TO gain real insight into any sphere of work, it is essential to ask those at the sharp end.
In education, that means the teachers who deliver the lessons and evaluate what their pupils have absorbed on a daily basis.
It seems extraordinary that in taking stock of their schools' readiness to introduce the new National 4 and 5 exams, due to replace Standard Grade and Intermediate qualifications, only six Scottish councils have sought information directly from principal teachers.
The Herald reported last month that three-quarters of teachers felt unprepared for the new exam system, with only 3% declaring themselves "fully confident". The introduction of the new qualifications in 2013-14 became even more controversial when the country's top-performing education authority, East Renfrewshire, announced a year's delay in adopting the National exams, as did a number of leading private schools.
The national audit is vital in informing the Scottish Government of the readiness of schools to deliver the National 4 and 5 exams, because it is also the means of identifying which schools need extra help in preparing for the changeover. As a result of concerns by the teaching unions, the Scottish Government has set aside £3.5m for additional support.
The audit of preparedness is being conducted by Education Scotland, the body established last year whose remit includes leading the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence and the professional development of teachers. However, it is also the schools' inspectorate and it appears this function has prompted 26 of the 32 councils to restrict their consultation to officials in the education departments and headteachers rather than classroom teachers for fear of being identified as failing.
If this is the case, it is difficult to see it as anything other than the "wasted opportunity" identified by Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association. The Curriculum for Excellence is recognised as a revolution in Scottish education. Inevitably some teachers and some schools will be better prepared than others for the arrival next year of the new National 4 and National 5 exams. The national audit and the extra £3.5 million of support were designed to take seriously the fears of those who predicted implementing the new exams next year would be a disaster. It would appear that too many education officials at council level have failed to play their part in ensuring the views of teachers at the chalkface are taken into account.
If schools are genuinely under-prepared, there is a risk of jeopardising the education of a generation of Scotland's youngsters. Teachers who fear the audit is flawed should be prepared to raise their concerns in schools, with council officials, through their unions and with Education Scotland.
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