Simply does it for the best test

20th July 2001 at 01:00
You couldn't invent it. A teacher phones up to answer the appeal for Scottish Qualifications Authority markers, only to be told: "We're too busy to respond to that at the moment."A fortnight later, a request reaches the same teacher to mark for the SQA.

It's a Friday, and he says no, but the following morning two large bags of scripts arrive anyway. Unfortunately, he's out, and his 11-year-old son signs for the bags.

Backed into a moral corner, he agrees to mark, noting the Glasgow venue for the markers' meeting. The next day it's moved to Gorgie, in Edinburgh.

Two hundred or so markers work through Paper 1 in the morning, and then the team leader directs them down a corridor to where the buffet lunch is waiting. The room they arrive in has no food, so back they troop for 15 minutes to start Paper 2. Then it's out again for the repast, except there's still none, and one of the attendants mutters that no food has been ordered.

The markers complete the second part of the paper and, as they leave in mid-afternoon, some fish-paste rolls arrive, along with dozens of packets of unallocated scripts which they are encouraged to embrace.

My guess is that so many investigations into SQA have taken place that the staff will have been unable to work at full capacity for fending off bright young things with clipboards who keep demanding interviews.

Recent reports suggest that only potential A and B Higher candidates are worth external examination, or even better, that costs will drive all candidates to be internally assessed. These suggestions should not be even considered. Curtail internal assessment, don't extend it.

At least there's someone with a sense of humour working for Higher Still. I took receipt of the latest English Critical Listening video last month, and was intrigued to see it was entitled "Is your job driving you to drink?" Listening was eventually abandoned at Standard grade because no satisfactory test could be dreamed up for it - either you had the pointless factual recall type of question - "How many education officials emigrated to Australia?" - or else the inferential sophistication was such that a doctorate would be necessary to explain the point, in writing.

The exam tail has too often wagged the curriculum dog. Since those in charge of Higher Still are involved in a listening exercise (now there's an original thought) can no one persuade them that simplification of internal assessment and retention of external tests are the only ways to restore the reputation of the Scottish examination system?

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