Scottish pupils face losing out on grades under new shake-up, says union

Recent figures suggest re-think on Scots education is needed. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Recent figures suggest re-think on Scots education is needed. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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FEARS have been raised that Scottish pupils could miss out on vital grades, with the introduction of controversial new exams and the tightening up of the appeals process.

Teachers’ leaders have called for a delay in overhauling how appeals are handled, amid concerns some children could lose out because of uncertainty surrounding the introduction of the new qualifications system.

Mike Russell: possibility of extra cash. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Mike Russell: possibility of extra cash. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The country’s largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), said the current system should be maintained as a “safety net” until after the new national qualifications are brought in.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is to revamp the appeals process, making it harder for pupils to appeal when their exam results fall short of what was expected of them.

The new system is due to be introduced in 2013-14 at the same time as Nationals are brought in to replace Standard Grades and Intermediates.

There are fears some children could suffer because of confusion surrounding the new qualifications, with a toughened appeals process making it more difficult to achieve the results they might otherwise have received.

Larry Flanagan, incoming general secretary of the EIS, called for a delay in introducing the new system.

He said: “There is some validity in their [the SQA’s] arguments for it – the appeals almost dictate course content at the moment.

“But they are making the change at the same time as the new qualifications are coming in. They are really relying on the new qualifications going smoothly and that has not been the experience of previous new arrangements being introduced.

“We’ve certainly said to them that it’s foolish to introduce the new appeals arrangement at the same time as the new exams, because, if anything is liable to go wrong, that’s when it’s likely to happen. It’s unfortunate timing at a time when you need a fall-back position to pick up any genuine cases.

“We’ve urged them to rethink – we would have preferred they kept the current appeals system in place for the initial phases of the new arrangements.”

Under the exams shake-up, only pupils with compelling personal reasons, such as illness, will be able to appeal. In all other cases, schools will able to request a review of an exam script but will have to pay the cost of any unsuccessful appeal.

Mr Flanagan said: “There are some questions over who’s going to pay. Are there going to be schools where they ask for parental contributions? That’s unclear at the moment. If it’s up to schools, then I’m sure that, in the private sector, they will be able to fund a whole range of appeals, but in the public sector, schools might find it difficult.”

The National qualifications will replace Standard Grades and Intermediates from 2013.

Earlier this month, East Renfrewshire Council, which is home to some of the country’s best-performing state schools, said it would delay by a year the introduction of the new exams to allow its teachers more time to prepare.

Education secretary Michael Russell has raised the possibility of providing extra cash to make sure schools elsewhere in the country are ready for the new exams, but he is unlikely to allow other councils to follow East Renfrewshire’s lead.

David Cameron, an education consultant and former director of education at Stirling Council, said there was “considerable insecurity” among parents over the new qualifications.

He said: “I understand the view being expressed by the EIS [on appeals]. There is anxiety among teachers who lack confidence about what they are preparing children for. However, if Curriculum for Excellence is working, then young people have been prepared over a period of time and there should not be an issue with preparation.”

Eileen Prior, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said: “It appears there is increasing nervousness around the introduction of the new qualifications.

“That said, the SQA’s plan to reform the appeals process has been widely trumpeted and generally accepted by parents as a positive step. Two years out from the introduction of the new regime, parents simply want to see a robust appeals system which is applied equitably.

“We would question whether a delay will achieve anything other than heightening anxiety further.”

An SQA spokesman said: “We’ve no plans to delay implementation of the new appeals services. The detail and the timeline were agreed only after a long and inclusive period of consultation.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are fully on track to deliver Curriculum for Excellence and have made clear that Education Scotland are on hand to address any concerns that schools may have regarding its ongoing rollout.”