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Exam system complex and cumbersome

Alan Short

Broaddykes Avenue, Kingswells, Aberdeen

Your front page article "External exams 'unfair'", and editorial comments on educational issues raised by the annual examination diet (May 4), unleashed the floodgates of nostalgia.

You quote the majority of young people questioned in the survey by the Scottish Qualifications Authority as taking the view that external exams are not "I a fair way of measuring their ability" - a view shared by most pupils when I was at school more than 30 years ago.

When many teachers in secondary education complain about the pace of change and the incessant innovation of recent times, they are clearly not talking about the exam system. This is unfortunate because, if anything in education needs to change, it is the exams, particularly those that affect pupils in S4 (but also those in S5-6).

Supporters of the current system of external examinations point to its key role in standardisation. This may be true, but it comes at a price: an ossified curriculum repeated year after year in which regular innovation is impossible. Even where innovation is sanctioned by the SQA, new content and new examination questions can become the old classics destined to be repeated again and again.

In contrast to universities where the system assesses what has been taught, in schools we only teach what is to be assessed.

As a classroom teacher with some experience of higher and outdoor education, I am at a loss to understand why the assessment of 15 and 16-year-olds should require an examination system so complex, cumbersome and inflexible.

Your editorial refers to the disruptive effects of the annual examination diet. This disruption is becoming bi-annual as a result of the increasingly complex examination arrangements required for prelim and final exam diets.

In schools where classroom space is at a premium, teaching and learning can be adversely affected for the duration of exams. Can we afford such an examination system?

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