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FAQs - SCQF Level 4 and 5

Standard Grades and Intermediates are widely recognised. Why are they being replaced?

These qualifications were originally intended for different year groups and have different structures and grading systems. Although well regarded, they have come to overlap and this has led to confusion.

Indeed, a motivation behind introducing the new National Qualifications is to simplify the system so that parents and employers understand better what qualifications represent.

However, we are retaining the best features of Standard Grades and Intermediates, such as their unit-based structure and flexibility, and these characteristics will inform the new qualification.

What will be different or new about the qualifications?

The qualifications will offer increased flexibility, provide more time for learning, more focus on skills and applying learning, and more scope for personalisation.

There will be a greater emphasis on skills development to ensure young people develop the necessary skills for learning, life and work. There will continue to be an important focus on the development of knowledge and understanding of key concepts and content to ensure progression through levels.

The qualifications are designed to meet the needs of all learners in progressing from their prior levels of achievement in their broad general education, through the qualifications framework to other learning and employment. Approaches to assessment will be more closely linked to learning. Good practice which reduces the time spent on assessment for certification will be encouraged.

How will the qualifications be structured and assessed?

Courses will comprise a number of contributing units and coursework.

National 4 courses will be assessed by teachers through coursework assessment. This will draw upon skills and knowledge developed across the course to provide challenging and motivating tasks for young people and adult learners. There will be no external assessment or grading at this level, but coursework will be assessed by teachers using SQA assessments and quality assurance processes to ensure maintenance of national standards.

National 5 courses will be assessed by teachers through coursework assessment and by an external SQA assessment (an examination, where appropriate). The external SQA assessment will require the learner to apply and/or integrate skills, knowledge and understanding in less familiar contexts and demonstrate deeper understanding and higher level skills. The external assessment will be graded.

How will the qualifications offer more flexibility?

As at present, schools and colleges can plan to deliver the qualifications to meet learners' needs. Study for these qualifications will generally begin in S4, building on prior learning as appropriate.

Schools and colleges will be able to deliver the most appropriate provision for their learners to maximise progression and achievement. They could provide 1 and/or 2 year programmes of learning with learners being presented when they have achieved the requirements for the qualification. Some young people may take longer than others depending on their learning needs and progress. Learners will have the opportunity to develop at different rates, at different times, in different areas/subjects across the curriculum.

How will we ensure that young people who take a National 4/5 course and achieve a National 4 do not just repeat their experience the following year?

SQA's qualifications design teams have  focussed on ensuring appropriate progression through the qualifications framework in each curriculum area and within subjects.

The new relationship between the curriculum and qualifications means that schools and colleges will have the flexibility to deliver programmes of learning to maximise achievement and progression for their learners. For example, the new type of unit and increased focus on skills will allow teaching staff to design learning programmes with different contexts. This will ensure that young people progressing from National 4 to National 5 build on their experiences and achievements and feel they are progressing in their learning and not repeating.

How many subjects will young people be able to take?

The number and range of qualifications undertaken will be a matter for schools, education authorities, colleges, parents and young people to decide. With increased flexibility and building on their learning in S1-S3, young people are likely to study up to 8 subjects/qualifications from S4 depending on their needs and aspirations. The qualifications are designed to maintain breadth in the curriculum throughout the senior phase of S4-S6.

Curriculum for Excellence promotes depth of understanding and quality learning and so young people will not be encouraged to 'race' through levels of qualifications. The important thing is that they develop the necessary skills and knowledge and understanding that will help them progress successfully to future learning and employment.

Qualifications are only part of a young person's learning experience in the senior phase. In addition, they will have opportunities for learning in a wider range of contexts including through interdisciplinary learning, the ethos and life of the school as a community and through opportunities for personal achievement. Taken together, these aspects of the senior phase will provide opportunities for developing skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work with a continuous focus in literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing.

Will the increased flexibility include the option of being able to bypass qualifications at some levels?

Yes. The increased flexibility would allow the most able young people to bypass National 4 and National 5 and begin studying for their Highers in S4. It could avoid an unnecessary layer of assessment and encourage young people to focus on learning at the higher levels. It would also facilitate a move away from the "two-term" dash for Highers. It may allow them to take more Highers and Advanced Highers over the senior phase. The decision to support such flexible arrangements will rest ultimately with schools and local authorities.

What will the increased emphasis on skills development mean?

In addition to the important knowledge and understanding required for progression within any subject/course, each of the National 4 and National 5 courses will require young people and adult learners to demonstrate the skills, application of knowledge and understanding and attributes that will equip them for learning, life and work in the future.

Why is National 4 to be assessed by teachers and not by an SQA exam as at National 5?

Teacher assessment is already an established feature of National Qualifications and will also feature as part of the National 5 qualification. Teaching staff will use SQA assessments and quality assurance processes to ensure maintenance of national standards.

Teacher assessment increases flexibility in course delivery since teaching staff and young people do not have to plan their learning around the timing of the SQA examination diet. It allows teaching staff to adapt assessment in ways that suit learner's choices and interests and so increase personalisation and the relevance of assessment and learner motivation.

It keeps assessment approaches 3-15 and the early stages of the qualifications framework consistent and will ease the transition into qualifications for young people. An external exam at this level would be an unnecessary hurdle for most young people and would constrain their progress in learning.

However, the external assessment at National 5 provides a useful experience for young people and adult learners in preparing them for examinations at level 6 (Higher). Overall, the qualifications are designed with an increasing level of external assessment as learners progress through the qualifications framework.

How will we ensure that standards are maintained with qualifications that are teacher-assessed? Will there be concerns about the credibility of the qualifications?

Teachers and lecturers already assess existing qualifications and the new qualifications will build on this good practice and procedures.

Teachers and lecturers will receive training and support to ensure that they understand the standards to apply. In addition, there will be support and exemplification for assessment and standards through the National Assessment Resource.

SQA will apply rigorous quality assurance procedures to teacher assessments to ensure that consistent national standards are applied across the country.

Why is the National 4 qualification ungraded while National 5 is graded?

Employers and FE have said that they want young people with better skills. Introducing an ungraded qualification at SCQF level 4 will free up more time for learning This will lead to improved attainment and better skills. It is also important to recognise that ungraded qualifications are already part of our system and are highly regarded by users of these qualifications.

Having ungraded qualifications up to SCQF level 4 also keeps assessment approaches 3-15 and the early stages of the qualifications framework consistent and will ease the transition into qualifications for young people. Reassessment 'to get a better grade' can be de-motivating for young people and adult learners.

However, the external assessment at National 5 provides a useful experience for young people and adult learners in preparing them for examinations at level 6 (Higher).

Can pupils fail National 4?

Yes. National 4 qualifications are unit-based courses. Candidates will be accredited for the units that they achieve. If they do not achieve all the course requirements, including the coursework assessment, then they won't pass the course.

Teaching staff are best placed to judge the educational potential of their learners. If they think that learners will be unlikely to achieve National 4 course awards then they can present them for qualifications at other levels such as National 1, 2 or 3.

Why have you moved away from the idea of grading units as in the consultation proposals?

Views on grading units were mixed and many respondents raised a range of concerns about assessment approaches. The Curriculum for Excellence Management Board considered the feedback on the consultation carefully and assessment in the new qualifications is designed to address these concerns.

Many respondents felt that too much time is currently spent on assessment and grading can increase the complexity of assessment. By not grading and increasing the focus on teacher assessment, teachers can adapt assessment in ways that suit learner's choices and interests and so increase personalisation, the relevance of assessment and learner motivation. This is in line with the principles of Curriculum for Excellence and will improve the quality of learning and achievement of young people.

What is changing with Highers and Advanced Highers?

These qualifications remain highly regarded across the range of public opinion, including parents, employers, universities and young people and adults themselves. The qualifications will be reviewed and revised to ensure that they provide good progression from National and reflect the values, purposes and principles of Curriculum for Excellence.

What about Standard Grade Foundation level?

Standard Grade Foundation level will be replaced with the updated Access 3 qualification (renamed National 3).

What other qualifications are being renamed ?

Access 1 and 2 qualifications are being updated and renamed National 1 and 2

What are the arrangements for transferring from the current system to the new and revised qualifications?

New and revised qualifications will be introduced from 2013/14.  National 1-5 qualifications  will be introduced in 2013/14, revised Highers in 2014/15 and revised Advanced Highers in 2015/16.

SQA plans to dual-run the present Access, Intermediate and Higher qualifications with the equivalent new and revised qualifications over 2013/14 and 2014/15.  Standard Grades will cease after 2012/13.

This approach will facilitate a smooth transition to the new arrangements. This also ensures that learners who sit the existing qualifications during this period are able to progress to qualifications at the next level under the existing system. SQA will also be working with schools and colleges to ensure that both those studying the present qualifications and those taking the new qualifications will have the best possible opportunities to demonstrate their achievements.

Will learners going through the current system not be disadvantaged by not being able to experience the new curriculum and qualifications?

No. The current system is widely respected and has credibility with parents, employers, universities and colleges. Our proposals for the next generation of National Qualifications will, therefore, retain the strengths of the current arrangements, but with reduced complexity and greater autonomy for teaching staff to raise the standards of learning and achievement for all learners.

Will it be possible to have early presentations with the new system?

Under Curriculum for Excellence, we expect all young people to experience and enjoy a rich general education to the end of S3, with no need for qualifications to provide additional motivation.

It is important that the full period to the end of S3 is used to provide a rich curriculum that provides breadth and depth in learning. The expectation is that young people will reach a secure level of attainment and achievement at the end of S3. The broad general education is designed to provide a very sound basis for more advanced study within the senior phase, including qualifications.

Taken together, the new arrangements for curriculum and qualifications make early presentation unnecessary. However, the new arrangements do not prevent early presentation in exceptional circumstances. Decisions about early presentation should be made in the best interest of an individual young person and not for whole classes, cohorts or year groups.

What documents have been made available ?

Draft specifications for the new National  Qualifications have been published to schedule between January 2011 – February 2012 on the Scottish Qualifications Authority website to allow teachers to feed back and inform changes prior to finalisation.

The final arrangement documents for National 2-5 and Higher were published to schedule on 30 April 2012.