It is becoming clear that a degree of confusion remains with regard to the implications of the changes to N5 awards for session 2017/18.
The following summary is offered as a guide to issues which schools should be considering.
Following agreement on the removal of mandatory units from N5 courses from August 2017, the SQA has indicated its intention to restructure course materials without using existing units as organisers.
This is a lengthier process than simply indicating that Unit assessments were no longer mandatory and it leaves schools, once again, facing a tight turnaround from existing arrangements. SQA has undertaken to give a headline indication by the end of January of significant changes to assessment arrangements, particularly around any extended coursework.
In the meantime, it is important that schools are aware of the key fact that units are being removed from N5 courses. (Titles within the "new” course descriptors are likely to broadly match those used in current documentation, but not as units.)
N4 courses, however, will retain mandatory internal unit assessments (plus added value assessment) and accordingly will be organised and assessed entirely differently from those at N5.
In light of these significant differences, and in the interests of ensuring the effective delivery of courses for all students, schools should be planning for discrete N4 and N5 classes, rather than seeking to run bi-level classes where pupils would face different assessment arrangements.
A further matter to be considered is that the absence of unit assessment at N5 will have the consequence of there being no fall-back award of unit passes for candidates who do not pass the final exam.
Free standing unit assessments will remain available but students will require to be entered for either a N5 course award (based on external assessment) or a series of Unit awards – they cannot be entered for both.
Ensuring that candidates are enrolled for courses which best suit their prior learning and attainment at the point at which options are being considered will be essential. Consideration is being given within the NQ Review Group to extending the "D” pass range to a 10% spread (i.e. 40 – 49 rather than 45- 49) to provide a bigger safety net but this has not been agreed as yet.
Please ensure that departmental discussion around the implications of the changes is facilitated. It is important, also, to seek discussion on assessment and timetabling matters with the senior management of your school as a matter of urgency, with a view to ensuring the school's appropriate response to such changes to senior phase course design and assessment.