them with Intermediates.

Debate surrounding the new exams began again earlier this week after the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) published new guidance for teachers on delivering the new National 4 and National 5 courses.

The National 4, which replaces Standard Grade general level and Intermediate 1, and National 5, which replaces Standard Grade credit level and Intermediate 2, are due to be introduced in 2013/14.

Larry Flanagan, the incoming head of the EIS, said: “From our point of view, it’s not about local authorities, but individual schools. Most local authorities are looking to push ahead in terms of the timeline, but there are individual schools that feel they are behind.

“Even if 90 per cent of schools are ready to go, that leaves 10 per cent that are not and 10 per cent of pupils that are ill-prepared – you can’t allow that.

“All we are saying is that it should be up to the schools themselves to make the judgment. We have been pushing for this for 18 months, but push has come to shove and the situation in East Renfrewshire has brought it to the boil.”

Yesterday, the Scottish Government said it had yet to receive a single request for an individual subject department at a Scottish school asking for a year’s delay.

But Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said Mr Russell urgently needed to address the concerns of schools which did not feel prepared.

She said: “Parents need reassurance that their children’s school is well prepared for the new exams and that nothing will get in the way of the highest standards of teaching. If, following full discussions between parents, staff and pupils, a school decides it wants to delay for a short time then so be it.”

Her Lib Dem counterpart, Liam McArthur, added: “It is essential that Mr Russell takes urgent action to address the concerns in East Renfrewshire.”

The EIS intervention came as Bill Maxwell, head of Education Scotland, the country’s schools inspectorate, accused East Renfrewshire of “undermining” confidence in the new system.

Mr Russell said: “Subject departments in schools already have the option to request a delay on implementation if they are unprepared – Education Scotland has confirmed that no departments have yet asked for a delay.”