New N5 CS Course Specification

  • Jeremy Scott

    I realise there have been a couple of posts already, but I thought I’d start a dedicated forum for the new N5 course spec. What do people think of it?

    Enrico Vanni

    I’m in agreeance with some of the comments made already.  I actually wrote to Robbie Paterson at the SQA in advance of these new arrangements being published after a draft version was discussed at a meeting of CASS at the SQA offices in Glasgow at the end of February.  I made the point to him that it was jumping the gun to assume that CfE benchmarks should underpin the pre-knowledge for the revised course as it would be at least 4 years before students who have experienced them would reach N5 stage (not taking into account primary experiences, in which case make that 11 years!), plus the benchmark tasks are not a prescriptive list of requirements for the BGE and many cover the same outcomes so no school is required to cover them all.


    IMO there is now far too much coding langauge content (worryingly, there was going to be even more, but Javascript has been removed between the draft and final documents).  I have likened the expectations the Computing Science course has with respect to coding to expecting students to learn a second language as per a National 5 Modern Langauges coure while also being able to use that language to the same level required for National 5 English interpretation and creative writing.  Now we are placing that expectation on them several times over.


    Some practical points too – bi-level teaching of Computing Science (N4/N5) in the same class has just become considerably more difficult.  If changes are planned for N4 to bring them in line with these new arrangements then fine, but the interim situation means more preparation and classroom management, with once again a limited shelf-life for the work put in.


    There will be positive feedback for the greater detail that we have been crying out for, but ultimately that is just giving us back something we used to have that was taken away.

    David Rees

    I like the fact that it is a little more detailed than previous iterations.

    The increased emphasis on implementation skills (judging this on the marks available)  in the coursework assignment is a plus in my view.

    I’m at a loss to understand why it was necessary to require pupils to write SQL queries at Nat 5. Admittedly, along with HTML, CSS and JavaScript, it is effectively standard (unlike the wide range of programming languages in use), so perhaps it lends itself to examination questions?

    On a first reading, however, the only item that struck me as having been dropped (I MUST have missed something!) is the MOD operator. Though I’m sure other items have gone too, it seems a short list of deletions, and this is a major opportunity missed; in a quite crowded course, adding significant new material (e.g., SQL) was not a good move.

    We will have more teaching time due to the removal of the mandatory UAs, and the restriction of coursework time to 8 hours may well deliver more opportunity for teaching too, but I still worry as to how it is all to fit into the time available.


    Stephen Stewart

    Any software/websites recommendations for doing the SQL part for N5?

    Scott McBride



    We have used EasyPHP, I install it onto a pen drive then place the folder into a shared directory. I then get them to each drag it onto their desktop to use. There you have access to a WAMP system.

    We use either Notepad++ or brackets for developing HTML or CSS.

    Marc McWhirter

    @Stephen Stewart: I am looking at right now – seems like it could be a useful resource, however, I may just end up using Access.

    Liz McGroarty

    I may be the only one who thinks this, but I suspect not.

    Computing Science teachers have been complaining about the stress and strain we are under regarding workload. To alleviate this due to government intervention, the SQA have been forced to agree that internal assessment elements will be reduced from August for the current S3 into S4. I did not expect that they would then more or less re-write the entire course causing me to thus re-write all notes. Indeed this had to be done for the current S4 because of the changes made last year. So my workload hasn’t changed not one iota. This content change should have been held up for at least a few years!

    Alison Cowie

    Does anyone know the answer to: when will the first exam be that is based on this new spec? Should I start teaching the new spec from June 2017 or do I have time to develop/edit resources?

    Marc McWhirter

    Liz McGroarty I feel exactly the same way as you and I assume most colleagues do. There hasn’t been a year since N5 started that I haven’t been rewriting some large chunk of it, or Higher CfE. The SQA may have reduced assessment burden on colleagues for the coming session, but have increased development burdens exponentially. Further to this, they have completely disjointed the courses, making it an almost impossibility to have N4 students or Higher students in the same room and learning together which is the reality of small schools.

    Alex McNeice

    Yeah, not sure how this helps with our workload?

    I understand that changes were needed due to the removal of the unit assessments but it would have made more sense to modify the coursework and the exam questions to tackle this and not re-write the whole course! Some of this content has been pulled from Higher and as others have said, I’ve now got more work to do rather than less.

    Programming, HTML, CSS, SQL, theory, prelim revision – all done before our prelims in January 2018, so roughly 20 weeks (no one argues with my maths – I’m ready to snap people). hahahaha 20 weeks…. wait, this is a serious, final document?… ohhhh dear…. sniff…

    Makes me worried about future changes to Higher and Advanced Higher – I’ve been dreading the return of Info’s Normalisation question.

    I don’t think we should accept this and I’m not normally someone who advocates complaining but this is just crazy!

    Mr David Alford

    This is a reply to Alison Cowie,

    It is for implementation for 2017-18 session.

    If you access the SQA N5 page at

    halfway down they have put in tabs for the two sessions. The new document is on the tab for the 2017-18 session.

    We had previously been told that there would be a specimen paper and assignment, I hope those are still coming and appear soon.

    Greg Reid


    I start work full-time with Raymond Simpson on Monday 8th May as a second SQA SIM (subject implementation manager) for Computing Science.  Be assured a specimen paper and specimen assignment are still planned.


    Is it just me, am I blind perhaps but….page 4 of the N5 Course Spec document (continued Skills Knowledge and Understanding from page 3)…second last bullet point lists ‘legal implications and environmental impact’ but I thought that legal implications had been removed and I see no reference to legal implications in the table???

    Alison Cowie

    The new N5 CS Course Specification has come as a complete shock to me. It is not that I don’t agree with the changes or that I don’t think the course is not now more streamlined etc. – it is the impact that it is going to have on Computing Science teachers all over the country. I have just spent an hour highlighting the differences between old and new specs and the amount of work I will have to do to get resources up-to-date and in order so that they match the new spec is extraordinary. I am already into teaching N5 material to students sitting the exam in 2018 and I am going to have to completely rethink timelines, practical work – starting with the lesson I was planning to deliver this afternoon etc. Also – the ramifications for study guides etc. are huge. In addition to the burden for teachers, this is not helpful in any way to students and parents/carers trying to get a clear idea of what will be in the exam.

    Moira Feldman

    Isabel, it’s not just you, there is certainly nothing in the part of the table (page 6) relating to environmental impact, that relates to legal implications. Are we to assume that if an Act is not specified the pupils don’t have to be taught about it?  The only two Acts I see at the first reading are the Data Protection act and the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act. Does that mean the others have been removed?

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