Appeals are alien to me

8th October 2010 at 01:00

A spell of roadworks on the M8 recently prompted me to take the scenic A70 "Lang Whang" to work. This road is a personal favourite, one that I have motorbiked, driven and cycled many times in the past 30 years.

One of the most memorable journeys was roof-down in a sports car, late at night, watching and listening to a distant electric storm. There are some who would be spooked by lights in the sky above the Lang Whang, as it is the scene of Scotland's most famous alleged alien abduction.

Indeed, I used this premise myself for a facetious TESS article some years ago, where I claimed to have been abducted along with Atomic Kitten, whom I rescued with the aid of a can of de-icer. The story ended with a statement that I'd had an exam appeal granted for one of my pupils, and implied that this was the least plausible part of the tale.

While I continue to question the type of evidence needed for a strong appeal, I reckon it was pretty immature of me to suggest that the SQA deliberately looked for excuses to turn them down, and I may even have used Monty Python's Cheese Shop sketch as a metaphor.

When I were a lad, the only appeal possible was to have a fail turned into a pass. Thus, in 1977, when I opened my results envelope and found that my physics grade had, for the first time, dropped to a B, I knew I had a B- grade Higher physics for eternity. Honestly, if I'm ever famous, I don't want an honorary doctorate from a respected university: I want that A.

The experience has hugely influenced my views on exit point assessment. The experience has given me a chip on my shoulder and I really ought to get over it. Delete the appropriate phrase.

When I taught, I rarely failed to go to my school on the day the results came out, inwardly punching the air or sighing as I scribbled down each name and grade on a bit of A4 I'd nicked from the photocopier. If they were good, I'd take the paper out and re-read it again and again when I got home, almost wishing the term had begun so that I could congratulate individuals who had done well for themselves (that is, of course, a very big "almost").

In physics, pupils should do better in the final exam than in a representative prelim, because a substantial part of their marks depends on the ability to problem-solve. Assuming this is a skill that is actually developed by the course, it should be at a higher level in May compared with February.

Sometimes things go wrong. One very bright girl I taught missed out on her A. I am unlikely to forget her running down the corridor, then embracing me when she found out her appeal had been successful.

This concern with results should all be behind me now, but my own children, my nieces and my nephews are currently in the exam system and will be for some time. It's going to be a long haul or, if you prefer the Scots, a Lang Whang.

Gregor Steele recently dug out his old Higher paper to try to work out where he went wrong.

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