Results are around the corner, but there's more than one way to gauge achievement
It's only a matter of days now until those anxiously-awaited SQA results drop through countless letter boxes around the country (or, increasingly, wing their electronic way towards candidates). While it is undoubtedly true that education is about much more than examination results, this annual accounting remains central to the ambition of our secondary sector in particular and all of us are concerned to see that pupils have attained their best results. As a teacher, it's personal. Some pupils may have let themselves down by failing to work hard enough but where a pupil has applied him or herself and somehow still falls short of the target, it hurts.
As we await the publication of this year's results, someone somewhere is collating and compressing all the statistical data and shortly will issue the 2011 STACS. This number-crunching analysis has been around for a while now and is a major tool for many schools and departments in their SQA performance reviews. It's not an entirely unhelpful instrument, when used correctly (that is, as an aid to analysis, not a substitute for it), but it cannot replace the importance of the personal relationship with individual pupils that should be the bedrock of an establishment's approach to exam results.
The cold statistical analysis puts much emphasis on the benchmarking number of Higher passes gained or the percentage achieving those five "quality" Standard grade Credit passes. For many pupils, those General grades or Access 3 certificates are just as important and as much of an achievement. And just as Higher passes may provide a stepping stone to future pathways, so too must other awards.
One of the key features of Curriculum for Excellence is the entitlement, in the senior phase, to a "sustained destination" through to age 18. In these days of apparently decreasing opportunity for young school leavers, ensuring the delivery of this aim will be a challenge, but it is one which must be met if CfE is to have any impact on the persistent underachievement of a large section of the school population.
For those disappointed with their results, there is the possibility of an appeal. On that issue, the current SQA proposal to change fundamentally the nature of the current appeals system is something that deserves a much wider debate than it has had to date. There may be some merit in SQA's argument that the current appeals system is driving assessment practice in schools (second prelims etc), but whose fault is that?
Proposing change as we approach the new CfE arrangements has a chronological convenience, but it may leave many students with no recourse as they enter an untried and untested system.
Larry Flanagan is education convener for the Educational Institute of Scotland.