Revision of National 4

  • Greg Reid

    Morning everyone

    Following a strongly expressed desire from you all, the NQ Computing team at SQA are currently pushing ahead with revising Nat 4 to provide progression to the revised Nat 5 and solve the current issues of bi-level teaching.

    Robbie Paterson and I have been asking for feedback at various events for the last few months and have used this to produce a new content grid which we plan to let you comment on soon (watch this space). What was not clear in the various feedback was a plan for Computer Systems. Unlike WDD, SDD and DDD, reducing the depth of the current Nat 5 coverage for Systems would probably lead to content roughly equivalent to Level 2/3 BGE (rather than providing progression from level 3) so we may have to look at other solutions.

    The purpose of this thread is to ask what you would like to see in Nat 4 systems:

    • focus on progression to revised N5 – reduce depth of Nat 5 as indicated above
    • focus on progression from BGE – look at BGE level 4 to see if there are topics we can use
    • do neither of the above – introduce new current CS theory topics at Nat 4 level

    We will use the following discussion to inform our decisions on content to include and how to assess it within the units/AVU.

    Thanks for your help
    Greg Reid (Subject Implementation Manager for CS @ SQA)

    Stuart Walker

    Hi Greg,

    To me logically, it would be best to focus on the progression between N4 and N5. I think if we start trying to diversify BGE even more we might lose the depth of the knowledge that is required for the N5 course currently. Just my 2 pence worth!


    Chris Aitken

    Hi Greg, thanks for taking this forward. Personally if we are to treat the issue of bi-level teaching then we have to aim to adopt the model that we saw at Standard Grade where we have the same course but with simplifications for the lower levels.

    Given that Unit Assessments are effectively no longer part of the National 5 I would see it as tremendously challenging to try and alleviate the bi-level(multi-course) problem that we’re currently seeing. With regards to Computer Systems in National 4, let’s be as honest and frank as possible, it has minimal relevance in National 4. Yes, we have to teach some aspects of it to pass the units, but in reality, everything else is just a filler. Focus on the practical skills rather than content.The transition from N4 to N5 is difficult for the majority of candidates and a successful transition is rare in my experience (it may not be the case with others).

    With regards to progression from BGE into Nationals, I find that the only candidates that are really capable of doing L4 BGE successfully are the ones that would naturally do Nat 5, so maybe we have to focus on the L4/N4 transition as well.

    Finally, I need to say it. We need a National 4 exam for the course to have any worth.

    I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on all of this so look forward to seeing this topic discussed.

    Eoin Neil

    I agree with Chris that N4 should be focussing on the Practical Skills. So I would be tempted to not have any CS in National 4. Meaning in order to pass N4 need to pass Unit Assessments in Web, Databases & Software. Not sure what you would then include in the AVU to make it different. Unless the AVU becomes an exam.

    This means that for bi-level / bi-course classes, teachers can utilse the evidence from class based excercises to cover the unit assessments at N4.

    There is already overal between Level 4 & N5 – one of the L4 Benchmarks refers to Relational Databses. Prior to the E&Os refresh we didn’t introduce Relational Databases until National 4.

    Lee Murray

    My initial thought is that N4 must progress towards N5 well. If you were to try to create something that progresses from level 4 Es & Os (or benchmarks) then you could end up with an even more disjointed course.
    The Es & Os are, in my opinion, unfit for purpose and the benchmarks are completely insane.

    And that’s not taking into consideration the fact that there is almost nothing relating to Computer Systems in either document.

    If you work back from N5, at least we can entertain the thought of bi-level teaching. I’m currently in a situation where N5 pupils bombed their prelims and are only now accepting the suggestion of dropping to N4, so I have to teach them how to use the query builder in Access and how to use Serif WebPlus for their websites.

    I would love it if the N4 also had SQL and HTML, but reduced to the appropriate level. This would make it possible to teach the course progressively rather than have 2 groups learning different skills.

    Darren Brown

    Hi Greg,

    – Drop systems from N4, does theory have to be put in for the sake of it
    – Just the basic practical from N5 as pupils need as much basic coding practice and repeating this as possible, biggest reason N5 (then H) numbers are dropping is the pupils need so much coding experience prior
    – Assessments have to be as simple to implement and mark as current N4, I don’t think the current N4 assessments can be any easier and simpler but I’m still not convinced bi-level is possible. N5 is such a fast paced slog from June to Easter N4 needs to be completely built-in to basic N5 content, I end up teaching the rest N4 in study leave and assessing when I should be doing development work
    – The major issue is still most pupils are not getting much BGE so not covering all the 3rd level outcomes/nevermind 4th level to be able to access N5, most of the pupils I see should probably be N4 and some even N3, so N3 needs re-worked as well.
    – It’s a shame the review is not looking at an exam, even with a large percentage and kids from areas of deprivation parents are not keen on N4. There is pressure from SMT/council to put as many kids through N5 as possible. With new H and N5 being difficult then the N4 is going to go up in level and so N3 comes into play. People outside education need to be “sold” on the value of N4/N3 as regardless on how good the courses are they will still not be valued.

    The last thing we all want is more wholesale development work but I’m worried Computing Science numbers and grades are going to continue to fall and I won’t be allowed to run courses in S4/5 with a couple of “super coders” and the majority doing N4. I suppose I could look at NPAs but once the full academic route goes it won’t come back.




    Hi Greg

    I agree with the points made above.

    There has to be a clear progression from the Nat 4 course to Nat 5 to help these pupils make clear progression and help with bi-level teaching in classes.

    I would support a move to 3 units – SDD, DDD and WDD with the removal of the CS unit for Nat 4.


    Brian Avarl

    What is the current situation regarding NAT4? Will it stay in its present form this year? I have a new S3 class which is N3/4 and 5 and am desperately looking for materials that can be completed by pupils independently given the move to blending learning in August – quite simply there are huge issues facing CS Teachers around completing courses in S4 anf S5/6 – we are looking for solutions to ensuring pupils have enough practical experience for programming – we use VB and with the lack of clarity over next years exams – it doesn’t help.

    Greg Reid

    Hi Brian

    N4 will stay the same for this session. We will be consulting the NQST (National Qualifications Support Team) group of volunteer CS teachers very soon for feedback on the suggested changes we’ve been working on to bring the course into line with N5. The session which the changes were planned for is a bit up in the air at the moment due to the current crisis so unfortunately I can’t give you a date. I’ll let you all know as soon as I can.

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