David Raffe: Better Highers results a product of ‘improvement in teaching‘
I’M NOT worried about this trend. I don’t think it shows declining standards, as SQA does try to monitor and maintain these over time and is fairly successful at achieving a balance.
Examination and teaching standards are certainly much more of an issue in England. While Scotland has just the one exam board, in England there are many and they compete with each other all the time. This makes it far harder to monitor standards as effectively as we do north of the Border.
Society as a whole needs to think about higher education and the purposes of it, as the current system cannot continue forever. There are not enough jobs for the number of qualified applicants. We need to think about what higher education is actually for. In terms of the continually rising pass rate in the Scottish Highers, I would argue that this is more to do with an improvement over the years in the quality of teaching and learning rather than in any changes to the difficulty level of examinations. Also, parents of young people today are likely to have had a better quality of education themselves and are therefore better placed to encourage it in their children.
But I believe we need to get away from the five Highers system. It would be good to see more of a variety in Highers, and even other qualifications, taken between the ages of 15 to 18. This would benefit students more in the long term, even if it would require a great change in the admissions process.
• David Raffe is a professor at Edinburgh University’s Centre for Educational Sociology
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