Independent schools turn back on National exams

In an article in the Times, 09/02/12, two HMC schools talk about their reasons for rejecting the new exam system in favour of GCSE's:

Top independent schools have rejected the Scottish government’s flagship new exam system in favour of the GCSEs taught south of the Border. Much of the independent sector, which educates more than 30,000 children, is choosing not to offer the Nationals when they are due to begin in 2014.

The exams tie in with the controversial new Curriculum for Excellence. Pupils are given a “broad, general education” in first to third year, and then pick some subjects for fourth year.

Mrs Armstrong said St Georges had opted to teach GCSEs partly because they wanted a syllabus that would last for two years. She said the school was “always reviewing” which qualifications were best for its pupils and would be offering one National exam — in hospitality — because it was thought to be the preferable course. The school also offers Highers and Advanced Highers — the gold standard of Scottish exams — in senior years. “We are not walking away from the Scottish system by any stretch of the imagination,” she said. “It’s not a matter of choosing a particular system. At the moment, the decision is GCSEs because we are looking for a two-year course.”

Some independent schools have said they will offer the Nationals but will ask pupils to choose their subjects at the end of their second year, allowing them two years to prepare for National 5s. Among them is George Heriot’s, which had the best Higher results in Scotland last year.

Cameron Wyllie, head of the senior school, said: “We have always presented for Scottish exams and are pleased with them. Our expectation is that in two years’ time the current second year will take a number of National 5s. But we are not going to go for three years of broad general education. They will study them over two years.”

He added that the school had set up a curriculum review group and might, “in the fullness of time”, bypass fourth-year exams in favour of more Highers.

David Gray, Principal of Erskine Stewarts Melville Schools, said the current First Years would be sitting National 5s in 2015. He said: “We will adopt it but we won’t be tied exactly to what is being done in the state sector.

“We will go in later and we will ensure everyone does eight subjects. We think the breadth is very important. We will do it over two years rather than one. They will make their decisions at the end of second year as to which subjects they do and cover National 5s over two years and take them at the end of fourth year.”

He said that while there had been some concerns raised nationally about the new exam system, he was “quite relaxed” about it and, while there might be “teething problems”, believed it would bed in well.

Click here to read the article © The Times