Nuala Clark writes ‘News from Scotland’ for Teaching English, NATE’s quarterly magazine.
John Swinney MSP, Education Secretary, has pledged to ‘declutter’ the senior phase of the Scottish education system by scrapping the prescribed internal assessments in National 5 and Higher. The news came during Swinney’s keynote speech at the annual Scottish Learning Festival.
Teacher-marked assessments have been an important part of National 5 and Higher qualifications, and, as NATE has always argued, they can play an important role in developing students’ ability to respond reflectively and creatively in extended writing. However, these assessments add to the already heavy workload burden of the Scottish English teacher. The bureaucracy involved is significant and has added to the stress put upon teachers and pupils alike.
Teaching unions in Scotland have been working on the issue of workload for teachers. EIS members began a work to rule in May this year and the SSTA have been balloting their members to take action short of strike action. It is still unclear what impact these changes will have on individual subjects, and – at time of writing – union action remains as it were.
Swinney says the changes will have a positive effect on teachers and on pupils; ‘young people will not be carrying as much pressure as they have been carrying in the past. This will assist young people in concentrating on the achievement of their learning, rather than the assessment of their progress.’
The proposed changes involve scrapping the cumbersome internal assessments and providing a strengthened final exam for pupils. Important coursework will be adapted and will be externally assessed, freeing up classroom teachers. Clarification as to what this means and will look like are to follow. The Education Secretary stated, “I now intend to take the proposals to the Curriculum for Excellence management board as the appropriate body to discuss the details and agree their implementation.” After the proposed changes are in place, pupils will still be in a position to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding out with the exam hall and the pressures which come with that.
The first changes will come to National 5 in the 2017/18 session, with the changes to coming to Higher the year after. A spokesperson for the EIS said that they see these changes as, ‘a way forward and clearly we welcome the agreement which has now been reached.’
However, the proposed changes could be viewed as a political ‘quick fix’, which speak to the recent pressures from teaching unions, and, although well-intentioned, may leave gaps in the curriculum.
Nuala Clark is SATE’s Local Authority coordinator for Glasgow. Views expressed are her own.