Maths boycott rattles SQA

THE Scottish Qualifications Authority has been forced on to the defensive following widespread criticism in the wake of the new Higher maths exam last week, which saw some candidates boycotting the second paper.

Pupils across Scotland were said to be bitter that paper I in particular was far too demanding and some refused to turn up for paper II in the afternoon.

While teachers did not condone their action, many supported their complaints.

David Comins, headteacher of Glasgow Academy, spoke of the trauma for those concerned. "The exam was not what pupils thought it was going to be, and that didn't help in their approach to the second paper, it also affected their attitude to other subjects. One girl was physically sick and though she turned up for the second paper, she didn't complete it" Mr Comins said.

"I find what happened distressing as a teacher of maths, and as a mathematician I regret it when stories get round that the subject is difficult. We will be making a submission to the SQA."

Tom Sanaghan, principal maths teacher at Beeslack High in Penicuik, said the SQA specimen papers gave no warning of the first paper. Mr Sanaghan also said that it did not include enough level C questions (the minimum for a pass).

"I had to console a few pupils between the two papers, as much consolation as you can manage in 40 minutes, but they did all go back in," he said.

More undamentally, he had to spend so much time on the continuous unit assessments that his pupils were not sufficiently well prepared for the final exam.

George Russell, principal maths teacher at Penilee Secondary in Glasgow, commented: "Paper I would have intimidated the pupils. At least one question was unfair, one was ambiguous, and in some questions the language was too difficult."

George Gibson, maths adviser in Highland, said that, as a new Higher, there was no scope to use previous papers for revision, but evidence in the past had been that the problems settle down.

The SQA said in a statement: "We work hard to ensure that the question papers set each year are of the same standard and degree of difficulty. However, sometimes particular years are considered harder or easier than others.

"Markers report their findings back to SQA and this feedback, along with other evidence, are all taken into account before SQA sets the pass marks and cut off scores. Other evidence includes how candidates have performed against the estimates provided by schools and other examination centres and information on past exams including archived scripts, along with statistical information such as frequency distributions and markers' averages."

The authority promised representations would be dealt with if parents and pupils direct complaints in writing to Ron Tuck, its chief executive.

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