Qualifications that don't add up

4th May 2001 at 01:00
The Scottish Qualifications Authority, faced with an offer from someone well qualified, with 30 years' teaching experience and with excellent references, to mark mathematics examination papers, have refused. Why? Because the person offering has taught all over the world - but, apart from teacher training, never in Scotland.

It doesn't matter to them that, for five years, English and international examination boards have been falling over themselves to employ this person as an examiner, senior moderator and team leader and have provided exemplary assessments. It doesn't matter to them that this person can, if they wish, devote their whole day to marking, as opposed to tired, overworked and hard-pressed teachers who have to work late into the night and throughout weekends to complete their allocation of marking.

Last year, at the last minute, teachers were being asked by the SQA to mark hundreds of extra papers. From what one hears it may not be very different this year. How stupd and shortsighted, therefore, is their insistence that markers must have recently taught in Scotland.

The criteria for marking examination papers are, supposedly, completely objective. Whether one has taught mathematics in Glasgow, Bophuthatswana, Majorca, Dubai or Timbuktu is quite irrelevant. Maths is maths in whatever corner of the globe and if marking guidelines are sufficiently clear they can be rigorously applied.

A spokesman from the SQA "brought in from the real world", and appearing to agree that was has happened was wrong, says that "foundations are being laid for a review of their policy" - but that it will not happen in time for this year.

One would have thought, in the circumstances that prevail, with many markers still to be recruited, that exceptions could have been made. Is this not an emergency situation? Do the SQA not want to prevent at least some of the problems they encountered last year?

Christine Oldfield Learmonth Gardens, Edinburgh

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