'We're tested to breaking point'

25th May 2001 at 01:00
David Henderson report's from the NAS's annual conference

UNNECESSARY, over-complex and burdensome internal assessment should be replaced by more effective external tests, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers agreed at its annual Scottish conference in Edinburgh last week.

Picking up a now familiar union refrain, Brian Smith, South Lanarkshire, called for less assessment, fewer resits, less marking and more time for teaching and learning. The balance had been lost in Higher Still and had to be re-established.

A pupil doing five Highers faced a minimum of 34 internal assessments, placing an unacceptable burden on students and teachers. The time this took up detracted from learning.

Mr Smith said: "I am not against internal assessments but it's the level - grade C - they are set at which makes them unable to be used to predict the pupil's final grade or how well they have understood what they should be understanding."

He demanded a wide-ranging review to cut the amount of internal testing, but John Henry, South Lanarkshire, went further, opposing internal assessment.

"I thought it was a stepping stone for the kids, now it's become a hurdle. If you don't get through the internal assessment, you can't sit the exam," Mr Henry said.

Resits could mean some of his chemistry stdents taking nine internal assessments, instead of three, and nine practicals.

"I went through other departments. If a kid is sitting five Highers - maths, modern studies, accounts and finance, computing and geography - it is a minimum of 40 assessments. In accounts and finance, there are 12 assessments and they must pass them all.

"In modern studies, it's seven, in computing it's eight assessments and three projects - unbelievable," Mr Henry said.

It was hardly surprising that many English teachers had held off on Higher Still because of the pressure. "I would say get rid of this internal assessment," he said.

Ian McCubbin, Perth and Kinross, said: "We have less time for teaching and learning. There is less opportunity in the classroom for revision and teachers have to truncate the Standard grade or Higher course they are teaching and that undermines young people's chance to reach their full potential."

Over-testing was reaching epidemic proportions. "Schools are now running relaxation classes for pupils. Haven't we gone too far?".

Mr McCubbin added: "As people we all become immune to antibiotics when we get them too often. Assessing pupils has the same effect if they are assessed too often.

"Pupils do not see the importance put on tests by the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority)."

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