The aftermath of the exams chaos

15th December 2000 at 00:00
Monday George Crumley has abandoned presentations for Higher grade. Instead, he has enrolled all seven remaining students in his class for the International Baccalaureate in geography, and has launched a publicity campaign aimed at enrolling students who are finding the Higher coursework elements in other subjects too onerous.

"My students were fed up to the back teeth of the geography coursework, and wouldn't trust the Scottish Qualifications Authority as far as they could throw them when it comes to recording their classwork activities," he said. "Plus, I'm aiming to poach a few modern studies kids and a raft of psychology students from Frank O'Farrell."

"It's a bit radical, isn't it, George?" I queried, as he pinned an advertising hoarding to the walls of the fifth year common room. It bore the memorable legend "SQA? Sweet FA! Get a REAL qualification with an IB in Geography. See Mr Crumley by Friday. Places strictly limited."

"Radical thinking is what we need, Morris," he upbraided me. "I've sat back and watched my subject's gold standard qualification degenerate into a parentally sanctioned cheats' charter for the past 10 years, as semi-literate kids turn out investigations that are Nobel bloody prize material. And I've sat quiet, as long as the kids got a decent exam grade at the end of it all - or at least one that kept me in a job.

"But now the system's credibility is completely shot to pieces. So we may as well abandon the whole lot and get back to an externally marked exam that I can train them for - and an exam that'll be recognised across the world as a marker of excellence. Like ours used to be, and like the IB still is."

I shrugged my shoulders and wished him well in his recruitment drive.

Tuesday Mr McManus of biology - "Coarse Davie" as he is more popularly known - has been at the centre of further parental complaints concerning the frequently disreputable stories with which he regales his classes. Not to mention his somewhat rudimentary approach to the explanation of basic scientific principles.

"If a teacher is going to explain the principles of gaseous diffusion to his class," an irate Mr Harper complained to me on the telephone this afternoon, "then I really feel he could do better than hauling my son to the front of the room and saying: 'If Johnny here farted, then how d'ye think the smell would get spread around the room?' I mean to say, Mr Simpson, it's not really on, now is it?" I could do nothing but agree and said I would raise the matter with Mr McManus.

Meanwhile, Sandra Denver of history has continued her involvement with BrainScape, the revolutionary approach to brain training that has transformed her attitudes to learning. She is intent on presenting a paper to the board of studies that will ensure all senior pupils are signed up with BrainScape for a four-week course to give them essential exam-preparation tools, and she came seeking support this afternoon.

"Sure, Sandra," I smiled. "I'll sign anything, you know that, and if I hang on a bit!" I drew myself up short and saw the pounds sterling figure at the bottom of her proposal. "Surely it can't be costing that much?" "Morris," she drew serious breath. "Our kids' futures are too important to let money get in the way. BrainScape techniques are like having a white light shining into your head, giving you the power to do anything you choose to do. It's a revolutionary tool of the mind, unlocking the power of the brain and letting you harness all the creativity from one side and lock it into the logical processes in the other half ..."

"Yes. Quite," I murmured in dubious agreement. It was easier to sign my support of her proposal than get into an argument with her. But the fable of the emperor's new clothes came forcefully to my mind as I committed pen to paper.

Wednesday I am beginning to tire of my unofficial (that is, unpaid) position as electronic communications and website strategist for the school. In spite of all my best efforts to awaken staff enthusiasm for the limitless potential that technology has to offer, I still find myself encountering troglodytes and dinosaurs who complain they "just haven't the time to find out about it" - and this despite all of the training opportunities and financial inducements to buy computers that are thrust their way.

So I decided to e-mail our headteacher with my reservations about the staff's inability to confront new technologies. "Mr Dick," I started, "I have to drop you a note about staff readiness for IT innovations. To date, the staff intranet has attracted 14 hits (12 of them from me), and a straw poll this morning suggested that only about 15 per cent of the staff would know how to send e-mail. Frankly (and completely confidentially), I'd see the staff's Luddite reluctance to embrace new technology as a serious worry. As well as a challenge, of course."

I stopped there and hit the "Send" icon. Mr Dick appreciates words such as "challenge".

Meanwhile, the move away from SQA presentations is beginning to resemble the movement of the Gadarene swine, as Simon Young announced a departmental intention to offer the alternative of English A-levels after Christmas to any student who felt unable to place their faith in the awarding capabilities of the SQA.

"If they feel the same as I do, then the whole ruddy year group should sign up!" he pronounced. "But I don't think that's likely, so if necessary I'll hold it as an after-school event. And I'm looking for volunteers to share the timetable."

Surprisingly, more than half of the department proved willing, as well as myself. In a strange kind of way, the SQA's appalling record during, and since, the summer has given the staff a resolve, even an esprit de corps that was previously lacking, as we all seem to unite against a common front.

I suppose it was like this during the Blitz.

Thursday Alas, any esprit de corps that was in evidence yesterday had dissipated with the cool November air by morning break today, at least as far as I was concerned.

My e-mail of constructive criticism has been completely misconstrued by those members of staff who have been party to its contents, which, alas, seems to be most of them. At first I felt betrayed by Mr Dick, who I felt must have shared my concerns more widely than I had intended; however, as I discovered this morning, the wider dissemination of the message had been entirely my own fault.

Having constructed various e-mail groupings in my personal address book, including one to 'Headteacher and All Staff' (unhappily placed immediately after 'Headteacher'), I had clicked one address too far, with the consequence that my admonitory missive had been told abroad to a considerably broader - and more hostile - audience than intended.

That's why nobody spoke to me all morning.

Meanwhile, the widening of curricular opportunities offered by the geography and English departments has drawn a significant amount of press attention. The Parkland Gazette's banner headline this morning, "Greenfield Academy dumps SQA and offers International Qualifications to all", was a slight extension of the truth but its story certainly engendered much media response, as reporters surrounded the school like flies around manure.

Mr Dick was like the proverbial pig in a similar substance as enquiries about placing requests started to fly thick and fast. By the end of the afternoon he had had 26 telephone enquiries and three adult learners at the door wanting to join a Higher class of any discipline. Who'd have thought it?

Friday Considerable ire is being directed towards the SQA over its recent recruitment drive for markers.

"There's no way I'm doing it!" proclaimed Mr Greig, thrusting his invitation to join the physics examining team into the wastepaper bin. "With the rates they pay, and after all the shit that's been hurled our way in the last five months, there's no way I'm marking ever again, no matter how many grovelling letters the acting chief executive sends me!" He seemed fairly decided on the matter, but not so Frank O'Farrell of modern studies, who had an altogether more calculating look in his eye as he pondered the issue.

"I'm not so sure, Gregor," he advised sagely. "I made a tidy wee packet this summer."

"What? But I thought you sent all your exam scripts back when they told you the rate per script was being reduced from pound;1.80 to pound;1.10?" "Oh, I did. Some farty little accountant had said the papers were shorter this year so we should be paid less. So I returned every script unmarked in protest. just like every other modern studies teacher I know.

"They obviously thought we'd all been bloody quick in marking them, because nobody actually looked inside the envopaks until early July - when they realised they had a whopping great quantity of unmarked scripts on their hands. And then they got on the phone to us all, offering three times the earlier rate if we could come in pronto and get marking" "So what did you do?" I asked.

"I got up to Queen Street sharpish and caught the next Scotrail Express! What d'you think I did?" How sad, I pondered, and what an appalling betrayal of principles. I suppose I could get worked up about it if I thought modern studies was a discipline of any academic merit.

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