Consultation on arrangements for National Courses in 2020-21 session

  • chalove

    Consultation on arrangements for National Courses in 2020-21 session – joint statement from Scottish Government and SQA
    SQA are proposing numerous changes to courses BUT none for Computing Science at any level. What are your thoughts? What changes should we be seeing for the subject?

    Change the Assignment to a number of shorter tasks?
    Allow students to work on assignments at home?
    Change format of the exam paper or change the weighting more towards practical work?

    There will be local lockdowns and school lockdowns. There will be interruptions to the exam diet because of COVID. How could Computing Science courses at National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher be modified to ensure they are more suitable for delivery in this environment?


    I’ve been mulling this over since I read it on Friday, and I can’t quite get my head around the reasoning behind this. I have to be honest I was left slack-jawed and dismayed at the lack of change. Our kids are already finding the subject and its content difficult, so why on earth, as the examining body, would you go out of your way to make it even more impossible by not making even minor alterations to the subject given that at least three weeks teaching has been lost?

    I know that we are not the only subject who are suffering as a consequence of no change, but I think our circumstances are uniquely difficult. I also note the lack of time to come up with a response to this in the survey. It seems to me that we need to come up with, and quickly, a response which has a consensus from as many as possible of us as to the way forward. Whether that involves removing some of the content of the exam, altering the weighting of practical, as Charlie says, or some other solution that someone has ideas about we need to act now. I think that we need to submit individually but also as a group. It worries me that if we submit our responses to the survey with differing and diverse opinions, it runs the risk of being ignored or overlooked.

    What are everyone else’s thoughts?

    Just as an aside, if the practical part is so important a weighting, why is Computing still classed as a non-practical subject? Surely the time has finally come for that change to be made…

    Darren Brown

    I think this situation yet again shows gov and SQA don’t grasp what happens at school level. They see changing the actual assessments as the focus when the issue is Learning and Teaching time to get through content. With the constraints on time each period and in particular not being able to work face to face with supporting coding progress we can’t get through what are already extremely tight for time courses. I am already seeing kids after remote learning wanting to swap out of the subject as not persevering with coding independently.

    I have fedback any theory in N5 not built on within H should be removed, similar for H to AH. Coding parts removal is a little more difficult as often need basic building blocks of language to progress on the next year. The assessments could be same but come from less content. Although all of is this discuss lately is a sticking plaster for the fact the entire exam system is flawed, old fashioned and not fit for purpose.

    To be honest the courses have too much to cover anyway. The cynical part of me keeps feeling the powers that be seem to be making the NQ Computing Science courses as inaccessible and as difficult as possible over the last few years – massive re-write, raising level, falling numbers, one of subjects fewest As/most fails, large drop down level/drop out rates, huge gender imbalance, fewer kids from deprived backgrounds, one of biggest % downgrades from estimates… maybe we are “too small” a subject that no-one helps defend, most in power don’t understand and ultimately doesn’t make enough entry money. Maybe CS is seen as replaceable and there are plenty of new/fashionable units to sell and schools could squeeze in/pay for elsewhere in the curriculum.

    Why in the current/future job market and emerging new business Computing is not getting proper funding/push in all schools from early primary is beyond mind boggling, we seem to be slowly watch as we slip into oblivion.

    Lee Murray

    The document states that “Computing Science is a practical subject”.

    I’m sure we would all agree with that, but why have we always had 30 in a classroom? Seems strange that whoever wrote this doesn’t know that Computing Science isn’t a practical subject.

    It’s also very interesting that almost all subjects have had modifications other than Computing Science, most technical subjects (metalworking, graphic communication etc.) and a few ‘fringe’ subjects such as Gaelic, Sociology etc.

    I understand it’s a difficult thing to decide – how to modify the course – but zero modifications? Why not take out Computer Systems (since “Computing Science is a practical subject”)? Or reduce the amount of content in the other three topics?

    As previously mentioned, there is already far too much for pupils to learn in a 1 year course at N5 level (pupils ‘crashing’ N5 are in for a severe uphill struggle), meaning pupils aren’t as well prepared for H and AH levels. Yet we are expected to achieve the same results with reduced teaching time, restrictions in classrooms, disparity among pupils and their access to materials at home, potential further lockdowns meaning more digital home learning…

    I’m sure the contingency plans have considered this, but why not the current plan (which has no modifications)?

    I say reduce the amount of content, assess learning practically (actually mark the coursework this year), increase the importance of the coursework (at least 50-50 with the exam)…

    I’ll be setting more end of unit tests and practical tests throughout the year for my own evidence-gathering. I’d be more than happy for those to be issued by the SQA, though I understand not everyone would appreciate more marking.

    All in all, something has to change. “No modification” is unacceptable.

    Greg Reid

    Morning everyone,

    It may be worthwhile pointing out that nothing is set in stone this year. Robbie, Scott and I at SQA have been discussing contingency plans for a while now and I very much doubt that “No modification” will be how this year plays out.
    Please complete the SQA survey and feedback how you would prefer to see assessment carried out this session.

    Your “actually mark the coursework” comment made me laugh Lee. Bit harsh! 🙂 When lockdown came in we were all sent home too. Your Higher assignments and AH projects were stuck in school and the N5 assignments were in the warehouse section of SQA’s Dalkeith office with no way to retrieve them and post them to markers. It was our intention to mark them and we were developing alternatives like online markers meetings but as lockdown developed our plans were scuppered. Formalised marking instructions (standardised using the evidence we did receive) for the N5 and Higher assignments will be released soon.


    Lee Murray

    Yeah, that was harsh, I don’t know why I was so passive aggressive about that point, it’s not like anyone had any control over the marking of coursework. Sorry about that.

    Ronnie Ross

    I am a bit dismayed. I feel there is a real equity issue at the heart of this. I think there is enough evidence to suggest that CS isn’t the easiest and most straight forward of subjects to begin with. While many other subjects have had modifications we have none, with the same restrictions that the others face, I don’t see how this doesn’t disadvantage CS pupils more than most other subjects, that simply isn’t fair, they do not have equal access to success in this subject. I would also like to echo the fact that CS is not a practical subject. In terms of solutions, I appreciate that this is not a straight forward task and want to acknowledge how difficult this is. I feel there are some aspects of systems that could be looked at. For example at higher, some of the data representation stuff on graphics, maybe reduce the number of SQL functions, do we really need entity occurrence diagrams? I think it might be worth looking at pre defined functions in SDD, as well as methodologies. I also think the legal stuff in N5 and higher could probably be cut. I feel there is scope to cut things without harming the validity of the subject. As for the nature of assignments and the exam, I need to think on this some more. In the interest of fairness and parity with other subjects I hope that things are seriously looked at, if nothing changes I feel it will leave a sour taste in the mouth of teachers and pupils, that they have been penalised this year for picking CS, and given how many of us struggle to attract pupils during options season this would be something we really don’t need.

    Tony Harkins

    I’ve just completed the survey, suggesting the time and number of marks of the exam be reduced. This is likely to happen in Bio, Chem, Phy so there is precedent for that to happen.

    Then we could keep the assignment marks as is but increase the weighting. For example – assignment 50 marks, exam 90 marks means a 35%/65% split rather than 31%/69%. Or 50 assignment 75 exam leads to a 40%/60% split.

    I think we need to consider alternatives to the 8-hour, open-book, in-class assignment or an earlier release of the assignment. Should there be any spike in February or March, we will really struggle to complete assignments.

    I taught computer systems during lockdown so, selfishly, wouldn’t want to ditch that for this year. However, how much time could we save if we didn’t assess the Analysis or Evaluation stages of DB, Web or Software in either the assignment or the exam? These are more woolly questions, often assessing language rather than technical skills. I struggle to think of any easy way to reduce course content, particularly as we are teaching it now.

    I worry most about full lockdown or individual quarantining stopping us from teaching the key practical skills of design and implementation.

    Even one candidate missing 2 weeks of higher will be severely disadvantaged if they don’t have access to the same coding environments at home as we would use in class.

    Lee Murray

    I was thinking about it again and thought of what teachers may have already taught. I’ve spent weeks teaching SDD, others will have taught all the CS, or WDD/DDD. So maybe a little bit of everything needs to be considered in the interest of fairness.

    Analysis across the board seems like a good candidate, even thought I’ve just taught it for SDD. Design, I’m not so sure.

    No matter what, something has to give. It wasn’t that long ago that many of us were up in arms about the volume and depth of content that was in the course, and were even petitioning John Swinney because of all the additional content being added. Even without Coronavirus I feel that our course needs to be stripped down a wee bit, so considering the circumstances, we cannot continue as is.

    Having completed (almost) one week of school, it feels like we are swimming through treacle. I can’t help pupils in the same way I used to, I can’t get pupils in at lunch-times for catch-up/revision, many pupils didn’t complete the work before summer due to access/motivation. My classes are a real mess and to get them all up to speed will take little short of a miracle.

    As I said, something has to give. If not, I’ll be amazed if my pupils pass.

    Ronnie Ross

    I think you raise a good point regarding assessing language versus technical skill and knowledge. Several aspects of the course are more tests of literacy than anything else and I think that could be a good starting point.

    Lee Murray

    Is there a time-frame for the announcement of the result of the consultation? I know it’s a huge undertaking, but it’s been a week since the survey closed and I’m nearing the end of the first unit (SDD), with plans to have an end of unit test very soon.

    Hopefully something changes and hopefully we find out as soon as possible.



    All confirmed modifications to course assessments and the 2021 exam timetable will be published on the SQA website during week beginning 31 August.

    Lee Murray

    Has the deadline been missed or am I just blind and can’t see the announcement?

    Lee Murray

    Was sent this:

    We fully appreciate that schools and colleges are seeking clarity, but we need more time to work through the responses, and engage with the Scottish Government and other national bodies. We are doing this as quickly as we can.

    Apparently 23,000 responses were submitted. No wonder it’s taking a bit longer than expected, haha.

    Greg Reid

    For those that missed the Deputy First Minister’s statement to the Education Committee at 10am, he’s instructed the Chief Exec of SQA to hold off publishing the changes to assessment for this session. The justification for this is that he wants to see the recommendations from the Priestly report which is looking into last sessions awarding before making any decisions about this year.

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