Passing out parade

1st September 2006 at 01:00
The Scottish Qualifications Authority is operating a policy which allows certain schools to get more Higher A passes than they deserve.

This is how it works. In April, each school department has to submit estimate grades to the SQA for each student who will be sitting the exam.

After the exam has been marked, any pupil who was estimated as an A by the school but only got a B in the exam will get an A on their certificate.

Even if they only got 61 per cent in the exam, they will be given an A - whereas many students who got 69 per cent in the exam will be given a B.

These pupils, and there are thousands of them every year, only got an A because the school estimated them as an A. The worst thing of all about this unfair policy is that it is the well-off privileged schools who benefit most from this so-called derived grade procedure.

Unbelievably, a school department can have up to 40 per cent of its A passes awarded in this way. These will be departments who have put in 10 or more students as estimate A passes. If a head of department puts in 10 estimate A passes and only six of them pass, then the other four will be automatically upgraded to A pass without any questions asked - no looking at exam passes or how close the student was to a boundary.

Many teachers fail to understand this system, but many are just appalled by it and how it favours large and privileged schools and discriminates against smaller centres. It also puts pressure on teachers to submit higher estimates to try to take advantage of the system.

The SQA is currently refusing to release information on which departments are doing this, and which are profiting most spectacularly from over estimating, although it is aware of the practice. I wish to remain anonymous because I am concerned that the SQA is actively trying to suppress criticism and will in fact contact schools to try to pressurise teachers who actively and openly challenge the policy.

Many people get taken in by the way the SQA presents the policy as one designed to help students who perform badly on the day. We all know that students perform badly on the day, but it cannot be that they are more likely to perform badly on the day because they go to a big fee-paying school or to a big high-achieving state school.

Some proper action is needed to get this exposed and help restore a fair exam system to Scotland.


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