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U-turn over exam paper access for teachers

New rules delaying teacher access to exam papers for 24 hours in Scotland have been scrapped

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New rules delaying teacher access to exam papers for 24 hours in Scotland have been scrapped

Scotland’s examination body has reversed its controversial decision to bar teachers from accessing question papers until the day after an exam.

Traditionally, Scottish teachers were given access to surplus question papers immediately after exams were sat, but earlier this year – just as the exam diet was getting underway – the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) told schools that teachers should be made to wait 24 hours.

In a letter to schools, the SQA said it had taken the decision because, the previous year, “distress was caused to some candidates” by exam questions and answers being posted on social media.

It went on: “This is clearly not appropriate, and surplus materials must be controlled to minimise the opportunity for this to happen again.”

Today, however, SQA chief executive Janet Brown told the Scottish Parliament’s education committee that, during next year’s exam season, the SQA would revert to the old rules.

The SQA should have consulted with teachers before introducing the initial change, said Dr Brown after Green MSP Ross Greer said the move had “further damaged” the SQA’s reputation among school staff.  

She also said the SQA had been “taking stock” of the way in which it communicated with teachers after Mr Greer pointed out that some teachers had found the language used by the SQA “accusational”.

Dr Brown said: “We made that decision in response to a series of events that occurred in previous sessions and where we received complaints associated with specific posts being made during the course of the exam. We took that action to try to address it.  

“We have since reviewed that action and have decided to change our policy to what was originally the case – but potentially was not being implemented as much – which was that the exam papers will be made available at the end of the school day after all the candidates have undertaken their qualifications.”

Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, has welcomed the decision.

It described the new rule when it was introduced as “ill judged” and accused the SQA of “undermining” teachers’ ability to alleviate the stress and anxiety that many pupils experience at the end of an exam.

EIS assistant secretary Andrea Bradley said the decision to bar teachers from seeing exam papers for 24 hours had done the SQA “no favours” in terms of its reputation among school staff. However, she added that the U-turn was “a small step towards the restoration of good relations”.

She said: “This shows the SQA trusts teachers and the professionalism of teachers; the previous action was an undermining of that.” 

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