SQA exam results day nerves are back - for teachers, too

After all the assessment uncertainty created by Covid, the SQA exam results in 2022 bring a different kind of anxiety, says teacher Alan Gillespie
3rd August 2022, 6:15am

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SQA exam results day nerves are back - for teachers, too

https://www.tes.com/magazine/analysis/secondary/sqa-exam-results-day-2022-nerves-teachers-students
chewed pencil, nervous

The beginning of August is not a time I typically enjoy in the teaching calendar. The looming return to school, still a few weeks away, feels ominously close. Soon it will be time to return to the chalkboard, sharpen the pencils and shake off the late nights and long lies of July.

I can’t speak for my colleagues but a series of doubts and niggles begin now to manifest in my mind - what exactly have I been doing all summer? Where did the time go? What the hell is the password for my classroom PC? Have I finally become too fat for my work wardrobe?

And - more importantly - what day is it that the SQA results come out?

The summer of 2022 brings with it, of course, the return of traditionally delivered exam grades for students in Scotland. Gone are the evidence-based teacher estimates of the coronavirus years. On 9 August, thousands of teenagers will find out the results of their recent exam diet by mail or, more commonly these days, text message.

And they are not the only ones whose nerves will begin to fray as we get closer to that date.

I appreciate that for the past two years I have gone into the summer holidays knowing in advance what grades my students are being awarded (if we ignore the SQA’s ill-fated attempt in 2020 to apply algorithms and change results based on historical trends).

This year a great slab of the unknown will come hurtling our way, for which there are unanswered questions. Will grade boundaries be radically different from previous exam diets? How will students have coped with the return to formal exam conditions? How much transparency will schools, teachers and students be afforded?

SQA exam results 2020: what can teachers expect?

Some of the most commonly searched terms on Google, relating to the SQA, are illuminating: “Is 40 per cent a pass?” and “Will SQA grade boundaries be lower in 2022?” Our young people are clearly anxious, placing their futures in the hands of an organisation that has been widely pilloried, and of which they have no first-hand experience.

This year, as a coping mechanism for the nerves I will undoubtedly feel, I will reprise my old routine on results day. Set an alarm and get up early, like it’s term time again. I’ll go into school not long after 9am and meet with the headteacher to get my department’s results. This brief meeting will set the tone for the first few months of the new academic year.

Whether the grades fall in line with our expectations or not, I’ll likely take them away and do a little bit of analysis on the day. I like to look at the component marks to see how the results differ (or not) from my predictions and previous years. The grades will then feed into my forward plan for next year, giving me areas to work on and plan for.

But this proactive approach, burying myself in spreadsheets and data, masks the emotional currency of the exam results.

A number of years ago, I was teaching the daughter of one of my colleagues. The girl had to achieve specific grades to meet the entry requirements for her chosen course. Getting the “right” results would mean that the student could study in Glasgow, stay at home and maintain the family unit. If the grades were “wrong”, she would have to instead accept a place on a similar course of study in Aberdeen, therefore moving hundreds of miles away and placing a significant financial burden on the family.

Thankfully, on this occasion, the SQA grades fell kindly. My colleague told me that they had laughed and cried all morning, relief and euphoria filling the home.

The margins for these things are delicate. There will be stories like this in homes all over the country next week, and not all of them will have happy endings.

I, and teachers around the country, wish the very best of luck to every Scottish student awaiting their SQA results in the coming days.

Alan Gillespie is principal teacher of English at Fernhill School, near Glasgow, and a novelist

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