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National 5: Radical plan for Scotland school exams expected

June 28, 2023

Original Article:

A radical review of school qualifications in Scotland is to be published before the end of the month.

The review was commissioned by the Scottish government to look at how well the system is working after Standard Grades were abolished 10 years ago.

There is speculation it could recommend an end to exams for fourth year pupils and for some qualifications.

Pupils could be assessed on coursework and receive qualifications that recognise extra-curricular activities.

The review is being chaired by the academic Louise Hayward and was always expected to be "bold" in its thinking.

The interim report, published in March, said the current exam system was "no longer fit for purpose".

National 4 and 5 qualifications, normally taken by 15 and 16-year-olds, were introduced in 2013/14.

There are two distinct questions: should there be exams for particular qualifications, and when should students sit exams for the first time?

There is a long-standing argument that senior students sit too many exams - and that by removing exams in S4, students could spend more time working towards obtaining their first formal qualifications the following year, at the end of S5.

The review is also likely to address whether there is even a need for National 4 qualifications or exams for National 5 candidates.

There are no exams for National 4 qualifications and some contend that National 5s could also be obtained through coursework and continuing assessment.

Any fundamental changes to the qualification system would be a decision for Scottish government ministers and parliament.

When the new qualifications system was introduced, a handful of schools decided not to routinely present students for exams in S4.

At Hermitage Academy in Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute, this proved hugely controversial and pressure from parents led to their reintroduction.

'Radically different'
Ministers are likely to seek the views of parents and employers - as well as education professionals - before they contemplate any fundamental changes.

A government spokesperson told BBC Scotland: "The recommendations of the final report will be carefully considered and the Scottish government will respond in due course."

Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth previously said Scotland's qualification system needed a "radical" overhaul.

She said there was a need to "future-proof our qualifications" and they may look "radically different" in the future, adding it was essential that pupils were assessed continuously throughout the academic year.

Scotland's education and exams agencies are already to be scrapped and replaced by the summer of 2024 after another report said there was too much focus on exams in schools.

The overhaul will include government bodies Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), Education Scotland and a separate school inspection agency.

Pupils across Scotland are currently waiting for the results of this year's written exams, to be published on 8 August. They were the last of three years of altered assessments designed to mitigate disruption caused by Covid.

The SQA said its grading would be "sensitive" this year because of the continuing impact of the pandemic.

It has taken similar steps to last year to help students, such as removing or reducing exams or elements of coursework, but plans for exams to go fully back to normal next year.


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