In March of this year the Deputy First Minister/Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, John Swinney, swung the axe and put paid to the sitting of exams in Scotland for the year. Back then it would be fair to assume that many thought that the lock down and the closure of schools would be a short-lived situation of maybe a month, possibly six weeks or so.
It seemed, at the time, wrong to cancel, with the click of fingers, something that children had working up to for the last few years of their lives. Those results that are incredibly important depending on which university the wanted to attend or job they wished to go into. It’s a big, big thing for teens looking to take their next step in life.
John Swinney announced in his speech on the 19th March that it would all be fine because the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) had a plan! This plan was that the children would finish some of their course work needed so that teachers could sit down and predict the results that each student would reach if they had sat an exam
It’s at this point I interrupt myself to point out that I am not a fan of exams. Certainly not when I was a teenager. I would get blinding headaches (stress – according to the doctor) before them. Some I just gave up on and others I completed and scraped by. That’s not how it should be. I’ve long been a fan of continuous assessment through the course with coursework being the sole contributor to a final result. Knowing that I failed some exams because of those headaches it had always got me thinking that, over the years and years of exams, who had failed what because they’d had an illness of some sort, a ‘flu, a nasty cold or, like me – stress headaches. I’ve thought for a long time that the system was asking for changed from end-of-year exams to continuous assessment. If the SQA were ever to come up with an alternative to exams I’d be interested. Although, I have got better with exams over the years, I still think there is view to a change.
Cancelling the exams this year was not it.
Back in February/March could the SG and the SQA not have got their heads together and looked at the possibility of having the exams but stagger them, having smaller groups or having some subjects work-assessed and others done by examination.
Scotland’s Chief Examining Officer has advised me that, with the support of the wider education system, a credible certification model can be put in place that can command confidence in the absence of the exam diet – to ensure that young people in our schools and colleges who, through no fault of their own, are unable to sit exams, are not in any way disadvantaged.
Credible it was not. On the 4th of August Scottish students got their exam results which showed that a high number of results had been downgraded from what teachers had submitted to the SQA. So the young people were left disadvantaged, Mr Swinney. Perhaps yourself and Fiona Robertson (Chief Examining Officer) should consider the parts you have played in it.
It’s okay, those in authority, said, you can appeal. Only, appealing these decisions means having your school/college do the appealing and what are they submitting? Work that’s already been submitted and revised down.
The sad part of this is that about 125,000 results were revised down because the “system” said that the results were higher than last year and that didn’t make them look credible. What a slap in the face for those students who have “knocked their pan in” to get work finished, not mention all the work they’ve put in over the last few years. Again, this new system that Swinney said was “credible” now says that the results it produced were “not credible”. A complete farce from the Scottish Government and the SQA, who said that they could provide this system.
Let’s not blame the SQA entirely. The Chief Examining Officer was the one who John Swinney said had assured him that this system could be done. Therefore putting pressure on the SQA as a whole to perform. Putting pressure on students to get work finished quicker, putting pressure on teachers to assess all their exam-aged students and have these estimated results submitted by a certain date. The school system already under pressure to try and find ways to get students back into school, while also looking after those who were attending school and supporting those working from home.
We’re aware that there may be some post code lottery type situation going on with some results with some students believing that their results were downgraded because of their schools performance over the last year or so. If that’s the case then some serious questions need answered by the Scottish administration.
It’s been shambolic from start to end. Exams were not cancelled during two world wars and they should not have been cancelled this time. We’ve known from the beginning that under a certain age children were not likely to contract COVID-19 unless they had conditions like asthma or other underlying conditions and those children would be shielded anyway.
Now we have thousands of students waiting to see how the appeal process will work, because it will be receiving a much higher amount of appeals than normal. How long will it all take? A complete nightmare for all but especially those who have a conditional entry to university.
Of course, the SG has apologised via the First Minister herself, who had said previously, that if exam results were higher than last year then it would be seen as not credible and would “run the risk of undermining the integrity of the whole system”.
Integrity ruined Ms Sturgeon, from the revising down instead.
The next peep we’ll hear from John Swinney is how this will all go away/be fixed. He’s not apologised and neither has Fiona Robertson.
This fiasco needs to be fixed and fixed properly and a substantial plan must be put into place should something like this happen again so that students who are at a very important junction in their lives are not let down again, are not left thinking that the school they go to will determine their exam results.
The Scottish Government and the SQA asked teachers to assess their students, who they have worked with for the last few years, and then disregarded 125,000 of those because it made results from other years look bad.
Result – FAIL.
EDIT: Since publication the Scottish Government has announced that the original exam results, as predicted by teachers, will stand.