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'This is a monster you can't sustain'

External exams may be scrapped as SQA buckles under Higher Still explosion

KEY Scottish Executive advisers are considering scrapping some external exams in favour of better moderated internal assessment, overturning a century or more of Scottish tradition.

Problems recruiting enough markers for the burgeoning number of Higher Still courses has forced planners to think the previously unthinkable. Courses for university entrance could retain external testing but lower levels might be scrapped, ending the unhappy marriage of seamless academic and vocational education.

Advisers are also concerned about the rising costs of a complex exam system and argue instead for internal assessment by teachers that would be relatively cost-free.

Both proposals are likely to feature in the forthcoming review of Higher Still with the cautionary warning that such radical reform would only happen over time and with full backing of the public and stakeholders.

But teachers and universities are unlikely to back such bold scheming, however tentative. The Educational Institute of Scotland next week, at its annual conference in Perth, will vote once again on a possible boycott of internal assessment in Higher Still courses in favour of external assessment. Members continue to express dismay at the workload involved.

The union, however, is split on intrnal assessment, as are national groups that are investigating progress on Higher Still. A divide between FE and schools appears unbridgeable.

Executive advisers may propose other radical options if the Scottish Qualifications Authority is not to sink again under the weight of bureaucratic assessment. Bill Morton, the authority's chief executive, has already commented that he found it strange teachers were recruited annually to carry out a duty central to their job.

That could mean three-year rolling contracts for markers or writing marking into job descriptions. The latter option may be too late following the post-McCrone agreement.

Some 9,400 teachers and lecturers are marking this year but demand will grow further next year as more courses come on stream. As one insider put it: "There's a fear that this is a monster you cannot sustain."

The big increases in external marking this year are at Intermediate level. There is a rise of 147 per cent at Intermediate 1 and a 91 per cent rise at Intermediate 2. Last year there were almost 160,000 external exam entries at both levels and at Higher: this year the figure is 241,000, plus 7,000 new Advanced Higher exams.

A crucial meeting on Tuesday of the National Qualifications Steering Group is to consider Higher Still progress and the assessment options.

FE Focus, page 34

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