Reducing the exam risk factor

18th May 2001 at 01:00
All those of us who sat our Highers when the exam system was reliable will wish this year's candidates good fortune as they face their papers.

But they deserve sympathy for having had to prepare under difficult conditions - the memory of last year's debacle and the constant press revelations of unsolved problems, countered by reassurances from the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Although I am sure that teachers have sought to remove anxiety from their pupils, everyone is on uncertain ground and that is no way to treat young people at a key moment in their lives.

Would anyone get onto public transport if they suspected that faults hadnot been rectified? Pupils do not have a choice, unlike south of the border where there are several examining authorities. No one knows if the data problems have been solved and the SQA admits to being still well short of the number of markers it needs.

Even if everything goes better than one fears, candidates will be ill served by receiving certificates that are unnecessarily complicated and detailed. The next task for ministers and the SQA is to agree to radical simplification which would also reduce the risk of error in future years. Young people, parents and employers deserve nothing less.

Anne Harrison Milton Street Edinburgh

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