Proposals for changes to be made to next year’s exams may be “too little, too late” according to a Dundee teaching union representative.
Last week, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) launched two consultations aimed at gathering feedback on potential modifications to qualifications and adjustments to the 2021 exam timetable.
Included in the proposals are plans for some subjects to make changes to coursework, assignments and the exam structure and length.
For example, in both National 5 and Higher English the plans will reduce the writing portfolio to just one piece which would “free up a considerable amount of time for teaching and learning.”
The time allocated for candidates to complete the National 5 and Higher mathematics papers will also be reduced, reverting back to the pre-2018 and pre-2019 format respectively.
This, the SQA says, will “reduce the overall assessment burden on candidates.”
“Too little, too late”
However, the proposals have been met with scepticism by some in the teaching unions who fear the changes may be implemented too late.
David Baxter, Dundee EIS secretary said: “We as an institute welcome the review that is taking place but you wonder if it’s too little, too late. This should’ve been going on in the background in summer to make sure we were prepared for the reopening of schools.
“The big problem is if you start changing course content, you really need to let us know by the end of week.
“If they leave it too late and then suddenly bombard teachers with changes they need to put in to place, there could be a lot of angry teachers who are already busting a gut to prepare kids in challenging circumstances.”
Mr. Baxter also called for greater clarity on how hands-on subjects would be impacted in the new normal.
He said: “It’s obvious changes need to be made and there is two distinct problems with next year’s exams diet.
“The first is lost teaching time with the schools being shut and there needs to be some mitigation against that.
“The other is how do practical subjects, like P.E, home economics or woodwork which are popular in Dundee, occur safely in a socially distanced classroom?”
Outlining the reasons for the possible changes, the SQA said: “While significant progress has been made in reducing incidence rates of the coronavirus, it has not gone away.
“There remains a potential risk of disruption to the amount of teaching and learning that can be delivered this year, and the assessment of national qualifications.
“It is important that the education system has plans in place to ensure that we can cope with any disruptions in the coming months.
“There needs to be an appropriate balance between learning, teaching, and assessment in National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses.”
This should’ve been going on in the background in Summer to make sure we were prepared for the reopening of schools. ”
David Baxter, Dundee EIS secretary
Education secretary John Swinney added: “Coronavirus has had, and will likely continue to have, an impact on learning, teaching and assessment over the coming year.
“I am aware that many teachers will be keen to understand fully the arrangements for the assessment of national qualifications in 2021.
“The Education Recovery Group has discussed a number of options in relation to this, and I welcome this consultation exercise by the SQA examining options for possible course modifications that could help to support the delivery of learning, whilst maintaining the validity, credibility and standard of qualifications.”
The consultations come after both the SQA and the Scottish Government were heavily criticised for the moderation of pupils estimated grades given by teachers for this year’s cancelled exams.
Around a quarter of the estimated grades teachers submitted for pupils across Scotland were adjusted and individual schools’ past performance influenced the results.
There was a 15% gap between the actual and estimated pass rate for children in the most deprived areas, compared to 7% for those in the least deprived areas.
The criticism eventually prompted a u-turn from government, with Mr. Swinney announcing last week that pupils whose grades were downgraded would receive the grades their teacher recommended instead.
All confirmed modifications to course assessments and the 2021 exam timetable will be published during week beginning 31 August.
A full list of the possible changes to next year’s exams can be found here.