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Tail end of assessments still wags the dog

Exams are underway, last-minute assessments are still going on, though the results are all due in by Thursday, and there's a shortfall of markers. Raymond Ross reports

Once more unto the breach as pupils begin this year's examinations diet, but Dr Rob Kerr, headteacher of Peebles High School, is hoping that the influx of assessments arriving at the Scottish Qualifications Authority on May 31 and the reported shortage of markers will not break the system entirely.

"On the positive side, all the stuff we're supposed to have sent into the SQA already has been sent and accepted. Materials have been checked and returned, which is prompt," he says. "On the one hand, you can say that's quite promising, on the other, quite unusual."

What is a concern to him is that the end-of-the-month deadline - mid-way through the exam period - means that Peebles High pupils and staff are still working to complete the burden of internal assessments and reassessments while the exams are going on.

"That's an additional pressure on both pupils and staff.

"The assessment burden shows the tail is still wagging the dog," says Dr Kerr.

"Things seem to be going quite well with the administration of the actua exams. No major problems. The chief invigilator hasn't been banging on my door in panic. The pupils are focused on their exams now and last year's fiasco has been pushed to the side."

However, the shortage of markers is a serious worry for him. "Schools have been asked by the directorate - and I assume this is a global situation, not simply one confined to the Borders - to release teachers during the school day later this term to act as markers. This is what happened last year and it was a bad sign then."

Although marking fees have been increased, this has not proved enough to attract additional markers so far.

"I don't think it's anything to do with teachers not wanting to be associated with the SQA or anything like that," says Dr Kerr. "It's just that they are up to their oxters with work, with Higher Still assessment and so forth. It's all still quite challenging.

"It's not about fees or lack of motivation. It's about hard-pressed teachers protecting their own sanity."

Dr Kerr and his colleagues are awaiting what happens after May 31 in terms of the influx of unit assessments to the SQA from some 500 exam centres and the shortfall of exam markers "with some interest".

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