Exam system bound to fail

4th March 2011 at 00:00

As we contemplate swingeing cuts to education, it would easy to overlook the release of the draft course rationales and summaries for National Qualifications 4 and 5. It is essential that we do not do so.

If the current changes to the exams system go ahead, what faces the current S1 cohort? Significant numbers, who would previously have achieved at General level, may leave school with no more than five subject-based qualifications, all on the basis of internal assessment only. And they will do well to manage that.

In my subject, physics, a child completing NQ4 will have to pass at least four assessments. If schools do not wish to label children as "NQ4" too early, he or she may also have to attempt internal assessments at NQ5. Across all subjects, the poor child may have to endure 20-30 compulsory internal assessments in a year - under a new curriculum that was meant to cut the assessment burden. Woe betide any child who moves school, is off ill, or suffers family breakdown or bereavement. And as for the class whose teacher is off for any length of time, the consequences don't bear thinking about.

And what of the assessments? We are to make them up ourselves, using material from the unimpressive National Assessment Resource, moderate them within schools and across schools, set them, mark them and administer them, while chasing pupils who haven't turned up. All will be well, apparently, thanks to external moderation and verification.

It is hard to see how this new exams system can be manageable, reliable or valid. The SQA will not respond to concerns about structure, stating that it is a Scottish Government decision. If this is so, teachers and the professional bodies that represent them must take the Government to task and not allow these damaging changes to go through unopposed.

Nicholas Hardwick, principal teacher of science, Leith Academy.

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