Why one rule for some leads only to confusion

After a week of warm weather, stormy downpours and a glittering opening ceremony to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, I am sure that many of us feel the summer has only just begun.

However, a glance at the calendar reveals that we are, in fact, only a couple of weeks away from thousands of young people nervously opening the envelopes containing their exam results.

The fast-disappearing summer holidays also mean that the new school year is almost upon us, the first in which students will sit the new Higher exams. Or, as TESS can reveal this week, the first in which some - but not all - students will sit the new Higher exams.

An exclusive survey shows that in almost all Scottish local authorities, schools will offer a mixture of old and new qualifications. This will surely make the already stressful prospect of crucial exams even more confusing, particularly for young people.

In some schools, pupils will be sitting the new Highers, designed to be the next step after the new National 5 qualification that was taken for the first time only a few months ago. But in a neighbouring authority - or possibly even a neighbouring school - other pupils sitting an exam in the same subject will be taking the tried-and-tested old Higher.

The flexibility to deliver the old Highers where schools and local authorities felt it was appropriate was intended to make sure that only the young people who were ready for them sat the new qualifications. But what we have ended up with is a confusingly diverse picture across the country.

Although councils insist that they intend to fully implement the new Highers from 2015 - meaning that this year's confusion is only temporary - for the young people involved and their families, it must seem as though the drama and change is never-ending.

After the controversy over last term's Nationals, some pupils will find themselves in another frankly bizarre situation in which they experience the pressure of sitting yet another untested new qualification while their peers just down the road do not because their teachers don't feel they are ready.

Curriculum for Excellence was meant to lead to dramatic change, and therefore made new exams and qualifications necessary. And, of course, something as crucial as a new exam - particularly one that is so essential to many young people's career planning - should not be brought in where teachers and students are not ready.

But surely it is far from ideal to be in a position where a large number of young people will not sit the exam that was intended to be the next step in their school career, even as their peers sit exactly the same exam despite feeling just as unprepared.


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