Scottish teachers ‘anxious’ over new higher exams

Budget concerns and lack of time is an issue. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
Budget concerns and lack of time is an issue. Picture: Stephen Mansfield
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SCOTLAND’S schools face “major problems” over the introduction of new higher exams this term amid concerns over a lack of funds, materials and preparation time, MSPs have been warned.

Teachers are still “anxious” about the new highers which most pupils will sit for the first time in May, Holyrood’s education committee heard today.

It comes after the first tranche of pupils to sit the new National 4 and 5 exams - which replaced the standard grades - came through with encouraging results earlier this year.

But Richard Goring of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association (SSTA) said: “The results last year, which were very commendable, are in spite of a lack of support. It’s more a tribute to the sheer industry and determination of teachers to get through the course and make the best of what they had.”

He added: “There’s still major problems about materials, resources, budgets and obviously time.”

The pass rate for National 4 courses was 93 per cent, while the pass rate for the more academically advanced National 5 courses was 81.1 per cent.

But Mr Goring went on: “Teachers are not happy with the way things are at the moment. They feel they need more support, more examples of things to look at and model their own practice around.

“They need more practice papers so they can see what’s likely to be asked of their pupils at the end of the day.

“They need the assurance that things aren’t going to change half way through the session. Many people had taught something, then the rules change and they have to `re-do’ which is total time wasting and dispiriting.

“They need examples of assessments they can have as well.”

The new exams are part of an overhaul of classroom teaching as part of the Curriculum for Excellence which aims to make education in Scotland more broadly based and focussed on learning, not assessment.

Education secretary Mike Russell has already allowed some councils to delay the introduction of the new Highers by a year, amid concerns over their readiness.

But Dr Janet Brown, chief executive, Scottish Qualifications Authority insisted that “very good” support had been provided to teachers.

“It’s more support than has ever been provided to nay change in education in Scotland,” she told MSPs.

“It’s always difficult, the first year of any change especially in education because teachers care so passionately about the future of their students.”

She added: “As they move forward, they become more confident and I think the support will be more easily accessible to them.”

More than 80 per cent of teachers say that workload is a cause of “severe stress” according to a survey carried out by the EIS, while the SSTA say some teachers are working 50-60 hours a week to meet expectations.

“That workload is simply unsustainable,” said Larry Flanagan of the EIS.

It comes as a survey of pupils conducted by the Scottish Youth parliament found that many felt “under-prepared” for the National 4 and/or 5 examinations and “struggled to understand the new system.”

“Most believed their teachers were also under-prepared, and cited lack of resources and time as concerns,” according to the 67 pupils who responded.

Barely a third (38 per cent) said they felt their courses prepared them for the new National 4 and/or 5 exams, while 29 per cent did not and a further 33 per cent said were unsure.


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