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Teachers can do nothing right

It was interesting to read Lord James Douglas-Hamilton's call in the press last week for independent research into the reasons for improved pass rates in the Scottish exam system. He suggests we need to know whether the rise is due to exams being easier, or, pupils being smarter or the schools being more rigorously selective in respect of the pupils entered for examinations.

Nowhere does he suggest that improvements in teaching techniques, better training or better conditions in schools and better pay for teachers could have anything to do with it. Presumably, if we were to test in the areas that he suggests, we would never find out whether the dedication of our teachers or the Executive's investment in improvements have had anything to do with the steadily rising pass rate.

It seems that teachers can do nothing right in the eyes of the Conservatives. If the pass rates fall, it is the fault of the teachers.

When the pass rates rise, it has nothing to do with the teachers.

The Statistics Commission that Lord James quotes has an equally myopic approach. Its view that it is important that official statements should acknowledge the effects that teaching test technique and teaching to the test can have on test scores is banal.

So long as we rely on the examinations system as the sole arbiter of attainment and excellence for our young people, the pressure is always going to be on teaching to the test. There would be outrage if the system of mock exams was abolished.

We have, however, got to the stage where the pressures of the examination system are deforming and undermining what education should be about, which is developing the full range of skills, aptitudes and possibilities of our young people - sometimes referred to as the seven intelligences.

We are doing what we do in education better every year. Is this enough? The question should be: do we have an education system that is really fit for purpose and should we be channelling much more of our educational energy into expanding the horizons of our young people instead of constricting them?

Robin Harper

MSP. Scottish Green Party speaker on education

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