SCHOOLS are facing a rise in disruption because pupils are switching off from the new curriculum and qualifications, a major survey has found.

A poll of teachers by Ipsos MORI Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Government concluded that "disengagement" was increasing in secondary schools.

The Behaviour in Scottish Schools report said teachers felt that controversial National 4 qualifications were not seen as worthwhile by some pupils because they did not have an external exam. They were also unpopular with parents.

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Herald View: Scotland's school reforms must work better for pupils

There was further concern over the introduction under Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) of the so-called broad general education which pushes back the study of formal qualifications until the fourth year of secondary.

The report said: "There was a view among some secondary teachers and headteachers that the introduction of the new National qualifications had led to increased disengagement of some S4 pupils.

"They were concerned that the lack of an exam for National 4 qualifications demotivated pupils completing this level.

"The lack of an exam was felt to devalue the award which had an impact on pupils’ self-esteem and this was exacerbated by schools forming mixed level classes in the same class."

The report said another consequence of the issue was that parents were often keen to have their child complete the more advanced National 5 qualification - which has an exam - even if the school recommended they should be completing National 4.

"Again this was related to parental doubts about the value of a qualification without a final exam. This meant some pupils were forced to work at a level that was not appropriate for their abilities and other qualification pathways were not considered," the report said.

Herald View: Scotland's school reforms must work better for pupils

The report said there were also concerns expressed by teachers about the broader curriculum over the first three years of secondary.

"They had previously found that the move into S3 signalled a time when pupils become more focused as they started studying for qualifications," it said.

"However, now that the broad curriculum has been extended, teachers felt that pupils were unfocused for longer. Teachers thought that this was a particular problem in subjects that pupils knew they were not going to continue."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) teaching union, said National 4 was originally intended as a qualification for students looking at college or vocational options in the future.

He said: "In practice, for many students, it has become a stepping stone towards National 5, although it wasn’t designed to fulfil this function.

"Pressure on schools to safeguard pupils' prospects also led to many students sitting both National 4 and National 5 units in the same school session, creating a significant workload burden for students and staff and some questioning the value of National 4.

"For many pupils, however, gaining a National 4 award is a significant step and we are clear this achievement should be celebrated."

Herald View: Scotland's school reforms must work better for pupils

Mr Flanagan said the EIS recognised that changes were required to National 4 to help it fulfil both of the functions now being asked of it.

Joanna Murphy, chairwoman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, highlighted a recent survey by the body that also found concerns about the reputation of National 4.

It found over a quarter of members believed employers did not value or understand National 4 and did not seek National 4 qualifications when recruiting.

She said: "The majority of parents did not feel the qualification set children up well enough for further study or work."

Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said it was "not good enough" to blame National 4 qualifications for a lack of engagement by some young people.

She said: "Surely it is much more important to look at underlying issues and to ask what more can be done to engage unenthusiastic learners?

"We need to look at how can we make sure that each young person feels valued and confident in their learning. When schools, learners and parents communicate well and focus on helping all young people to do well, real progress can be made."

Herald View: Scotland's school reforms must work better for pupils

A Scottish Government spokesman said the current concerns were being assessed by a new Curriculum and Assessment Board which features teaching unions, parents and the Scottish Government.

He added: "CfE is designed to ensure young people learn the skills they need to succeed and obtain qualifications and other awards that fully reflect their achievements.

“Teachers have been heavily involved in the development of CfE and the new national qualifications – including the decision not to have an exam at National 4 – and feedback from young people themselves shows support for the assessment arrangements for this qualification."