A renaissance for Scottish Education

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I am delighted that Mr Swinney did his ‘about turn’ regarding this year’s exam results. When a politician changes his mind in the face of revolt, I applaud him. The situation in England is made even more farcical as they failed to learn the lesson from Scotland’s debacle.

Anyway, back to the matter in hand. What the SQA (or Government) failed to understand was that our assessment system is not there to assess schools, it is there to assess individual children. The model used created a system that was focused on the school rather than being focused on the individual. I find it remarkable that anyone could believe that teacher estimates based on continuous assessment would be comparable to one-off exam grades. The results were always going to be far improved. What this year’s shambolic situation actually highlights is not the over-inflation of teacher estimates, it highlights that the exam system undervalues (significantly) our students’ capabilities.

We need a system of assessment that is predicated on success, one that ensures it can properly capture a student’s ability. Anyone who genuinely believes that an exam is a positive indicator of a person’s knowledge, understanding and ability is quite simply misguided.

At the moment, there are too many inconsistent practices in our system of national qualifications. In essence, we have 15-year-old children in Scotland sitting exams and writing assignments that are longer and more convoluted than those that they will ever have to complete at University.

As a result, I particularly welcome the review into what future assessment may look like. This year’s fiasco creates a significant opportunity for Scotland. An opportunity to create a system that is groundbreaking and places us, once again, at the forefront of educational enlightenment.

We should be open to a complete renaissance.

Easy to say, harder to deliver. However, because something is difficult should not mean we persevere with a system that does not accurately assess ability.

I think we should take this opportunity to think about:

  1. The introduction of Viva Voce examinations where students are given the opportunity to display their understanding orally.
  2. The use of ‘general papers’ designed to allow a student to think creatively and where no previous study need be undertaken.
  3. Changing the balance between course work and examination so that a student’s work in class is given more weight than the one-off examination.
  4. Above all, we need an evaluation system that is predicated on the professionalism and expertise of teachers.

These are just a few talking points that those with responsibility for adaptation of our assessment strategies may wish to consider.

Regardless, let us see this situation as a pivotal moment in Scotland’s educational journey. Now is the time to make dramatic, wholesale changes that focus on success; that focus on what students can do rather than focusing on what students can’t do…

Rod Grant