Teachers ‘angry’ over new SQA National exams

Teachers are growing increasingly angry over the new exams. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Teachers are growing increasingly angry over the new exams. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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SCOTLAND’S qualifications body has come under renewed attack from the country’s two largest teaching unions over its handling of the new National exams.

In submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said there had never been such “widespread anger, disappointment and frustration” with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), while the Scottish Secondary Teacher’s Association (SSTA) said the SQA’s website was “impenetrable” and its support materials riddled with mistakes and grammatical errors.

Last week, the Scottish Government announced an additional £5m in support to help with the controversial implementation of the Nationals - part of Curriculum for Excellence.

It comes amid growing discontent from teachers who are currently preparing S4 pupils for the Nationals, which are being sat for the first time in the spring.

In its submission to the education committee, which is discussing the Nationals at Holyrood today, the EIS said: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that we have not encountered as much widespread anger and disappointment and frustration with the exams authority as we are currently witnessing.

“Our members feel that SQA communication has not been effective, support has not been sustained or sufficient, and that too much bureaucracy has crept into the process.”

It added: “The EIS has engaged constructively with SQA, and we continue to, but there is no doubt teachers have lost a great deal of confidence in the authority of that body and its ability to support them effectively.”

The union, which represents 80 per cent of Scotland’s teachers, accused the SQA of “poor communication” and “mixed messages”. It also complained that there was a lack of assessment materials and practice papers for the new exams.

The SSTA said its members were struggling under increased workload associated with the exams. It highlighted the “impenetrability” of the SQA’s website and said “numerous changes” to National 4 and 5 courses during the year had forced teachers to revisit topics that had already been taught to pupils.

The £5m package of measures announced by the Scottish Government was designed to alleviate concerns surrounding the new exams, which are replacing Standard Grades and Intermediates. More than 50,000 pupils aged 15 and 16 will begin sitting the exams in April.

The government said the money would be used for extra staff training and on events designed to improve parental understanding of the new qualifications.

Earlier this month, the SQA suspended its verification system, which assesses how teachers are grading pupils’ work, after pressure from the EIS.

A spokesman for the SQA said: “Last week, SQA announced a modification to the verification of the new National qualifications … It will allow schools and colleges to concentrate on key aspects of national standards, while giving teachers time to focus on preparing pupils for coursework and their exams.”