SCOTTISH qualifications benefit middle class pupils because some assessments can be completed at home, experts have warned.

Teaching unions and academics said more affluent families had access to resources such as private tutors which meant their offspring were likely to do better than children from poorer backgrounds.

The situation has arisen because some assessments can be done in pupils’ own time such as a folio of creative writing in Higher English. Assessments for science subjects can also be completed out of school.

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The issue was discussed at the annual congress of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) in Crieff.

Gordon West, a teacher from Aberdeenshire, said: “There are several subject areas where pupils can write up aspects of coursework that count towards the final mark, which is fundamentally unfair.

“Once the pupil gets home parents or others give as much assistance as they can and we are aware of families who employ tutors to give them fantastic help. Lo and behold the work produced is of a much higher standard than it would have been otherwise.

“That is unfair and it is not surprising that we continue to see an attainment gap between rich and poor when this sort of thing is allowed to happen.”

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the SSTA, added: “All parents want to help their children to succeed and some parents are more able than others.

“The qualification system must measure the attainment of all pupils and not reward the home advantage of some and I am surprised the SQA has not addressed this issue already.”

The issue has also been raised by the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Learned Societies Group on STEM education, which has been examining changes to science qualifications.

Professor Lesley Yellowlees, chairwoman of the group, said: “It is notable that some candidates can do very well in the assignment, but then find the examination very difficult.

“This suggests that performance in the assignment can be influenced by the level of external support available to candidates from teachers, private tutors, parents and families.

“While some candidates have access to high levels of additional support and resources, others will be much more restricted.

“This can lead to an uneven playing field and it does not sit well with the aim of reducing the attainment gap between the most and least deprived learners.”

However, a spokesman for the SQA said coursework was an important part of the the design of new courses.

He added: “Most subjects at National 5 have coursework and different assessment methods are used depending on the subject area with some written up in controlled conditions in school.

“As part of the revisions to National 5 and in response to feedback we have clarified conditions of assessment under which coursework must be conducted.”

The SSTA has also demanded an immediate suspension of changes to key exams with subject specialists from physics, biology and computing studies raising concerns about National 5 qualifications.

Examiners reformed the qualifications after burdensome internal assessments were scrapped, but teachers were told not to expect differences to course content.

However, Seamus Searson, general secretary of the SSTA, said material from the assessments was being put into end of year exams instead - in some cases after pupils had already begun courses.

An emergency motion to the SSTA's annual congress in Crieff called on John Swinney, the Education Secretary, to put pressure on the Scottish Qualifications Authority to suspend the changes immediately "because of the radical change in content and lack of preparation time".

He said: “The SQA said the removal of National 5 units would lead to no change to the content of courses, but the response from our members in many subjects is that

An SQA spokesman said: "With the removal of units teachers should not see any change or increase in content of the courses."