Refocusing national qualifications

Strengthened exam and coursework to replace unit assessments.

A strengthened final exam and externally assessed coursework will replace mandatory unit assessments for qualifications at National 5 and Higher level under proposals outlined by Deputy First Minister John Swinney today.

The proposed reforms will significantly reduce teacher workload ensuring teachers have more time to teach by ending teacher-led unit assessment. Instead, certification will be entirely based on a strengthened final exam and, in some subjects, externally assessed coursework.

The planned changes are the result of the work between the Scottish Government and partners on the Assessment and National Qualifications Group and will now be taken to the Curriculum for Excellence management board for further detailed discussion.

Once agreed, the reforms will be introduced on a phased basis, with changes to National 5 implemented in 2017/18 and changes to Higher in 2018/19.

Mr Swinney made at the announcement during his address to his first Scottish Learning Festival since becoming Education Secretary.

The Deputy First Minister said:

“Since I became Education Secretary in May I have spoken to teachers across the country about what it is like to teach in Scotland’s classrooms. We have much to be proud of in our education system, but there are issues around workload that are preventing teachers from maximising the time they have available to teach and the positive impact they can have on the children and young people of Scotland.

“I have acted to de-clutter the curriculum guidance for teachers, instructed a review of the workload demands placed on teachers and schools by local authorities and sought assurances from the SQA that everything possible is being done to reduce workload associated with assessment around the new national qualifications.

“In August, I reconvened the Assessment and National Qualifications Group, which includes a range of education stakeholders including teacher unions, the National Parent Forum and Cosla. The Group has already identified actions to reduce workload, and I am pleased to announce a new concrete proposal to further significantly reduce workload associated with the qualifications. This includes removing the current mandatory requirement for unit assessment at National 5 and Higher and replacing it with enhanced course assessment. This will include a strengthened final examination and coursework to ensure course coverage.

“These changes are in line with the principles of Curriculum for Excellence and the qualifications will continue to be based on a combination of course assignments and final examination. 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.

“Alongside the other actions we have taken, these proposals will significantly reduce teacher workload, bureaucracy and over assessment. They will ensure that teachers in Scotland have more time to teach in the classroom and make the significant contribution they can to reducing the attainment gap, delivering excellence and equity in Scotland’s schools and maintaining the credibility and integrity of our qualifications.”

Notes to editors

Further information on the Assessment and National Qualifications Working Group, including a full list of members, is here -

Further information on the Scottish Government’s delivery plan to ensure excellence and equity in Scotland’s schools can be read here -


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