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A model of good practice on standby

At least the appeals system is up to the mark, even if the exam markers aren't. Raymond Ross reports

Clearer communications and better feedback from the Scottish Qualifications Authority are helping to breed confidence in the system for Arran High School's depute head and SQA co-ordinator, Ian MacLaren.

On the down side, worries about the marking situation suggest things are not yet running as smoothly as they could be.

Like many, Mr MacLaren has found the appointment of accounts managers this session to be efficient and helpful as well as giving the SQA a face. Also, the second appeals system - the appeals against appeal outcomes - he has found a model of good practice, if not indeed a model of excellence.

"We were not particularly successful in terms of the actual appeals but the feedback on individual candidates' performances in maths, history and geography was detailed. It told you what questions they hadn't done well in and commented not just on the exam performance but on the National Assessment Banks, on prelims and on our own marking.

"It's a lot better than just giving you a 'yes' or 'no' and I think it's a good model for consultation for the future. There has been some talk of schools wanting the actual papers bck but we found the detailed information was in many ways as good as having the papers returned.

"It's not as detailed as this in all subjects but hopefully the good practice will spread."

The shortage of markers and the turn-around time for marking papers worries him "a wee bit", not just that deadlines will be met but that in meeting deadlines "mistakes might be made".

It's not the money that's putting teachers off volunteering as markers, he feels, but the time pressure involved.

He knows of one Arran teacher who has withdrawn from marking because the venue for the markers' meeting has been changed twice in the past few weeks. The first two venues were in Glasgow, then the venue was altered to Edinburgh, making the trip from Arran impractical. The subject, ironically, is geography.

Anecdotal evidence from colleagues in various departments and other schools, he says, suggests that there is less moderation this year with fewer pieces of work being called in.

The exams are running smoothly at Arran High and the pupils are not expressing worries about the SQA, though among the staff there is "a bit of scepticism about how things will turn out" and they feel the pressure of getting assessments in by May 31.

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