Rituals of the Dalkeith envelope

9th August 1996 at 01:00
By this weekend, despite the mail strikes, the Scottish Examination Board will have successfully entrusted to the Post Office the good news and the bad. Although Higher and Standard grade candidates may wake early in nervous anticipation of the morning delivery, the SEB is more humane than exam boards south of the border which force pupils back to school to learn their fate.

For many secondary teachers the arrival of SCE results marks the effective end of the holidays. They have not only to consider the implications of their charges' performance for their own departments, but they may be asked to reassure young people that the world has not come to an end.

They see pupils at a moment of vulnerability, but they can also share the satisfaction of those who have attained or exceeded expectations. That is when the efforts of last winter and spring appear justified. It would be a misplaced teacher who did not take greater pleasure in a mediocre candidate who does much better than predicted. For a brief moment the imminence of another year's slog is less daunting.

Advice to pupils nowadays comes from helplines as well as from school. For returners to school there will be opportunity for course choices made in June to be revised, but for leavers there is not much time for important decisions to be considered. Although the A-level results are not due out until late next week, universities are in a hurry to finalise their entry lists. The clearance-house machinery swings into action. School-leavers who have to rethink their next moves because conditional acceptances have become dicey or are cancelled must be quick on their feet while retaining a clear sense of what they would like to do. There is no sense in jumping at an unsatisfactory first alternative or in allowing disappointment to become despondency.

In Scotland at least, exam success can be enjoyed unalloyed. There is no politically inspired criticism of supposedly imperilled standards. Surely if more candidates are doing well, they and their teachers should be allowed to savour the success.

The problem south of the border rests in the notion of a "gold standard" A-level. Many decades ago, this country had economically to come off the gold standard, and long was that day rued. Dispensing with outdated notions of an elite exam is overdue. In Scotland we are planning for modularised courses. But for some reason their appearance in A-levels is regarded as a mark of degeneracy.

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