The first candidates out of about 65,000 pupils will sit the exams next spring, but both Labour and the Conservatives, as well as the country’s largest teaching union, the EIS, have voiced concerns about lack of readiness in some schools.
National 4 and National 5 are replacing Standard Grades, which were introduced in the 1980s, but some secondaries have delayed their prelims until four weeks before the final exam, though they are usually sat this month or in December.
Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour education spokeswoman, said the SNP government had not heeded teachers’ warnings.
Education minister Mike Russell was “ploughing ahead with their reforms” regardless of any misgivings, she said.
“You can’t keep driving through reform where confidence doesn’t exist and where schools, pupils and teachers aren’t ready,” she told The Scotsman.
Liz Smith, Scottish Conservatives spokesperson for young people, said the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) had worked hard on the new exams but “deep-seated concerns” remained about preparedness.
She continued: “I think it is important that there is a cast iron assurance from Mike Russell that everything is properly in place for the new exams and that they will be rigorously assessed.”
More than half of teachers were “barely confident” of their school’s readiness to deliver the Nationals, according to a survey by the EIS earlier this year. About 11 per cent of teachers who responded said they were “not confident at all” of their department’s readiness.
The Scottish government rejected a proposal by the EIS to postpone the exams by a year, which no local authority has done with the exception of East Renfrewshire.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said it was confident that this year’s exams would be delivered to the benefit of pupils across Scotland.
“Education Scotland, SQA and the Scottish government have provided a wide range of support to help them,” she said, citing the £5 million in extra funding that has been provided for the purpose.