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Exams? Keep it simple, stupid

On November 14, there half-emerged a news release. By getting it out late on a Thursday, the Scottish Qualifications Authority managed to conceal from general scrutiny the remarkable news that it was seeking an extra pound;17 million to continue the work for which it is world-famous. Per annum, that is. So pound;17m for each of the next two years, then an unspecified sum thereafter.

I must admit I nearly broke my red Bic with excitement at the next titbit. This latest baksheesh from the Executive is so that SQA can "simplify" the arrangements for National Qualifications.

I quite fancy setting up a Simplifying Agency, if the returns are as good as that. Where could we start? The simplifying of the fishing industry is already under way. Don't fish seems to be the answer there. The simplifying of the firefighters' dispute was easy. The Government doesn't have any money, a simple, repeated, bleat.

Simplifying foreign policy was more problematic. The mantra "Weapons-o'-mass-destruction, weapons-o'-mass-destruction" seemed to be working, until it encountered language difficulties in Ulster. It wasn't what you might think, nothing sectarian. It was just that several garden centres came under CIA surveillance.

As for simplifying Higher Still, it's done - we've already done it. At the first meeting of the NQ Focus Group in Dundee in November, a sub-group, known in the jargon as a syndicate, came up with the following idea for reforming internal unit assessment.

Since NABs are notoriously all over the place, either below C (maths), or above C (modern languages), or have no A and B "headroom" (most subjects), or test complex abilities that can't be passed by all legitimate candidates till nigh-on the end of the course (English, history), there just might need to be something done about them.

Answer: "SQA to provide for the FebruaryMarch prelim a bank of questions which schools can select from. The bank to be divided into appropriate sections so as to reflect the unit structure of each subject. All questions to be of the intellectual complexity required at the external exam stage in May.

"SQA to ensure that questions reflect the content of Unit 1 and Unit 2 in such a way that pupils who pass each section can be deemed also to have passed Units 1 and 2, thus leading directly and painlessly to Unit Certification. Likewise the May exam to be divided into sections which reflect the content of Units 1, 2 and 3."

Simple. Watch this space.

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