Fallback removed from National 5 courses

Candidates will no longer automatically receive National 4 level.

Changes to national assessments which will reduce workload for young people and teachers will be introduced next year, Education Secretary John Swinney has announced.

The interim measure of 'Recognising Positive Achievement' - the automatic fallback to National 4 for young people who are unsuccessful at National 5 level - will end from academic year 2019/20.

Currently, learners can be presented for a National 5 course while simultaneously completing National 4 unit assessments. This means if they are unsuccessful in gaining a National 5 they will automatically receive a National 4 certificate. As a result a significant number of young people are being presented at the incorrect level.

The changes will mean learners can only be put forward for the qualification that is most appropriate for them, reducing the workload for both candidates and teachers.

The threshold for Grade D has also been extended at National 5 to a notional 40-49% to ensure candidates who are genuinely on the borderline are not affected by the change.  

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: "We have been very clear that the use of Recognising Positive Achievement should only be used in exceptional circumstances.

"All of our young people deserve to experience a rich and meaningful learning and teaching experience tailored according to their needs. Part of that is making sure that they are presented at the correct level for national assessments.

"SQA figures show that this year alone 'Recognising Positive Achievement' accounted for over 10% of all reported National 4 entries.

"Teacher judgement is key to ensuring that learners are presented at the most appropriate level for their needs and aspirations."

Larry Flanagan, General Secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said: "The EIS welcomes the Deputy First Minister's decision to bring an end to Recognition of Positive Achievement arrangements for next session and to provide clarity to schools on this now.

"Whilst we would have preferred an announcement in time for this year's cohort, the statement means that  going forward, schools will be able to plan course options for pupils with greater certainty,  and in ways that could reduce assessment-related workload for students and teachers."

Jim Thewliss, General Secretary of School Leaders Scotland said:

"It's very useful to introduce clarity of timescale and intention into the system. We can now move forward to participate in a meaningful dialogue and discussion, in the wider context of the important and legitimate place of National 4 as part of young peoples' learning pathways."


SQA figures estimate 10,914 of the reported National 4 certifications (and consequently, entries) arose through 'Recognising Positive Achievement' out of a total 106,033 entries - 10.3%.

In 2017, the Assessment and National Qualifications Group agreed the need to reduce assessment-related workload and ensure young people are presented for the correct qualification. This dual presentation pathway was only to be used in a very limited number of exceptional circumstances, in the interests of specific individual learners and for a transitionary period.

The continuance of 'Recognising Positive Achievement' (in support of the transition to the removal of mandatory unit assessments from National 5) was an interim measure only and this was made clear in the guidance issued by the Assessment and National Qualifications Group (ANQG) in March 2017.

This interim measure will have been in place for 2 years which should have given schools and local authorities time to adjust their presentation approaches.

The current internal assessment approach within National 4 will not change. Instead, rather than change the qualification itself, the collective efforts of all involved in the education system should focus on enhancing National 4's status as a credible pathway through the Senior Phase.


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