Results are fiddled, say exam critics;National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conference

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
David Henderson reports from the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers in Stirling

Internal assessment and the weight placed on investigations at Standard grade are leading to "unprofessional conduct" among teachers and "excessive coaching" by staff and parents, the Scottish conference of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers was told in Stirling last week. And Higher Still will grind to a halt unless the emphasis on internal assessment is altered, delegates were warned.

John Kelly, outgoing Scottish president, said: "The authorities are putting the onus back on the classroom teacher to police a rotten system." Mr Kelly was supported by John Milgrew, Glasgow, who said: "Many, many schools are abusing the system. Teachers will find ways to get pupils through exams. You may call it exam technique but those rules are now being stretched to what to my mind is unprofessional conduct." The system was "a sham", Mr Milgrew said. His own pupils were disadvantaged by being under strict supervision.

Mr Kelly, East Dunbarton, told delegates there was "no longer a level playing-field" because of internal assessment. Every teacher knew of tutors employed to coach pupils through exams and direct investigations and the feeling in the profession was that "excessive coaching is fairly widespread".

There was no guarantee that pupils' work was their own and teachers were forced to sign for work even when they doubted its origins. Staff left themselves open to parents' litigation if they did not while the former Scottish Examination Board had been less than helpful, Mr Kelly said.

"The old pass-fail method may have been far too brutal but it was transparently brutal," he said.

Mr Kelly. an English teacher, said that his Standard grade pupils had to send five pieces of work for external assessment but there was no limit to the number of times teachers could ask them to improve and revise their "best" efforts.

He also condemned the burden of internal assessment on teachers and pupils. Staff were constantly chasing pupils for work close to deadlines and, in March, there was virtually no class teaching because of the assessment demands.

Higher Still would put students under even greater strain following the end of unit assessments. There were seven stages before the final assessment in English. In biology, there was going to be 11 "assessment hoops", 10 internal and one external.

"The time to study and develop a body of knowledge is going to go down. Kids are going to be constantly under pressure. It is going to be assessment, assessment, assessment," Mr Kelly forecast.

Colin Wakeling, Edinburgh, said internal assessment damaged morale by placing unnecessary burdens on teachers. Higher Still would lead to the "creeping death of 16-plus education within the comprehensive school", he warned in a motion condemning the pace and resourcing of the upper curriculum reforms. Less able students would be offered a second best education in mixed-ability classes.

Mr Kelly said: "There are precious few course exemplars, there are not to my knowledge any textbooks and very little meaningful in-service."

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