The system as it stands is better, hears Raymond Ross, but it still requires fundamental changes
The brave new world of the Scottish Qualifications Authority is "vastly different", says Edinburgh Academy's director of administration, Jeremy Fenton, with both schools and the SQA more on top of issues. "Things can't possibly go as badly as last year, can they?" Accurate data coming back from the SQA and the appointment of effective accounts managers, coupled with a better understanding of systems procedures in schools, augur well, he says.
Nevertheless, his question is more real than rhetorical.
Besides the universal worry about whether enough exam markers will be recruited, Mr Fenton believes the SQA has been "lumbered with a very badly designed computer system. Print-outs are still ghastly and unfriendly, with no page breaks and too many titles, subjects and codes being repeated. It could be enormously improved," he says.
"The accuracy of the data coming back is promising but the complexity of the system makes it difficult for them and us to keep up with changes.
"There is a lot of confusion about how pupils take Highers as a two-year course. There are no clear instructions on how to re-enter pupils who fail or withdraw, no form for amending entries. It would make more sense for units to be entered at the beginning of the course, taking the pupils through the two years.
"And I think exams should not be entered until March, rather than as early as November or December. If you enter a pupil who at the end of te day isn't up to taking the exam, there's no refund. Once you've paid, that's it.
"We received an invoice last month which was pound;600 more than it should have been because they were charging re-entries as first-time entries. That's been cleared up now, but the whole thing needs to be simplified."
Also in need of simplification, he says, are the unit assessments. Some departments are arguing that these not only take up precious teaching time but are also encouraging pupils to take a compartmentalised view of subjects.
"The final exam is supposed to achieve a holistic conclusion but by that time pupils may well be thinking in a compartmentalised way, dividing subjects into small bits that can be forgotten after the assessments.
"We're arguing with the SQAHigher Still Development Unit over this but there will be no change this year, and maybe not next, because they are concentrating all their efforts on getting things right in the system as it stands.
"It's also bad for late or slow developers. I know of a pupil who has come good now and under the old system could possibly have achieved an A pass. But we can't present the pupil for the exam because the relevant assessments have not been good enough."
Mr Fenton is hopeful for the SQA but adds: "I still don't like the system."
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