Exam blues:this time it's war

29th September 2000 at 01:00
Monday The chaotic consequences of the Scottish Qualification Authority's ineptitude continue unabated. Alas, it has been finally confirmed that Ms Honeypot's record batch of passes at PE Standard grade (all 28 of our ill-assembled and ungainly candidates were initially awarded Grade 1s throughout) was a sad and sorry mistake.

Regrettably, only one of our presentations attained such Olympian heights, while the rest of our candidates were the anticipated 2s, 3s and (mainly) 4s. Meanwhile, the ripples of the summer's administrative disaster continue to spread outwards. This afternoon, George Crumley's Higher geography class mounted a headstrong campaign of defiance against his injunction that they commence work on their internally assessed modules.

"Whit's the point?" he had apparently been challenged by Graham Farr. "Ah wis speakin tae Sandy Welsher, an he said they'd all knoacked their pans oot last year tae get thur assessments in oan time. An then the exam board loast the fuckin loat! So whit's the point?" "The sad thing was," Crumley confessed to me in the dining hall at lunchtime, "I couldn't help but agree with him."

A chaplet has clearly fallen from the brow of Scottish education.

Tuesday Mr Dick has amended our policy on the appeals procedure relating to last session's SQA results. When the first rumblings of concern were heard back in August, he advised all subject and guidance principals that we should adopt a measured approach based on preliminary examination results and a fair and honest assessment of our candidates' potential.

"If you thought they were a B and they've turned out a C," he advised us only four short weeks ago, "then you should appeal. If you thought they were a B and they've turned out a B, then that's fine."

What a different story today. "Everything's up for grabs, folks!" he announced in slightly manic array at this morning's board of studies meeting. "The SQA's on the ropes, and this is our best chance ever to increase our pass rate beyond our wildest dreams. If your kids were expected to get a C and they got anything less than a B, then get your pencils sharpened and start filling in those EX71s."

"But isn't that immoral?" I foolishly asked.

"Morris!" Mr Dick froze me with a glare. "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party. Appeal! Appeal! Appeal! And then appeal again."

Somehow, it all reminded me of the injunction "Tora! Tora! Tora!" during the Second World War. And possibly the end results will be just as suicidal. But mine is not to question why, so I reverted to my record of work and started to fabricate an enormous range of fallacious appeals.

Gail took me severely to task as we discussed the matter over our evening meal. "But that's appalling, Morris," she upbraided me. "You and your like are going to throw the whole system into chaos, and possibly end up getting grades for your pupils that suggest they're better than they are. And just think - what if every school in the country were to start thinking along those lines?" Yossarian's words from Catch 22 sprang swiftly to mind, and I paraphrased slightly. "Then we'd be damned fools to think any other way, Gail."

And I almost believed it myself.

Wednesday Although the Unison campaign is receiving sporadic and variable support across the country, it might have been fully expected that Mr Dallas (our recalcitrant chief janitor) would throw his weight behind whatever industrial action opportunities might be in the offing.

Thus it was that I found myself crossing a picket line this morning that offered me the opportunity to throw my support behind a tawdry group of local authority employees who claimed to have the future benefit of our educational services at heart. I dismissed them with contempt.

This was a decision which I came to view with some regret after a person - or persons - unknown (but believed to be Tony McManaman of 1N) had set off the fire alarm for the third time this morning. With Mr Dallas ensconced in his council-financed habitation some 20 yards distant from the school, and oblivious to every entreaty to switch the damned thing off, it eventually fell upon Mr Dick to proclaim a half-day holiday for the afternoon, lest we be presented with an insurmountable bill for the attendance of the Rockston Fire Brigade.

Personally, I salute whomsoever managed to break a fire-alarm glass three times in such quick succession. On the last occasion that we had a real fire to deal with, Mrs McIver of music had to throw a staple gun at the alarm at least seven times before the panoramic klaxon fired into life.

Thursday A parental enquiry this morning about holiday arrangements for next summer opened a fairly oleaginous can of worms.

"You understand, Mr Simpson," explained Lisa Charles's father over the telephone, "that I'm a busy man. And if I can take Lisa off school in the period immediately subsequent to her Highers, then we'll be able to take advantage of some fairly attractive pre-booking deals that are on offer just now. So if you could let me know when her last Higher takes place, then I'd be much obliged."

I assured him there'd be no problem with that and promised a return call once I'd checked up on next year's examination timetable. Alas, that was where the trouble started. The usual diet didn't appear on the staffroom noticeboard, and Jim Henderson didn't have a clue. Nor did the school office. And nor did Mr Dick.

"Check it out on the SQA website," he advised.

So I did. And what a desultory experience that turned out to be, on a site that turned out to be a 21st century equivalent of the Marie Celeste. Aside from the fact that little or no updates had appeared on site since those cataclysmic days of late August, I was dismayed to find it bereft of information about next year's examination diet. The advertised and euphemistically entitled Helpline (0141-242-2214 - try it and despair!) provided little comfort, and I eventually resorted to the good offices of directory enquiries for a number with anything remotely personal on the other end. Eventually, I got an answer.

"No, we haven't finalised the examination diet yet," a distant voice explained solicitously. "We've had other priorities."

"But surely you know when next year's examinations will be? I mean, we're teaching the courses now, and it would be helpful to know when our pupils are going to be examined on them," I said.

"I do understand that, Mr Samson," she mispronounced my name for the fourth time, "but we're still trying to consolidate last session's results. Why, only this morning, we came across more than 1,300 unmarked scripts in one of the postal slots."

"What!" I exclaimed with disbelief. "You've just found 1,300 scripts that haven't even been marked?" There was a sharp pause, followed by a series of clicks and a muffled conversation while my interlocutor clearly held an impromptu dialogue with her supervisor.

"Not at all, Mr Sampras," she assured me. "There's certainly been a problem with inputting statistical information. But the basic issue of ensuring that all scripts have been marked by experienced examiners is beyond doubt. Or litigation," she added.

"I just want to know next year's examination dates," I said.

There was a long silence. And then I got cut off.

Friday Curricular War was declared today. The factions were both, upsettingly enough, part of the social studies faculty. Alas, the faculty system has yet to permeate the consciousness of George Crumley (geography) or Frank O'Farrell (modern studies).

If it had, then perhaps George would have been delighted at the enlargement of course alternatives that have been offered by Frank's newest offering of a Higher grade in psychology. But he had been slighted already in a June public relations coup that saw 21 potential Higher candidates decimated to nine by a "Become A Cracker" offensive from Frank O'Farrell.

Alas, today saw insult added to injury when four of George's remaining candidates abandoned the sinking ship, citing their prospects of a "better pass" as a main reason for their departure.

"Never mind, George," I consoled him at half-past three. "At least it's fewer jotters to mark."

"No way, Morris," he turned with a fierce expression I'd never seen before. "If the kids don't trust the SQA, why should I?" "Sorry? What d'you mean?" "I mean that I no longer have trust in an examining body that's lost all rights to such a name. And I'm going to offer the alternatives of A-levels or an International Baccalaureate in geography. It'll please the parents, and certainly settle Frank O'Farrell's hash!" I gaped, uncertain of the consequences. And desperately sad about the state of Scottish education. As low ebbs go, this seems about as low as they can get.

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