I posted the above tweet earlier this evening, but 140-character posts really aren’t an adequate medium for exploring this particular topic, so here we go…

It has recently become clear that, in many departments, schools and local authorities, there is an expectation (even a policy) that all pupils sitting National 5 will also have completed the National 4 Added Value Unit (N4 AVU) as a safety-net in case they fail the actual National 5 exam. As I have already made clear, I do not believe that this is the best way to progress with the new qualifications, and I feel this way for a number of reasons (many of which may well be specific to my subject – English – but maybe not).

First and foremost, completing the N4 AVU means adding ANOTHER assessment to the workload of teachers already grappling with a National 5 course which, far from freeing teachers from the evils of over-assessment, places a significantly greater burden on teachers than ever before. To make matters worse, this particular assessment would be for a course that the pupils are not even intending to complete, making it – in my view – the very definition of wasted time (time which, incidentally, would surely be put to better use preparing students for the exam to make sure that they don’t fail it).

Of course, the justification for the ‘AVU safety-net’ approach is the fear that pupils will complete S4 with no English qualifications should they fail the National 5 exam, but wasn’t it always clear that this would be the case if there was no automatic drop-down from Nat5 to Nat4? Furthermore, is this really anything new? OK, under the Standard Grade system is was practically impossible not to get some sort of English qualification at the end of S4, but what about the schools who had abandoned Standard Grade in favour of Intermediate 2 in S4? Were they expected to spend time ‘banking’ Intermediate 1 NAB passes just in case some of their S4 failed the Intermediate 2 exam. The situation seems quite clear to me – if a pupil fails National 5 then they resit the following year.

I will of course concede that, as ever, there are shades of grey, and in this case those mid-tones are represented by the pupils likely to leave high school after S4, thus eliminating the possibility of a resit. In these cases, it may be justifiable to cover the bases by banking N4 units and the AVU, but how many pupils are really going to be in this category? Surely the majority of S4 leavers are unlikely to be National 5 pupils, and that blanket policies (which hugely increase assessment workloads and paperwork requirements) should not be made on the basis of a small number of students seems, to me, entirely self-evident.

At the end of the day, however, there is also something of a philosophical issue with a blanket requirement for S4 National 5 pupils to complete the N4 AVU, and that is that many – maybe even most – people will attempt to solve the associated problems by doing the AVU when the timetable change takes place in their school. Why is this an issue? Well, surely the AVU is designed to be an end of course assessment for the National 4? By essentially annexing the N4 AVU into the N5 course I believe that we raise questions about the validity of what we are doing – assessments should either be formative – and used to help inform progress – or summative, and an AVU in the form likely under the ‘safety-net’ approach is, in my opinion, neither.

So where does this leave us? Well, it seems clear that it is more important than ever not just to submit pupils for the correct level of study; this, however, may require a consequent culture change where we move purposefully away from the persistent – and damaging – notion that pupils must race through as many qualifications, at as high a level as they can, as quickly as possible (something which looks great for schools, but may not serve individual pupils anywhere near as well).

  1. Nick Forwood says:

    I don’t know what the difference is between a Nat5 Assignment in English and that for a Nat4 AVU.
    In Physics, if a pupil does their Assignment, this is banked for an AVU because they are the same piece of work – just with different marking criteria. To be honest, it’s probably more onerous to get the Nat4 AVU than Nat5 because of this.
    However, why enter a pupil for Nat5 in the first place? Because they have passed the Nat5 Unit Assessments which are substantially meaningless as they are, like Higher NABs , at minimum competency levels. Because of these Unit passes, parents “demand” that their children are entered for Nat5 exam – although I might think, on the basis of an exam style internal Unit assessment of my own making, that they will probably fail the summer Nat5 exam.
    In that case, they really need that AVU banked or they will end up with Nat3, or worse still, nothing at all.
    I will continue to “bank” although, like the OP, I think indeed that the whole system is flawed and has missed the underlying principles of CfE completely.

    • Mr. McEnaney says:

      Thanks Nick – it seems that Physics and English are very different as we don’t have a piece of N5 work that we can use for N4 (although this entirely foreseeable problem could have been avoided by doing just that).

  2. Mr. McEnaney says:

    Thank you very much – the ‘scramble for folios’ right now is exactly what provoked this particular line of thought!

  3. cabarfeidh says:

    We were asked to do the AV Unit in 3 weeks straight after timetable change (on 6 May!). N4 classes had a year my top set S4 N5 only class had three weeks. In most cases they passed with ease, especially when we were told level was that of Standard Grade General so it was hardly going to challenge the top set Credit guys….given the scramble for folios by next week methinks that three weeks might have been put to better use. Well said as always James.

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