SQA introduces charge in crackdown on appeals
The prelim as schools and colleges know it will be killed off in 2013, as the Scottish Qualifications Authority tries to slash the number of time-wasting exam appeals.
As TESS revealed last August, the SQA wants to limit appeals based on prelim results to candidates hit by "exceptional circumstances" such as family deaths or serious ill health, and to charge schools and colleges for unsuccessful appeals.
Some have hailed the changes as long overdue - but others fear that many youngsters will be denied the grades they deserve.
The SQA this week announced two new appeals services to coincide with the introduction of National qualifications in 2013-14.
The Exceptional Circumstances Consideration will allow candidates to submit alternative evidence of attainment, including coursework, class assessments or prelims.
The Post-Results Service will allow a school or college to have a candidate's script checked. This could result in his or her grade going up or down.
No alternative evidence will be permitted, and there will be a charge - as yet unspecified - to the school or college for requests which do not lead to a changed grade.
"There will be no necessity for schools and colleges to develop material solely for the purpose of possible appeals, as is often the case currently," the SQA stated.
In recent years, the number of appeals has risen "significantly": in 2011, there were over 64,000 submitted; fewer than half were successful.
The SQA blames, in part, the volume of appeals it receives that supply little evidence to show that a higher grade is deserved.
The new services follow a review, begun in 2010, which "confirmed the widely-held view" that the current appeals system places a heavy burden on schools and colleges.
The SQA stressed that the changes had "widespread support" from teachers and lecturers.
"The new services will allow schools and colleges to concentrate on quality teaching and learning rather than having to focus on generating alternative evidence for potential appeals," said chief executive Janet Brown.
Total appeals 2011: 64,309
Successful appeals 2011: 31,627
Cost to SQA of appeals
The new approach is a "very serious attempt to be as fair and as consistent as humanly possible", commented Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.
"It will cut out frivolous appeals and appeals made in middle-class schools because parents demand it even when evidence is not available," she said.
But EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith said: "It is important to remember that almost half of appeals lodged under the existing system result in improved grades being awarded, so there is a real fear that deserving pupils could lose out on appropriate grades under a more restrictive system."
The EIS fears that pupils in poorer areas might be less likely to have appeals lodged on their behalf, given the potential costs involved.
The changes are overdue according to Eileen Prior, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council's executive director.
"Clearly the existing system has become something it was never intended to be, where we see youngsters coasting after a good prelim result because they know schools will automatically appeal if predicted grades have not been reached," she said.
The SPTC's only concern was that some schools might be deterred from using the Post-Results Service by the prospect of charges.