How hard do you shout?

22nd September 2000 at 01:00
CYNICAL politicians often assert that they have no wish to intrude on private grief before wading right in to attack an opponent. It's more public anger that persuades me to add my chuckie to the cairn of comment about the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

I still have the 1998 letter from the Higher Still Development Unit that dismisses my arguments about over-assessment as "anecdotal". Personal is equated with apocryphal, yet the experiences of pupils, parents and teachers must figure in any investigation of what happened this summer.

Our school results arrived a week after they were due, but parents phoning the "help" line were still routinely being told that problems occurred because the school failed to send information. Two of us share the duties of SQA co-ordinator in my school - and all the required results and estimates were sent three times.

When I sought results forms in May for our Spanish module I was told we weren't registered. Yet in front of me, dating from the previous September, were photocopied entries sent to SQA. Results submitted in May and June were again requested 10 days later. Obviously nothing was being processed and the Glasgow left hand and the Dalkeith right hand weren't co-ordinated.

I've written before that the creation of the SQA semed like the forced marriage of an educational body trying to be business-like, with a business trying to achieve educational status. In time the two merged, everyone became stakeholders, the budget for corporate entertainment no doubt grew, a new logo was invented, a mission statement issued, an awards ceremony instituted. It was all the perfect picture of a modern company - yet somewhere along the line the raison d'etre was lost.

There has been a profound contempt expressed for teachers' views of an overloaded exam system. One HMI annoyed headteachers at a meeting I attended last year by saying: "There appear to be some noises off" - a case of taking unflappability too far.

Even now, public statements from the SQA have hinted that difficulties arose from teachers not understanding the new exam system. Yet, like some prehistoric creature whose head is still too far from its tail the message for the authority doesn't seem to have got through. The current consultation for English teachers (who want a reduction of assessment) offers a choice between the status quo or even more internal assessment, asking teachers to assess the pupils' folios.

Amid all the attempts at face-saving and black propaganda there must be one sure outcome - pupils must not suffer again.

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