Archive for the ‘National 4’ Category

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).


My birthday (26 years old now, and officially closer to 30 than 20) was sandwiched between two In-service days this weekend, during which we set out to develop our National 4 and National 5 ideas. The full plan had been to head to the mainland today, but due to weather conditions ferry travel was abandoned and we remained on the island.

So, what did we achieve over the two days?

On Friday, we developed our plan for transitioning the current S3 from BGE to National 4 and National 5 courses, and it now looks something like this:

  • Pupils who are expected to complete a National 5 in S4 (and then progress onto a Higher in S5) will complete their National 4 course – including the Added Value unit – by the end of May 2013. These pupils are already well on the way to completing Level 3 Literacy & English and will commence work on the National 4 programme in January. This accelerated National 4 course aims to allow them to work through all of the requirements of the Analysis & Evaluation (A&E) and Creation & Production (C & P) units whilst simultaneously preparing them for the challenge of progression to National 5.
  • For those pupils who will not be able to undertake a National 5 in S4, a whole-year National 4 programme will be provided. This will be delivered in a different way from the ‘accelerated’ course in that it is designed to make use of the entirety of S4 in order to not only attain a National 4 qualification, but also prepare as many pupils as possible for entry to National 5 in their S5 year. Pupils in this category would be expected to complete their National 4 Added Value Unit in May, at the same time as the pupils in the ‘accelerated’ course from the year below them.

One notable feature of the two different approaches to the AV is that we plan to give pupils 3 options:

  1. A research and report Added Value completed within the English department only
  2. A research and report Added Value completed in conjunction with the social subjects department
  3. A literature Added Value run in the same way as a Specialist Study

Full model courses have been produced for the National 4 (and the National 5) including specimen tasks and texts, and we will be happy to share these with anyone who feels that they may be of an help to them.


Today only 1 of our 3 staff members made it to the mainland In-service meeting (having already been on the mainland over the weekend) leaving the other 2 (myself and my PT) to work on the Department Improvement Plan. This has now been completed and will be submitted for approval this week. A key focus on the plan – and the one I am most excited about – is a trial Edmodo with my top S3 class, with a view to a full roll-out if the system proves to be a success. I am very much looking forward to what I believe to be a very valuable resource. We also plan to pilot the use of webcams in order to record Listening & Talking activity in a more natural, organic way.


We would be very interested in your reactions to our plans, especially those relating to the National 4 -> National 5 progression.