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Dundee headteacher backs group calls for SQA to cancel or shorten upcoming exams

Grove Academy Rector Graham Hutton.
Grove Academy Rector Graham Hutton.

Exams should be cancelled or shortened to allow for more learning time, a Dundee headteacher has said.

Grove Academy’s rector Graham Hutton is just one of the school leaders backing calls for the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) to implement the “bold” exam reform.

Mr Hutton is a member of the BOCSH group, formerly known as the Building Our Curriculum Self Help Group, who raised concerns to the SQA as part of the authority’s consultation on the 2021 exam diet.

The examinations body said final plans would be announced this week following a 10-day consultation which amassed 23,000 responses.

The plans include a wide variety of changes to individual subjects, including alterations to coursework, assignments and exam structure and length. The proposals have been met with criticism for unions, teachers and politicians.

A lot of young people cannot cope with the stress and worry of relying on a one-day exam at the end of their course.

Graham Hutton

The BOCSH group, which consists of 20 headteachers from 19 local authorities, said the SQA “completely misjudged what is required for the coming year”.

The school heads also called the present system outdated and questioned whether exams were necessary in the long-term for determining the ability of pupils.

Mr Hutton said the downgrading of this year’s results caused an “inequity” between pupils from the poorest backgrounds and those from more affluent areas.

Reforms are essential to prevent pupils being disadvantaged further in the event of another lockdown, he said.

“The whole push by the Scottish Government and Scottish education is to try and narrow the education attainment gap and ensure everybody gets an equal chance,” he added.

“But at the moment everything really depends on how pupils perform on that one day.

“We (BOCSH) believe that is quite unfair. A lot of young people cannot cope with the stress and worry of relying on a one-day exam at the end of their course.

Some of these pupils hadn’t even finished their National 5 courses because of lockdown and they’re at a further disadvantaged moving up to Higher.

“It would far fairer to operate with a continuous assessment model as it means young people can show what they can do.

“We’re talking here about young people being herded into an exam hall for two to three hours. If they have additional support needs they might be there for up to four and a half hours in an exam hall which is absolutely ridiculous.

“We’re using 19th century assessment techniques in the 21st century and we need to look at how other things are assessed.”

Instead the group of influential teachers have called for National 5 exams to be removed completely and replaced with “teacher predicted grades and internal assessment”.

The assessments would be verified at a national level in order to ensure results were credible.

Exams would continue at Higher under their plans but would be moved to a later date and with “shortened and reduced content”.

The final exam should be removed for Advanced Highers, the group suggests, and more weight should be added to the dissertation with assessment windows held throughout the year for “moderated graded assessments to take place”.

It comes after thousands of pupils had their downgraded exam results restored to reflect their teachers’ estimates.

Mr Hutton also said the group’s alternative proposals would enable pupils to catch-up on their studies after five months away from education.

Reducing the time spent on preparing for exams, or pushing exams back to a later date, would give pupils additional learning time they need to get to grips with new courses.

He continued: “We’ve lost time with lockdown and we are farther behind and therefore we need to look very carefully at what is going to happen in 2021.

“It would give pupils more time for learning because that’s what school is all about at the end of the day.

“Some of these pupils hadn’t even finished their National 5 courses because of lockdown and they’re at a further disadvantage moving up to Higher.

“We need to get them up to speed and ensure there’s enough time to learn their new courses.”

The SQA were approached for comment but had not responded at the time of publishing.

However it is understood they are analysing feedback from more than 23,000 people, including “5,000 learners”.

The changes were proposed  to prevent “risk of disruption” from coronavirus.

Explaining the proposed modifications, the SQA said: “There remains a potential risk of disruption to the amount of teaching and learning that can be delivered this year, and the assessment of national qualifications.

“It is important that the education system has plans in place to ensure that we can cope with any disruptions in the coming months.

“There needs to be an appropriate balance between learning, teaching, and assessment in National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher courses.”

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