THE problems associated with controversial National 4 qualifications refuse to go away.

When they were introduced in 2014 the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said they would be seen as the equal of others.The thinking was radical. While National 5 qualifications, which do have a final exam, were viewed as the natural lead-in to Highers, National 4’s qualifications were expected to be sat by those looking to work, apprenticeships or vocational college courses.

Dr Janet Brown, chief executive of the SQA, said both employers and colleges were familiar with the concepts of internal and ongoing assessment and therefore they were better suited to pupils pursuing these routes.

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However, as a number of surveys have revealed many teachers and parents have not bought into the qualification as was originally expected.

Some warned National 4 had led to groups of pupils viewing themselves as “second-class citizens” because there is no final exam.

A recent survey from Ipsos Mori Scotland seems to bear that out with fears of increasing disengagement from school.

As a result teachers have felt under pressure to push pupils towards the more advanced National 5 qualification, which does have an external exam.

That has led to the growing problem of pupils being awarded National 4 after failing National 5.

Figures from the SQA this summer bear out the reputational concerns with an 11 per cent decline in interest since 2015.

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution because opinion is still split over the future of National 4.

Some teachers believe only the introduction of an external exam will help restore its reputation, but others argue just as strongly that this will disadvantage those who do not naturally perform in exam conditions.There is a view that the scrapping of the unit assessments that allow the fall-back from National 5 to National 4 to occur will help resolve the problem.

There is a consensus that there needs to be a stronger focus from schools on explaining the purpose of the different options to parents – as well as ensuring pupils are being entered for the right qualification in the first place.