Dear Michael,

Curriculum for Excellence – New Highers

I am writing to you at the request of our Education Committee to express the concerns of many EIS members in relation to the introduction of the new CfE Higher qualification in the school year 2014/15.

As you will recall, the EIS previously called for a 1-year delay to the new National qualifications that have been introduced in schools this year. The EIS position was, and remains, that a 1-year delay would have ensured that schools were adequately prepared and that pupils would not be disadvantaged by a rushed implementation of the new qualifications.

While the EIS was disappointed that your decision was that a national delay was unnecessary, we were encouraged that an agreement was reached around a support package including additional funding, £3million, and the production of external course material. There was also an option for the use, in exceptional circumstances, of Intermediate qualifications instead of National 4 and 5, taking account of the individual circumstances of each department and the needs of pupils based on the professional judgement of teachers.

Teachers in our schools are continuing to work extremely hard to secure the smooth delivery of the new qualifications. I must inform you, however, that there are significant issues emerging around the new nationals, particularly around levels of SQA support/demand, and around workload in general. In short, there is considerable heat in the system.

Additionally, the EIS Education Committee discussed members’ concerns regarding the new Highers at its meeting on Friday 1 November 2013. It was clear from the discussions that teachers across Scotland are expressing worries over the imminent introduction of the new Higher exams from the next school year. Teachers are increasingly concerned regarding the lack of clear information regarding the new Higher courses, the content of the new Higher exams (in some subjects), the lack of resource material to support the learning and teaching process in the classroom, and the demanding workload implications of attempting to prepare for new Higher exams whilst implementing new National 1-5 qualifications.

The picture is not uniform, of course. Some schools have created additional time and space for staff and pupils by by-passing lower level qualifications and planning courses over two years; others, however, have gone for a belt and braces approach by presenting most pupils for National Qualifications in S4, including potential over-presentation at National 2/3/4 with consequent workload issues.

With regard to the new Higher I note the letter that Bill Maxwell has issued to schools which essentially urges schools to ensure that all S5 Higher pupils in 2014/15 be presented for CfE Higher.

In our view this decision should be made at a school or departmental level, taking into account the school’s own sense of its preparedness and the needs of its pupils.

There is a particular issue at play here. In many schools, it is necessary to combine students from S5 and S6 in order to create viable sections, particularly in certain subject areas such as the Sciences. This will mean that some pupils will have come through a CfE route and some through Intermediates. Clearly in such a scenario the school is the best placed body to decide, in conjunction with parents and pupils, where the least disadvantage lies and to organise on that basis.

The principle operating here should apply across the board - that is that schools are best placed to decide on which Higher qualification is offered in 2014/15.

The EIS would request that Scottish Government support this option.

In addition, we wish to see a suitable support package put in place around the introduction of the CfE Higher, not dissimilar to that offered around National 4 and 5, and for this to happen as soon as possible before the challenges morph into a crisis.

The EIS continues to support CfE as a means to deliver improved opportunities for all pupils. It is essential, however, that implementation of the new qualifications proceeds at a pace that is appropriate for schools, pupils and teachers.

Yours sincerely,

Larry Flanagan
General Secretary