The SQA – fit for purpose?

I don’t think there is any doubt that our education system is quite stressed currently. This is largely to do with workload and the undeniable increase in paperwork brought about by a plethora of accountability measures. Accountability which is evidenced by planning, results, assessment. Accountability which means that teachers are now judged on specific, measurable outcomes regardless of the children who sit in front of them. If you think teachers have it easy, just place yourself for a moment in front of 30-odd teenagers requiring your sole input for over an hour. Easy? No, of course it’s not. However, we have the most highly qualified teaching staff in our history who are passionate about teaching and learning and yet drowning in wildly unrealistic expectations.

There are plenty of targets that get blamed, Government (of course), Education Scotland, HMIe and also the SQA and, as I am interested in the wellbeing of students in much the same way I am interested in the wellbeing of my teachers, I need to turn my attention to that particular entity: The Scottish Qualifications Authority – the sole arbiters of a student’s educational attainment.

Is the SQA getting it right? Is it providing a system of assessment that is fair? Is it providing assessment papers that are reflective of the subject being studied? Is it allowing students to garner knowledge in an accessible and creative manner?

The straightforward answer to all of these questions is no.

We have pupils undertaking two and a half hour written examinations in PE. So, if we have a future Andy Murray or Finn Russell in our midst we’d better hope they can structure an essay…

In addition, the two and a half hour PE paper is the longest paper of any Higher subject but I’m sure you would expect that…

We have a beautifully practical subject like Media Studies which now requires some 5-7000 words in the Higher Assignment based on recently published SQA exemplars…

In History, if students don’t use the correct phrases they are downgraded. As a result, those students who learn the requisite tropes and techniques can achieve a better grade than students who have greater subject knowledge…

Mathematics and Statistics are the only subjects that don’t assess any course work. All assessment is exam-based only. Why are these subjects different?

We now have written exam papers for subjects like Dance, Practical Woodworking and Practical Electronics. I thought the word ‘Practical’ might actually mean something…

And the biggest nonsense of all – extra time allowances. I’m not against extra time per se but if you were taking an Advanced Higher exam in History, for example, the 3-hour paper could be extended to six hours…

This all seems very strange when you compare it to my own recent experiences, undertaking several Masters-level postgraduate courses, none of which even required me to sit an exam.

So, in essence, we have 15 year old children in Scotland sitting exams and writing assignments which are longer and more convoluted than those that they will ever have to complete at University; a system that borders on child cruelty for no obvious reason – at least, not to me.

Rod Grant
Headmaster

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