What next for school exams?

t is another successful year for the industry that is our national qualifications system. Indeed the chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority summed it up as "continuing strong achievement in a stable system that is maintaining highly regarded standards year on year". There can be no suggestion of dumbing-down either as pass rates at the gold standard of Higher fell. So satisfaction all round because the system has delivered.

But nothing stands still and fundamental questions remain about our curriculum and examinations system. That is why we are in the process of our curriculum review and any exams changes will follow from it, not the other way round, as sometimes appeared to happen with the Higher Still programme. There are plenty straws in the wind to suggest that 10 years from now we will be looking at something quite different. Standard grade exams marked externally have had their day and should disappear when revised middle-years courses, integrating the best of Standard grade and Intermediate, come on stream within five years.

At Higher, we are still left with an unsatisfactory compromise. The two-term dash in S5 remains and performance in that year still determines entry to the more established universities. And we still have S6 as a second-chance option. Will this change when courses below change and when Learning and Teaching Scotland is coming closer to the Scottish Qualifications Authority? Our Education Minister has already floated the idea of one external exam before students leave school and repeated his belief this week.

There is also the curious irony that universities are nowhere near as regulated, inspected and monitored on both teaching and standards as schools and colleges. Lecturers - who are paid less than teachers - are trusted to be professional. That is one lesson the school and college sector might learn from and it starts in the middle years of secondary.

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