CALLS have been made for an independent investigation into the unusual way a secondary school has introduced new qualifications.

Scottish Labour MSP Jackie Baillie has written to Angela Constance, the Education Secretary, calling for school inspectors to review the way exams are run at Hermitage Academy, in Helensburgh.

The move comes after parents and pupils launched a protest over the way qualifications were being introduced at the school under Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) reforms.

Under CfE schools have more flexibility over when exams are sat, but in most schools pupils sit National 5 exams - which replaced Standard Grade two years ago - in the fourth year of secondary before choosing Highers the following year.

However, in Hermitage none of the pupils sit exams in their fourth year and instead choose up to six Highers which they sit at the end of S5.

Although pupils deemed unsuitable for Highers can drop to the lower National 5 qualification later, parents argue that could mean pupils who fail leaving school with no qualifications after five years of study.

Parents say one in five pupils from last year has already left the school without a National 5 or Higher in mathematics.

Ms Baillie said: "I have written to Ms Constance because we need an independent external review of what is happening at Hermitage Academy.

"The council is conducting an internal review, but I don't think it it right and proper for this only to be reviewed internally because this was a policy that must have been signed off by the council themselves.

"Given that there is such a high level of concern from parents and that pupils are currently in the position of sitting preliminary exams in December I think we need school inspectors to examine what is going on as soon as possible."

A spokesman for a group of families from the school called Parents for Change backed the call for an independent review.

He said: "Parents have lost faith and trust with both the council and the senior management team of the school and this policy has been implemented without proper consultation.

"We are only asking that our children are afforded the same flexibility and options available to every other child in Scotland.

"Any independent review must look at the implementation of the model adopted, but also must address the current culture of the senior management team towards parents, pupils and staff."

Third year pupil Grace Wain, 14, added: "I just want to have the chance to sit National 5 exams in 4th year like every other pupil in Scotland. How will I explain to employers or universities that my school were experimenting with my future?"

A spokesman for Argyll and Bute Council said the curriculum model had been developed in consultation with parents and was already the subject of a detailed internal review.

He added: "The council's education service and school are currently undertaking a review. The approach and timeline for the work has been communicated to parents, pupils and staff in the school and is currently on schedule.

"The review team has arranged a series of focus groups, survey forms, meetings with parents and a range of other mechanisms for people to get involved. The work is being carried out diligently and with an appropriate level of resources."