A schoolboy has complained to the Scottish Qualifications Authority about money-saving changes to the exams timetable which he claims will put extra strain on candidates. This year there will be just 10 or 15 minutes between papers instead of an hour.
Jonathan Crawford, who is in the fourth year at Falkirk High, says: "I believe that this length of break will have an effect on the grades that will be achieved. The lengthened break is necessary to refocus the mind and calm the nerves before the next exam."
He says the change is so that the SQA does not have to pay invigilators for a full day.
Jonathan takes as an example of the extra strain the Standard grade modern studies papers, which will be taken by 8,000 pupils. In his preliminary exams in December he sat both the Credit and General papers. "For the General exam I wrote nine to 10 sides of A4 paper and for the Credit, I wrote 12 sides, in the space of an hour and a half and two hours respectively. The Credit exam was a tiring experience not only because of the writing needed but because it was only two hours before I sat the hour and a half General exam."
Fifteen minutes between papers was not enough. "This situation, I believe, arises over a difference of Pounds 6 extra per invigilator."
Jonathan says that other pupils and his teachers share his concern about the effect on the grades that will be awarded. Liz Costa, principal teacher of modern studies, told The TES Scotland: "It is unfair to this set of pupils to change the arrangements without advanced warning. This has happened so suddenly, whereas in the past the exam board gave two years' notice of any change to the curriculum or exam arrangements."
Vivien Harrower, assistant manager of the SQA, wrote to Jonathan that "the new arrangements for Standard grade examinations which are to be introduced in 1998 were developed by the Scottish Examination Board in the course of producing a timetable for the new provisions of Higher Still. Among the requirements of this new timetable is that it should be held over a shorter period than at present in order to provide more teaching time for the new courses" Mrs Harrower accepted that the new format was "necessarily a compromise" between competing priorities. "It nevertheless represents what is felt to be the best balance that can be achieved." She added that the new arrangements were being introduced ahead of Higher Still to see how any problems with Standard grade might be resolved. The position is to be reviewed after this year's exams.
Jonathan is unimpressed by the response. He tells the SQA to remember the experience from ancient Rome, "Quicquid delirant reges plecuntur achivi" - and adds a helpful translation: "Through the madness of the chiefs the people suffer."