What they say....

5th May 2000 at 01:00
Brian Keenan, HT, Galashiels Academy

We're presenting about 250 pupils for Highers. We've had a lot of problems with SQA assessment and development materials. It's not a single problem. That would be easier to cope with. Some departments say materials are good but arrive too late while others find that the materials themselves are not so good. It has not gone smoothly at all, though the SQA help desk and our staff are excellent.

The end-of-unit tests have proved problematic. Formerly, if a pupil didn't do so well in the prelim you could encourage them to work hard over the Easter holidays to improve, but now it's difficult to motivate pupils who have not passed earlier units because they know they can't pass the Higher.

We've had to give a lot more time to maths, increasing the teaching hours from 120 to 150. I think it's generally accepted the SQA got it wrong with maths. Next year we're going to have to cut at least one period from our weekly PSD afternoon menu where pupils gain work experience, do paired reading with younger pupils and take courses involving FE colleges and Young Enterprise. We will lose at least one period of this because of the increased workload for pupils, particularly with maths.

Dugald Forbes, Depute HT, Kirkcudbright Academy

We're presenting about 160 pupils and it's all Higher Still except for secretarial. I think the pupils are well served by an excellent staff doing well in difficult circumstances.

The SQA has undermined people's confidence in them due to some of the stuff their computers churn out. We've not always had things when we've been told we'd get them. There has been confusion over completion dates on some of the forms many of which have a confusing format. The pile-up of end of unit assessments has been an issue for some pupils. But we've been training them in how to plan, study and revise in weekly seminars where we also monitor and track progress and report to parents. Our students set their own targets in negotiation with their tutors and are better organised for study than they perhaps were in previous years.

Ralph Barker, HT, Alloa Academy

We're doing Higher Still in all subjects except English and computing and are as well prepared as we can be. The staff are coping well. The new assessments procedures have taken a bit of getting used to and there is a need to co-ordinate end-of-unit assessments - as far as it can be done - so that they don't all fall together. There has been a bit of overload on pupils.

Next year we'll have to drop from a six column to a five column timetable because there is not enough time for pupils to do six Highers. We've given maths 160 hours, including the assessment time, but it's not enough.

We retained prelims and in a fairly novel approach spread them over successive Mondays from February to mid-March to cater for subject department demands, English wanting an early prelim and maths a late, for example. But one result was pupils didn't get exam study leave. Prelims are important because they can be used for appeals.

Like a lot of schools I think we've been a bit disturbed by the SQA but we've managed to cope with the computer and admin problems because we have a computer expert on the staff.

However, I think the SQA will have some difficulty getting teachers both to set and mark the papers next year because of the way tey have been treated, being told to get their marking in in two weeks, being told to give up their Easter holidays and so on.

Ian Spence, HT, Anderson High School, Lerwick

We're presenting about 300 pupils and all our courses are Higher Still except for English. We're not happy or confident. The whole thing is over-assessed.

There's so much paper work and administration and silly wee things to do with performance criteria that teachers have to pick over.

The assessment procedures concentrate on nitty details and are not holistic enough. This is particularly true of social subjects like history and modern studies.

Internal assessment is supposed to help motivate pupils but I don't think it does, especially for borderline pupils or those just above.

They fail the whole test by just failing part of it and while they're going back over it they've got to prepare for another end of unit test in another subject.

Assessment is the big problem and I think it's a fundamental problem, not just a teething one.

Our pupils are very stressed over unit assessment in particular and there's a lot of stress among the staff.

The SQA have struggled, poor souls. They didn't have time to sort out their program with Phoenix and this has caused so much uncertainty too. Things get sent away and don't get sent back.

Eric Allan, HT, St Michael's Academy, Kilwinning

We have 190 senior pupils, most doing some new Highers with the exception of English and two business studies courses - administration and accounts and finance - which have not been implemented yet. It's been a difficult year and it's working because so many teachers have worked so hard.

Lack of time has been a general concern along with a feeling of overload in some areas, but no one has broken my door down yet!

I think most of the problems are teething ones, though I would have liked to have seen the whole thing piloted properly in the first place.

There's more pressure on pupils because of internal assessment, not altogether a bad thing as it means they can't put things off to the last minute as they could under the old system. With our Easter revision school and evening study support sessions I think our pupils are up for it.

Mike Taylor, HT, Dyce Academy, Aberdeen

I'm a little worried. A lot of deadlines were not met by the Higher Still Unit and SQA. There's been a slippage which has seriously added to stress levels coupled with confusion over exam entries. We were told it was all going to be done with IT but we had an enormous load of paperwork at Easter because our entries had not been updated from August. There's been such a muddle over entries there's a worry - will we get the right number of exam papers on the day? The exams are later than before but they are so closely packed together some pupils have two big exams on the same day.

These are serious teething problems but something which is perhaps more serious, in fact wrong, is the way the goalposts have been moved in unit assessment. Initially, there were to be three unit assessments which had to be passed, some which were beginning quite early. Then they were saying not to assess too early, or even to leave all three to the end and there have been hints - this might be denied - even to coach pupils to pass.

My overall report, is definitely could do better.

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