VITAL meetings to help Scottish teachers develop a better understanding of school qualifications are facing the axe.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) is to cancel some of the events set up for subject specialists due to run in October, November, December and January.

The Understanding Standards meetings - which have already cost £300,000 - are seen as crucial for teachers to get to grips with what the SQA expects of them in school qualifications, including National 5 and Advanced Higher.

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However, the SQA has decided it needs to free up staff because of demands from the Scottish Government to revise National 5 and Higher qualifications to make them less burdensome for teachers.

An SQA spokesman said: "To ensure the smooth running of the 2016/17 diet and enable us time to make the changes to National 5 courses we will be replacing the current programme of Understanding Standards events with a modified timetable.

“A condensed programme of events, primarily involving Advanced Higher subjects, will commence at the end of October and will be communicated shortly.

"Where we remove events from the timetable SQA will publish the materials on the website for teachers to use and suitable arrangements will be put in place to cover these subjects."

Last month, John Swinney, the Education Secretary, announced that internal units assessments for National 5, Higher and Advanced Highers would be phased out. The SQA had previously argued the unit assessments were integral to the exams.

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Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union, warned that the Understanding Standards events were crucial for teachers.

He said: "These events are seen as vital for teachers because the SQA staff go through the previous year's examinations and explain why they have been marked in the way they have.

"One of the remits of the SQA is to support schools and they should not be abandoning these events just because they have to revise some of their qualifications.

"The more clarity teachers have about what the exam body expects in exams the better it is for pupils and we will be raising this with the Scottish Government."

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA), also highlighted the importance of the events.

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He said: "These events are valued by teachers and it is also seen as an important opportunity for teachers to discuss issues with subject specialists from other schools.

"It would be very concerning if the SQA scraps some of these meetings without providing an alternative and we would argue that it could damage the quality of learning and teaching."

While external exams and most coursework for Highers and National 5s are marked by the SQA, unit assessments are dealt with by teachers - with pupils expected to pass all of them in order to achieve the qualification even though they don't carry a mark.

The assessments were introduced to lessen the importance of external exams, to set short-term goals for pupils and build a series of benchmarked achievements into courses because of concerns some pupils, such as those from more deprived backgrounds, were being disadvantaged.

However, teachers argue the units are unnecessary because pupils are still required to pass the coursework and final exam. They also argue the resulting workload has led to a crisis in schools with staff swamped with paperwork and pupils spending too much time being assessed.