Exams shake-up: Fife backs model of grading work after pandemic impact on pupils

Education chiefs in Fife have expressed their support for new ways of assessing kids' learning after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 1:41 pm

Gordon Wardrope, head education officer at Fife Council, says he supports the idea of replacing the "high stakes" examinations model with a new way of grading school work.

"We've been having these conversations with headteachers over the course of this session, and it's not the case it's best to have one high stakes exam," he said.

The coronavirus pandemic saw formal National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher tests scrapped last year and replaced with a controversial algorithm - but that was binned after evidence suggested it was downgrading the results of kids from more deprived areas.

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Pic: John Devlin

This year, the Scottish Qualifications Authority has sought to estimate grades using standardised assessments - derided by critics as exams by another name - and the views of teachers based on their classwork to date.

However, because the assessments are taking place on different days in different schools, materials have been disseminated ahead of time on social platforms such as Discord and TikTok.

Mr Wardrope, with the backing of a number of headteachers from across the Kingdom, says more flexibility in how aptitude is assessed should be considered.

Ruth McFarlane, headteacher at Dunfermline's Queen Anne High, said teachers and pupils had "excelled themselves" despite the circumstances.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, education secretary, being interviewed by BBC

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She added: "We know there's been glitches - assessment materials in the public domain on Discord and TikTok - and that's because we're assessing in clusters.

"But we are supporting young people much better through the means of assessment this year than in the high stakes exams of the past.

"We should be learning from that and hopefully we'll see some reform to assessment as a result. There's been lots of benefits for young people in terms of the overall attainment and what that looks like.

"The public needs to understand that the assessment is different from years previous and the results may look different.

"Previous years' assessment has been based on one exam and, of course, there are no exams this year.

"Young people are not being assessed on their ability to pass one exam and I think that's a very, very important point."

Sandy McIntosh, headteacher at Woodmill High School in Dunfermline, said: "Our young people have been massively disadvantaged by the events of the last year and a half. We do very well to support people but there's been some gaps as part of that."

Shirley-Anne Somerville, MSP for Dunfermline and newly appointed education secretary, said reform of the exams process is being considered ahead of the release of a new report into Scotland's education system by global think tank the OECD.

She told BBC News earlier this week: "We need to learn lessons from the experience of Covid.

"The qualifications the SQA are delivering this year for young people are sound and they are credible, but that doesn't mean we should stop and we can't and shouldn't look at change and that's what we are determined to deliver."

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