Marking system not behind poorer pass rates for Higher course

5th November 2010 at 00:00

An investigation into a slump in pass rates for the mental health care Higher has found no major faults in marking systems.

Instead, a poor cohort of students and inadequate vetting of candidates by colleges were among a "perfect storm" of several factors, some of which could have implications for other courses offered in colleges.

The further education course, sat this year by 423 students, had a pre- appeal pass rate of 35.9 per cent, compared to 63.7 per cent last year when there were 405 candidates.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority and Scotland's Colleges asked a review team, led by School Leaders Scotland general secretary Ken Cunningham, to investigate.

The team reported this week that it had "confidence in the processes which took place in 2010" and was "reassured that the standards applied were consistent with previous years".

A small number of candidates each year and the changing make-up of cohorts, covering a wide range of ages and qualifications, had caused difficulties for colleges. There was "a clear feeling among the markers that this year's candidates were not as able as previous years", the review concluded.

The investigating team, which also included the principals of Inverness and Borders colleges and SQA qualifications development director Gill Stewart, calls for "significant training" of college staff in estimating grades, to narrow a gap between predictions and actual performance that has grown over the past four years.

Candidates struggled with written communication, notably in extended essays for an optional unit on stress. Colleges were advised to consider additional vetting, "so that candidates are realistic about the skill set required" for this unit, while the SQA has been told to devise fresh guidance on entry requirements.

A case study project that has not changed since the qualification emerged in its current form, in 2004, created a danger of "candidate and lecturer complacency, as well as plagiarism".

There was "variable" quality in the team of about 10 markers, while teachers and lecturers showed only "erratic" appreciation of points made in external assessment reports.

Mr Cunningham, a member of the SQA qualifications committee, identified a "perfect storm" of events that would have had little impact on their own but which, occurring together, could cause "significant upheaval".

An SQA spokesman said the authority had accepted the report and would implement the recommendations.

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