Hooked on the joys of text

Fiona MacLeod reports from last week's annual conference of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Assocation

teachers have to spend hours helping senior pupils sort out their university applications because so many use text language. The effect of the mobile phone culture on pupils' writing emerged as one of many concerns expressed by secondary teachers over plans to introduce a new application system for higher education.

The post qualification appli-cation system, being considered by the university admissions body UCAS, would mean that pupils applied for university after they received their exam results. UCAS believes this would make the process less stressful and reduce pressure on the clearing process.

But delegates at the annual conference of the Scottish Secondary Teachers'

Association last week in Aviemore, although supportive of the benefits to pupils, voted in favour of a motion which registered concern about the potential workload implications.

Richard Goring, a member of the South Lanarkshire branch and depute head of Hamilton Gram-mar, said: "I am amazed by the number of pupils who write personal statements in text language. These kids need a lot of help with their applications to university and it's a big commitment of my time. At least an hour per candidate goes into providing a reference for them."

He also warned that the introduction of the PQA could require teachers to interrupt their summer holidays to help pupils with their applications. "I don't see how a school can support this (PQA) effectively. The last thing I want to do is undersell these pupils."

If UCAS does introduce the PQA, Standard grade and Higher exam results would almost certainly have to be published a week earlier to allow candidates who performed better than expected to apply at the end of July.

The majority of applications would still be submitted in January, but 15 per cent of university places would be held back for late applications to ensure the most popular courses are not filled by the January applicants.

* Also at the conference, delegates unanimously backed a motion calling for tighter regulation of websites which allow pupils to post humiliating comments and camera phone footage of teachers.

The call comes just weeks after a pupil happy-slapped a headteacher in Hawick. The term "happy-slapping" refers to an assault which is filmed using a camera phone and the footage then circulated, usually on the internet.

Incoming SSTA president Ann Ballinger, who proposed the motion, said: "At its worst, the internet provides a vehicle for exhibiting an excess of anonymous bullying and harassment, malicious accusations and the destruction of reputations - even physical violence. The operators of these sites where these images are displayed show no responsibility for any material and this has to change."

* Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association members also backed demands that any pupils who have been excluded from school because of violent behaviour should be subject to risk assessments before being allowed back into the classroom.

Gordon West, from the union's Aberdeenshire branch, said teachers had the same right to be protected from violence as pupils. "The risk of being a victim of violent behaviour is one that should be taken seriously," he said.

"Schools should be safe places and risk assessments and subsequent measures to counter identified risks would go some way to making that a reality."

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