Why did they let us down so badly?

18th August 2000 at 01:00
IN a year's time if - touch wood, fingers crossed, Deo volente - we still have an exam system, how will I feel on the day when the postman should deliver my daughter's Standard grade results? Until this year's fiasco the statistical possibilities of that not happening were on a par with the Pope giving up Catholicism.

We have witnessed a debacle which is the last gasp in failure. On August 10, I went into school to see my pupils' results, a routine followed since I started teaching in 1976. Teachers, contrary to popular opinion, do make forays into school premises during the holidays. And that particular journey is one of the highlights of the year for me. Allow me a few lines to describe last Thursday.

Mark books in hand, containing internal assessment results, prelim grades, prediction grades and a private wishlist of the best possible scores my kids might have achieved on a miraculous day, I walked into the staff workbase. Silence. Not a whisper of the good-natured banter people indulge in as they wait their turn to pore over the results. No, I was informed, we haven't been sent any.

I don't think I'm particularly slow on the uptake but I couldn't get my head round what was happening. August 10 was embedded in my unconscious mind as Very Important and I couldn't switch off from that. Part of my brain was rendered insensate, especially when I was further informed that the Scottish Qualifications Authority had not communicated directly with the school to explain the mess. Kick up a rammy? At that point I was too numb with disbelief.

Two hours later I met two of my Higher students in the playground. With their parents they had come in search of the information which presumably was still incarcerated in a computer somewhere in Edinburgh. We stood for 20 minutes discussing the awfulness of the situation and I can truly say that not since my days as a student teacherhave I felt such helplessness in the face of the needs of these tearful young people. There were no words to combat the frustration and disappointment.

I feel very upset by the whole shambles. Bear in mind the interminable internal Higher Still assessments which our kids have suffered during the past year. Consider the number of subjects and visualise the tension created by tests, tests and more tests. You may have attended Higher Still seminar days which ranged in efficiency from grim to unbearable. But you tolerated them for the sake of the pupils, believing, like me, that "it would be all right on the night".

Many of the pupils were exhausted by the time they sat their external exams. But most of them found adrenaline from somewhere and got through it. Remember when you were a student, you sat the exams and then forgot about them. Countdown started about a week before the results came out and a group movement of anticipation grew to a kind of fever pitch. Your moods would rise and fall and you really needed to see your certificate as a matter of urgency.

Just before I left my house last Thursday, I explained to my daughter that the person I was most concerned about was a pupil of very poor academic ability who would be lucky to be awarded anything at all. Because, at the time of writing this, my school has still not received results from the SQA I continue to worry about that vulnerable student.

Emotional commitment to the needs of pupils is certainly not encapsulated in the utterances from either the SQA or

the Executive as the crisis threatens to submerge the start of a new school year. Sam Galbraith, the Education Minister, should invest in a pair of 3D glasses so that he can see the mess for what it is.

As for next year's results, I'm dreading them already.

Convince me otherwise if you can but you must admit it's a difficult task.

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