Prepared for the worst. Now hope for the best

25th April 2014 at 01:00

There's no way around it: preparing to sit exams is, and always will be, stressful. The days running up to those tense few hours are dominated by anxiety, not just for the young people being assessed but also for their families, and for the teachers who have spent years preparing them.

Yet however insurmountable those difficulties seem, they are nothing to what the current cohort of students about to sit the first ever National 5 exams is experiencing.

Those pupils have got all the normal pressures to deal with - will I meet my own expectations? Will my family and teachers be happy with my performance? And on top of that, they are more than likely to be aware of the controversy surrounding the new qualifications that has marred the past few months.

What must it be like to be days away from exams that have been subject to the sort of coverage the National 5 has received in the mainstream media? From worries over unsustainable workloads for teachers and increased photocopying costs to some pupils having to spend their Easter break in school to finish their National 4 internal assessments, bad news about the new exams has certainly not been in short supply.

In January, too, a survey of secondary school teachers reportedly showed that the vast majority still lacked confidence in assessing pupils for the qualifications, and more than half did not feel confident in delivering course materials for them. And that is quite apart from the simple reality facing the students of having to sit an exam that no one else has ever taken before.

So our young people will be struggling, but they are not the only ones on tenterhooks at this difficult time. Our first thoughts should of course be with the pupils hunched over their books, but we should also remember that their families will be nervous, too.

As generations have before and will again, these parents must be concerned about how their children will do and if they are well enough prepared. But this year their stress is multiplied by the uncertainty that has surrounded the new qualifications. Only last week, TESS exclusively reported on how these concerns had created a surge in families seeking the help of private tutors.

And let's not forget the headteachers, deputes and teachers who will be just as nervously awaiting the moment the test papers are turned over. After months of negotiating the new landscape, trying to finish National 4 assessments and preparing for the exams that start on Tuesday, it is now time to find out how successful they have been.

It is clear that the whole education sector has a tense few weeks ahead. But although some people may have politically motivated reasons for wanting the pessimists to be proved right, for the sake of the cohort about to become the National 5 test case, we must hope the coming months bring good news.

After all, this is not a political game. It is about the future chances of a whole generation of young Scots.


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