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The good, the bad and the assessments

Raymond Ross takes his weekly look at the progress of Scottish Qualifications Authority exams

Brian Paterson, principal teacher of modern studies at Boclair Academy in East Dunbartonshire, is a much happier man than he was this time last year. This is due mainly to the reduction in September in the number of Higher Still internal assessments from 11 to seven, and the reduction of last year's triple deadlines of November, March and May for getting them into the SQA to the one May deadline.

"I can live with Higher Still. If it was still like last year I'd say scrap the whole thing. The issue of when to assess has been simplified and the May deadline gives us time to mop up assessments rather than being on task all the time to meet the deadlines. Also, the reduction in the number of assessments, which we were informed about in September, makes it all the more manageable," he says.

He is also pleased that last year's paucity of National Asses-sment Bank materials - which saw him plundering old Higher resources-has been addressed. The dissemination of materials is better and the quality of in-service has improved.

On the down side, though, certain things still worry him about internal assessments: "Last year it was never made clear how many re-assessments we were allowed to do, and we still don't know. Also, what is the worth of the internal units on their own? What's their status? It's impossible to advise a pupil whether two internal assessment units at Higher are better than a course award at Intermediate 2."

The reduction in the number of unit assessments has meant less pressure on teachers but Mr Paterson and his department believe that the eight of assessment marking still means they don't have enough time to give proper homework exercises.

"Last year the assessments were not good preparation for external assessment for the exam. I still believe homework is a better preparation and I think that prelims give a more accurate indication of how the pupils will achieve in the exam than these assessments do.

"They can also lull the pupils into a false sense of security because they get 20 and 25 minutes for Learning Outcome 1 and 2 but only get the equivalent of 17 minutes each in the exam. That's a time differential of seven or eight minutes."

He also thinks that pupils having to pass all seven assessments is unnecessarily restrictive and thinks the system should reform to allow a pass at five or six units.

"The pupils are scunnered with them," he says.

This year his department is presenting 70 pupils for Higher, four for Intermediate 1, seven for Intermediate 2 and 10 for Advanced Higher.

He believes there is quality assurance in Advanced Higher compared to last year's Certificate of Sixth Year Studies results, in which "there was a complete lack of consistency and we were very disappointed, even on appeal."

Three or four pupils got Cs last year and were upgraded to Bs, but he is adamant that they were A candidates, and he has been presenting CSYS for 10 years. "We see the pupils' dissertations and we knew our pupils' marks were better than what they were awarded."

If your school has any difficulties or improvements with the SQA, email or write to ScotlandPlus, TES Scotland, Scott House, 10 South St Andrew Street, Edinburgh EH2 2AZ

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