Scots schools may drop Advanced Higher courses

Hard-pressed Scottish schools may ditch Advanced Higher courses as the upheaval of the new National exam system leads to “unsustainable workloads” for teachers, MSPs have heard.

Teaching unions told MSPs today that the new advanced higher should be delayed for a year. Picture: PA
Teaching unions told MSPs today that the new advanced higher should be delayed for a year. Picture: PA

Teaching unions warned that the proposed new Advanced Higher – sat by pupils after Highers – should now be delayed for a year to ease the transition.

It comes after almost half of Scottish schools decided to delay introducing the new Higher exams this summer and stick with the current exam.

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Teaching unions have also issued a £1 million appeal for government cash for new textbooks to ease the transition for pupils to the new Highers.

Holyrood’s education committee was told yesterday that the new National 4 and 5 exams, replacing Standard Grades, have led to even more assessment of pupils – the opposite of what was intended – and driven up workloads for teachers.

It emerged last week that 45 per cent of pupils would stick with the old Higher this summer, after schools were given the option to delay the new exam for a year amid concerns over “content change and workload”.

EIS general-secretary Larry Flanagan told Holyrood’s education committee yesterday that allowing schools to delay the new Higher for a year had introduced a “relatively stable” situation in classrooms.

But he said there should “logically be the same ability to defer” between the existing Advanced Higher and the new Advanced Higher. The brightest pupils go on to sit Advanced Highers, often in preparation for university, after passing their Highers.

“The big issue for us is that there is a workload issue around developing a new course and if 45 per cent of departments are deferred on the current Higher, that means next year they will be delivering for the first time the new Cfe (Curriculum for Excellence) Higher.

“The idea that alongside that they will have to deliver the new Advanced Higher just creates an additional workload problem and capacity issue.”

Scotland’s classrooms have gone through a major upheaval since the new Curriculum for Excellence was introduced and new National 4 and 5 exams were brought in, meaning even more work for teachers, Mr Flanagan added.

“There’s still a lot of concern that there’s over-assessment around National 4 and 5 in terms of unit assessments. There’s no evidence from our members that the workload pressures from last year have abated,” he said.

And there are now real concerns about the impact of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) “turning off the tap” and ending the current Advanced Higher this year.

“I think the consequence would be, if there is no option around that, because of these workload pressures, because of these staffing pressures in terms of school timetables, a lot of schools will just drop the Advanced Higher. It’s already under huge pressure.”

He said the exam has already been dropped in some subjects and in Glasgow some pupils have to go to university to study for it.

“The danger here is not that people will press ahead with the Advanced Higher and take on board the workload pressure; I think the danger is they will turn away from it and Advanced Higher will be marginalised in terms of being on offer in our secondaries.”

But education secretary Angela Constance said 22,000 pupils sit the exam and played down the prospect of a delay. “I haven’t as yet heard a compelling case for a dual running of the Advanced Highers, given the numbers are smaller and the taught component is much smaller as well,” Ms Constance said.

Mr Flanagan also called on ministers to fund textbooks to help pupils preparing for the new exam this summer. It comes amid concerns that many feel unprepared for the new qualification with an absence of past papers and other materials.

The education secretary later pledged to consider the request.

“We will give that suggestion by Mr Flanagan all due consideration. We have accommodated such requests in the past,”

Ms Constance said. She added the government is taking teacher workload issues “very, very, seriously”. “It’s not in anybody’s interests, not children or indeed teachers themselves, to be overburdened.”