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Appeals system is being abused

It was hardly a surprise to read in The TESS, January 11: "Exam appeals soar" by 32.5 per cent in 2007.

A report from the Scottish Qualifications Authority rightly recognises that the decision to scrap the derived grades procedures was an important contributory factor, but my tentative findings from a variety of discussions suggest this comment bypasses the real issue - there is a great need to give a clear reminder of the true purpose of appeals.

The process, as the SQA points out, was introduced for candidates who, for one reason or another, had a "bad day"; now it's widely considered by many (candidates, teachers and parents alike) as a kind of "panic button" to be pressed when the desired grade is not achieved.

One reason may lie in the way centres are being encouraged to appeal for candidates who have just made it in their prelims because the SQA sends out lists with "valid appeals". These include every candidate who performed less well in the operational exam than expected from the evidence.

The increased awareness of the way appeals are carried out may be even more significant. It is clear to centres that there are now two ways of gaining an award - one by a suitable level of performance in the exam and a second based on the centre estimates alone, which can over-ride any performance in the operational exam.

Of course, the moves towards greater transparency are welcomed but centres and parents should be aware that, for an appeal to stand a chance, evidence must show that the candidate was performing above what is required to achieve a grade boundary. The process is not about giving all candidates two attempts at achieving a grade.

As we rejoice in the removal of the derived grades and wait for news about curriculum change in the upper secondary, we must review all aspects of the appeals procedures.

Gathering evidence is about being able to provide a "safety net" for exceptional cases; it is not about setting two "SQA quality" exams to give students two attempts at achieving a grade.

Douglas Buchanan, Department of curriculum research and development, Moray House School of Education, Edinburgh.

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