Some doormats are still more equal than others

9th August 2013 at 01:00

This week, teachers and pupils found out if all their hard work had paid off after 150,986 results certificates landed on the doormats of homes across Scotland on Tuesday.

Among those finding out how they had fared were some of the cast of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe show Anoesis, a play about the competitive pressures of the exams system.

Junction 25 - a youth theatre group based at Glasgow's Tramway whose members are aged between 11 and 19 - performs its show while the audience sits at long tables taking exams. The blurb states: "We know we have to sit up and face the front. We know that we have the right to remain silent... We know that we have to succeed."

And young people in Scotland have succeeded if the proportion passing national courses is the measure. Pass rates have risen across the board - from Access 2 to the Scottish Baccalaureate.

In some cases, the proportion passing has increased by a tiny margin - at Standard grade, the proportion grew by just 0.1 percentage points, Access 3 by 0.4 and Higher by 0.5 percentage points. But at Access 2, the pass rate rose by 8.5 percentage points - the most significant increase of any national course. And the Scottish Baccalaureate, while sat by just 191 students, had its best year since its introduction in 2010, with an 85.9 per cent pass rate.

The publication of the results led to the now predictable extremes in the media: the nation celebrated with the usual crop of well-groomed high-flyers who squealed with joy as they opened their envelopes and then, shortly afterwards, dismissed their achievement by questioning the reliability of the system.

If the sceptics are to be believed, the pressure young people feel - which Junction 25 tries to convey in its show - is fantasy. But educational psychologists Anne Greig and Tommy MacKay would tell you that it's not. Their cognitive behavioural therapy programme (pages 10-12), inspired by a Beano cartoon and originally intended as a therapeutic treatment for autistic children, has proved successful at tackling a range of problems experienced by all young people, including exam stress.

Meanwhile, our page 7 story about a residential course run by a university to raise the aspirations of children from care backgrounds reminds us of the doors that close when young people fail - often through no fault of their own - to make the grade.

But it is disadvantaged children from all backgrounds who are less likely to have been celebrating this week, as we are reminded by our story on page 6. Educational inequality is a huge problem that devolution has been unable to solve, say researchers from the London School of Economics. An independent Scotland with complete control over the purse strings might do better, they suggest. It's a radical solution, but one that will have no trouble winning the backing of the current government.

emma.seith@tess.co.uk, TESS reporter.

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