Rigor mortis has set in

25th January 2008 at 00:00
I sometimes think I cannot face reading anything more about incompetent schools and colleges. This struck me strongly when I read the lead story in The TESS on January 11. So exam appeals are soaring, centres are submitting incomplete and sloppy evidence and sometimes their submissions don't even arrive on time. Such stupidity, which amounts to time wasting for the Scottish Qualifications Authority, has incurred an extra cost of pound;260,000.

Tellingly, less than half the appeals for the most recent diet of examinations were successful. A blase attitude to appeals by centres only serves to encourage lazy pupils to be more apathetic ("Oh well, I'll get it on appeal"). I could be wrong but, in the past, were appeals not reserved for pupils who had genuinely underachieved on the day, perhaps because of sudden illness or some kind of personal trauma? Now appeals are for every Tom, Dick or Harry. Something's gone missing.

I think it's rigour, to use a favourite word of HMIE. Too many centres are not forensic enough in their attention to procedures. This is evidenced when you hear about how some centres manage their NAB (National Assessment Bank) assessments. I don't want to heap scorn and derision on other people's efforts, but I have been shocked by those who claim that they can get away with not doing all the NABs for all the units. When I asked one such boaster what he would do if moderated, he said he would cross that bridge when he came to it. I hope he does come to it and falls off.

The rules say you are entitled to sit the NAB once. If you fail, you may resit it and, only in exceptional circumstances, should you be allowed a third attempt. These rules are flaunted mercilessly by many centres. Pupils and students are given multiple efforts to pass the National Assessment Bank, eventually scrape through and then, what a surprise, fail the external exam. Inevitably, there is no meaningful evidence for an appeal.

In my school, we have a secure system of internal verification. The results of NABs cannot be signed, sealed and delivered to the SQA until a member of the senior management team has looked at the National Assessment Banks and discussed marking and so on with the department concerned.

The beneficiaries are the pupils. Not for us the unprofessional scenario of NABs in a dog's breakfast of a mess in a crushed cardboard wallet, as was the case in an establishment where I had the misfortune to work briefly. It was scandalous but, when I tried to ascertain the protocol for reporting such flaws, no one seemed to really want to know.

Centres need to address how they estimate results. They should predict results, not on the potential of the candidate but on the evidence they possess for him or her. It is frustrating when your potentially A grade student is only producing work of C calibre but, if you estimate the "A" and heshe gets the "C", naturally your appeal will fail. It's hardly rocket science.

As for late submission of the evidence, that really is nail-bitingly embarrassing. I have a cure. Name and shame the late centres. Tell the parents. Put the information on the Scottish Qualifications Authority website. On second thoughts, why don't these centres just write into The TESS to explain themselves. Now that might be interesting.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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